Developing the talents and skills of technical team members is a never-ending process and should be an important part of your organization. As we’ve discussed before, it can be easy to get immersed in the day-to-day work of supporting clients and networks without realizing the people on your team are likely capable of so much more than you realize. While ongoing training and employee development programs can pay huge dividends for you and the team member, one oft-underutilized source of employee growth is sitting right in front of you: other employees.
Having an organized IT mentorship program can help employees learn practical skills and acquire real knowledge that can only be taught through experience. Even better, the knowledge and skill sets already existent in your organization are unique, meaning that your particular technical team possesses skills and knowledge not available anywhere else. Strengthening the bonds between team members strengthens that knowledge set, which can lead to ever greater success as a team.
Here are five suggestions for how to implement a mentorship program within your technical team.
- Make it fun. The best way to get buy-in on mentor programs is to allow the participants flexibility to learn in ways that suit them. Not everyone learns from structured meetings, just as not everyone can demonstrate their knowledge in a quarterly review. The purpose of the mentor program is to share knowledge and skills and have employees challenge each other’s thinking. You can accomplish that in a number of different ways. Don’t needlessly ascribe constrictions to your mentor program that might impede participant enthusiasm.
- Make it challenging. Mentorships should extend the employee in new ways. Having the mentor involve the other person in aspects of the business or job functions that are new to them is a great way to develop new skills in both people. For example, a support technician that spends most of his time on the Help Desk would probably learn a lot spending a few afternoons each month out in the field with an Outside Solutions Architect.
- Make it interesting. There is a delicate balance to be found between finding unique mentorships for team members and finding mentorships that have no value. Matching a network administrator with a salesperson might not be beneficial to either. That said, part of making mentorships fun and challenging and interesting is in exposing employees to parts of the business they might not be familiar with.
- Make it unorthodox. One of the most successful mentorships I’ve ever seen was a 26 year old UX-designer assigned to mentor a 44 year old systems engineer. While it is easy to ascribe age with experience, that is a very poor guideline. In this case, the systems engineer had very little experience in customer-facing roles. Working with a team member whose job was to make the customer’s use of the service easier helped the engineer understand company-to-customer interaction in new ways. Mentors don’t always have to be older and the subject matter being learned doesn’t always have to line up in predictable ways.
- Make it useful. Mentorships should be fun and interesting, but they also need to have a point. If you decide to match up a person from Accounting with a telecommunications engineer, make sure you are doing so with an idea of what the relationship will produce. Even if you don’t outline exact guidelines and goals, mentorships should have a reason to exist. Make sure both participants understand why you have put them together and what you hope they both will learn from the experience. Afterwards, don’t be shy about checking in to see how things are going. You certainly shouldn’t micro-manage mentorships, but it is important to make sure something constructive is taking place.
Finding ways for employees to work with and mentor each other in new and interesting ways is the best way to cultivate talent from within. Today’s database administrator might be tomorrow’s technical support director. Exposing your employees to different roles and, more importantly, different knowledge sets is a great way for them to reach their full potential. Click here to learn how Mosaic NetworX has developed a diverse and skilled team ready to serve your IT needs!