How to Establish Effective Mentoring Networks in Matrix Organizations

| By Terence Brake

Mentoring Networks

When you hear or read about mentoring, you might envisage a one-to-one advisory relationship between a relative ‘newbie’ and a seasoned professional.  Many corporate mentoring programs are based on that model.

In complex organizational environments (e.g. matrix structures) the one-to-one model has severe limitations.  The pace of change is rapid, and it is unlikely that one mentor can offer the depth and breadth of experiences needed to help the protégé succeed.  

While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that you can be mentored by anyone, you can be mentored by networks of people.

The 5 Advantages of Mentoring Networks

  1. Range of perspectives:  With different mentors it is more likely that someone will have faced the same challenge(s).  While some perspectives might conflict, the mentee can weigh up the experiences and skills of each mentor, and choose the most likely to succeed option (or mix of options).  Listen for majority opinions and proven success. 
  2. Shifting needs: The importance of different mentors may shift as a mentee gains skills and experience and his or her professional development needs change, e.g. from the more technical to the strategic focus.  Only one mentoring work relationship provides a very narrow window onto a volatile, uncertain, and ambiguous world.  Multiple mentors can offer different areas of expertise, e.g. career trajectory, leadership development, political know-how.
  3. Availability: Scheduling time with a single mentor can be an arduous undertaking, but with several mentors the chances for just-in-time advice are greatly increased.  This is especially so given digital web tools like conferencing and chat.  There is absolutely no reason why digital mentoring cannot be as effective as the face-to-face variety.  Many people find it easier to communicate and talk through problems in a virtual space.
  4. Relationship opportunities: Good rapport and common ground is always necessary for effective mentoring, and having multiple mentors increases the chances of finding the right ‘chemistry’.  The mentee also can also build cross-organizational relationships which is especially important in, for example, a matrix.
  5. Innovation: Multiple mentors across different parts of the business can also promote organizational knowledge sharing and creativity which can be good for the mentee and the mentor.  

While formal, one-on-one mentoring relationships have a place in people development, a network can offer better depth and breadth of expertise, and greater spontaneity.  Mentoring does not have to be a long-term relationship covering a wide range of issues.   Mentoring can begin at a lunch table and focus on a specific question, and naturally grow from there. The term ‘mentoring’ may not enter the conversation(s).

Group Networking

Besides a personal network, other group mentoring configurations are possible:

  • Mentoring Circles: One mentor working with a group of proteges.  The mentor helps the circle members leverage their collective energies and experiences to go beyond what any individual can offer.  This approach can work well when available mentors are limited.
  • Peer and Team Mentoring: These groups may not have a formal mentor; group members will provide mentoring to one another around a specific issue.  Such groups may form temporary pairs or sub-groups, then disband and re-form around another issue.  Peer and team mentoring usually works best for cross-training, team building, and integrating new staff.

What approaches to mentoring have been successful within your organization? 

For more information on managing matrix challenges click here for our latest infographic: The 6 Challenges of a Matrix Organization