ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - March 2000
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Issue Highlight - The Hunt For Next November

April in the state of Missouri is turkey-hunting season...For some reason the experience, despite its discomforts, is spiritually renewing and leaves you a little more optimistic about life.

In This Issue...
Angels With Rotary Wings
Reality Mirrors Movie
Mentoring
Aikido
Stop The Merry-Go-Round
Features...
Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Pageturners
Briefcases
Diary of a Shutdown

Sharing Expertise
Mentoring Enhances Team Effectiveness

 

---Almost 3,000 years ago, the ancient Greek poet Homer wrote tales about the warrior and traveler Ulysses in “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” The great hero achieved much of his success because he had a wise and trusted advisor, a fellow by the name of Mentor. He did such a good job that Athena, the goddess of wisdom, took on his countenance to guide Ulysses’ son, Telemachus. Linguists suspect this worthy aide’s Greek name is derived from a word meaning “think” or “counsel.”

ssWhether they know it or not, Pat Noonan and her partner, Nancy Page-Cooper, co-founders of Mentor Coach, a national consulting and training organization, are following in some illustrious footsteps as they advocate new and important applications for mentoring. They are advocates for mentoring within teams—that is, thinking, counseling and sharing wisdom—as the key to greater team effectiveness.


There is No ‘I’ in Team

“We’ve all heard the saying that there is no ‘I’ in team,” Noonan has written. “Well, that is true if the ‘I’ focuses solely on individual accomplishments. Being a team means blending individual effort and team achievements.”

sssBut it’s not that simple. “There is another ‘I’ that belongs there. That is the influence the team creates,” Noonan explains. “The ability to influence others toward positive actions takes you and the team to the next level of accomplishment or career direction.” In essence, according to Noonan, the most effective teams are those that encourage team members to mentor one another.

sssA casual observer might question this advice. Isn’t mentoring, which seems to suggest one-on-one activity, antithetical to the concept of teams? So why does Noonan advance its value?

sss“It’s a positive element of teams because no matter how equal the job is for team members, each team member brings a different orientation, a different background, a different skill set to the team. Each one has things that they are better at than someone else.”

sssThere’s no reason, according to Noonan, that it must always be an older, more experienced person showing the way to a neophyte. “If we look at mentoring as helping another person to improve their skills,” she explains, “it doesn’t have to be a senior to a junior person. It could be a peer who has a slightly different orientation, a slightly different background, a slightly different experience. They’re helping me improve that part of my skill set if I’m a member of a team.”

sssNoonan, whose consulting practice is based in Sedalia, Colo. also teaches at a university in the Denver area. “We use this concept in our faculty development,” she notes, “by having faculty members bring their expertise to the in-services and train each other. The same thing is used in elementary and high schools, where a master teacher or someone who has more experience in one area of teaching comes and shares their knowledge with other teachers, who may have even more years of teaching experience, but may not have that level of a skill set.”


What Makes a Good Mentor
Noonan and Page-Cooper have identified characteristics that are the qualities of the best mentors. Perhaps most generally, mentors have to be willing to give of their time and energy. Beyond that, “strong self-awareness of your own skills, the ability to empathize and translate that skill to another person and the ability to teach it” are important traits, Noonan says.

sssThese insights also mean that a good mentor is able to ascertain to what level the other person’s current skills have developed. “If I’m teaching a person how to use a software program,” she offers, “I have to know whether or not they know how to turn on the computer before I can show them how to do all the bells and whistles.”

sssEveryone isn’t suited to be a good mentor, Noonan points out. “Some people are very knowledgeable in their technical areas, but aren’t good teachers. They can’t transfer that knowledge.” Returning to her computer analogy, she extends her example: “There are people who are technically proficient in computers, but don’t have the skill to train. Others may not have the level of understanding of how the computer works, but they have good training skills. So the second person is actually a better mentor.”

sssPerhaps the hardest part of mentoring, Noonan believes, can be the ability to give honest feedback. “It’s very difficult sometimes for a mentor to say, ‘You’re not getting it,’ or ‘You didn’t get it right,’ or ‘Let me try again,’ and do something in a way that keeps the other person’s ego intact and allows them to actually hear the feedback and accept it.”

sssNoonan is especially quick to point out the power of team members mentoring each other. “A major difference between an average team and a superior team is an approach that actively enlists team members to act as mentors for each other,” she maintains. “By willingly helping other team members develop the skills you now have, you are not only sharing your expertise, you are building credibility and competency in the team.” Noonan is fond of quoting a fundamental message: “Behind every good team member and team is a willing mentor.”


Share Yourself and Spread the Knowledge
Mentors, by the way, can come from inside or outside a team. Noonan cites mentor models that are internal and external. “For example,” she says, “most teams in production environments particularly don’t understand the finances of the organization. Go outside and find someone in the accounting or financial department who can mentor the team to understand what the finances are about, how to manage their own budgeting.” It can make all the difference in a team’s success, she maintains.

sssHow can team members be encouraged to become mentors? “You help them to understand,” Noonan offers, “that by sharing their knowledge, they’re not giving away their knowledge. What they’re doing is improving the overall productivity and efficiency of the team.” Those involved in mentoring often feel increased enthusiasm when they see that it’s a two-way street, and others begin to share knowledge with them.

sss“The way I always start mentoring sessions,” Noonan says, “is to tell people to think of themselves as a lifelong work in progress. If you can think of yourself in that way, you can be open to learning things from somebody else. You’ll never know where that’s going to come from if you’re not open to it. If you keep yourself open, the new things that you learn may come from the most outrageous source, from the janitor or from somebody just walking by your team.”


Words of Wisdom
To improve team-mentoring skills, Noonan says you need to identify the current level of mentoring ability already present on a team. “You create a development plan for your mentors, just like you would for the learners, helping them develop the mentoring skills, the teaching skills. Keeping them fresh. So they feel like they are getting back and that they continue learning as well.”

sssNoonan is very concise when asked for her best advice about mentoring: “Be open. Be willing to listen. Be willing to give feedback. Be willing to share yourself. And have fun.” It’s not hard to imagine that Ulysses’ trusted advisor would see the wisdom in this mentor’s sage words.

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