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How to Make Mentoring an Integral Part of Teamwork

A mentor is a trusted counselor or guide, tutor, or coach. This type of relationship has been effective when used to aid the protégé in acquiring new skills and settling into a new environment. Mentoring relationships have existed since Aristotle mentored Alexander the Great, and probably earlier. Throughout history, apprentices were, and are, guided by masters. Here are a few famous mentor-protégé relationships from various fields:

  • Laurence Olivier mentored Anthony Hopkins
  • Martin Landau mentored Jack Nicholson
  • Johann Bach mentored Mozart
  • Frank Zappa mentored Steve Vai
  • Eddy Merckx mentored Lance Armstrong

When you join a team, generally you will need someone to show you around and help you adjust to your new team and surroundings. If a mentor is not assigned for you, ask about ground rules, and expectations about your role. Identify a “go to” person who can answer questions for you. Experienced teammates and peers in any field can provide guidance, and help you avoid dangerous  land mines and obstacles.  If you have been around for a while, try to help newbies.  Be patient.

The U.S. Armed Forces and others use the buddy system to provide one-on-one guidance and orientation to new recruits or hires. When I enlisted in the Air Force a while back, I was assigned to Pease Air Force Base. On my first night there, I was feeling a little lonely, and to make matters worse, my baggage was lost.  After deciding to write home, I sat down and was working on my first sentence when I heard a knock on the door.  It was a complete stranger, John, who invited me to go with him and be shown around the base. After being shown my office building, the Base Exchange and Rec Hall, we ended up at the bowling alley. It ended up being a fun night out! That “reaching out” by a new buddy picked up my spirits by ten feet!

Most businesses do something similar. The relationship typically spans only a short time, such as sixty or ninety days, but the memory endures forever. A mentor, sometimes a peer, shares her knowledge with a new person. She may provide information and guidance about the organization, policies and procedures, and job-specific information from her own personal experience. Mentoring can also be used by organizations to provide an opportunity for a team member to show leadership, perhaps in preparation for more responsibility in the future.

To make mentoring an integral part of teamwork:

  1. Work with your teammates to establish or update an orientation process for new team members.
  2. Be patient and helpful with new folks.
  3. When joining a team, ask for guidance from more experienced teammates. Ask questions, ask for known obstacles.
  4. Be humble. Ask for feedback; listen to feedback.

Thomas Charles Belanger is the author of Teamwork in Ten Days: Building Successful Teams in the Arts, Sports, Business, and Government, available at and Barnes and Noble.

©2012, Thomas Belanger

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