Mentoring Programs: The Importance of Community
The word community comes from the Latin communis. The prefix com means together or joint, and the suffix munis derives from munire which means to fortify or strengthen. As the word itself says, community is all about gaining strength through shared activity and interests.
The rapid spread of social media reflects our common striving to find community. Most organisations at least espouse the idea of creating a sense of community amongst stakeholders. We have an almost innate understanding that community makes us stronger.
So what does this have to do with mentoring, which after all is a one to one activity? In fact, we believe that a good mentoring program is inexorably linked to community, both feeding an organisation’s sense of community and drawing on community to bolster the mentoring relationship.
Mentoring Programs Foster Community
A well-run mentoring program is far more than the individual relationships between mentor and mentee. Training sessions and other events bring mentors and mentees together to form a “mentoring community”.
Shared experience creates a bond between participants that will impact upon working relationships in other aspects of the organisation. The sense of belonging fostered by being part of the mentoring group, will nurture participants’ sense of belonging to the organisation as a whole.
The coaching and active listening skills learned through mentor training will be used outside the mentoring relationship, influencing the culture of the department, working group and organisation. These strengthened leadership skills promote a heightened sense of belonging and community.
A well-run mentoring program not only creates a short-term sense of community amongst its participants, it makes possible an enhanced long-term sense of community within the organization as a whole. It can help break down organizational silos by bringing together people from different teams, departments or geographies.
Community Strengthens Mentoring Programs
We believe that the relationship between community and mentoring flows two ways. Mentoring programs are made stronger when run within a well-defined community.
That community might be a department, a widespread multi-national company, an association of peers or an online group with shared interests such as Uber drivers. Whatever the case, community provides context and shared goals, aspirations or beliefs. These common denominators make it easier to form meaningful mentoring relationships and to bond within the mentoring community. The wider community can also provide additional support to mentees.
What Does This Mean for “New” Mentoring Formats?
Our strong belief in the power of community makes us hesitant about some of the newer formats of mentoring that technology is enabling.
We question the value of online mentoring platforms that act as “dating services”, promising to match mentees with more experienced mentors completely outside the context of community. One would expect that these mentoring pairs will work effectively for some individuals in some instances. However, without any common context, effective matching becomes extremely difficult, and the likelihood of a successful pairing is significantly reduced. Plus, of course, this type of mentoring is extremely individualistic, providing no long-term community building for the organisation.
Our faith in the power and value of community is the primary reason that we have dedicated ourselves to working with organisations to design and implement excellent mentoring programs. We welcome the efficiencies and accessibility that technology brings to mentoring programs. However, we caution against allowing technology to diminish the potential of mentoring programs to build and harness community.