Mentoring – Follow-up Q&A

15 August 2022

The recent Stepping Up on Mentoring session was extremely popular and there was a flood of questions in the chat, too many to answer on the day. Our speakers have generously answered these questions as a follow-up.

  • Thanks to Gemma MacDonald (DKO), Erin Collins (Hayball), Ben Green (EMBECE) and Monica Edwards (SJB).

Who runs the check ins / formal mentoring within the practice?

Erin Collins (Hayball) Our program is run by two senior architectural staff with input in the matching process from our HR Manager. The formal mentoring is provided by staff across the practice (including architects, directors and office managers etc) to suit the goals, interest, and objectives put forward by the mentee.

Ben Green (EMBECE) This is not applicable to us as it isn’t in place yet, nevertheless I don’t think it matters whether it is an architect or a admin staff member. It is more relevant that someone takes ownership of the process and that that person has time allocated in them for them to do the work by the practice.

Gemma MacDonald (DKO) We do not currently have a practice-wide mentoring program; however, we have recently launched a program that is designed to assist our team across all locations in Australia prepare for APE, irrespective of whether this is following M.Arch, NPrA, Experienced Practitioner pathways. We have also previously encouraged involvement in external programs, such as the Institute, Property Council and WIDAC.

Monica Edwards (SJB) SJB has volunteer focus groups tasked with addressing all those things you wish you had time to do within a practice. One of these groups has a focus on People & Culture and this led to a sub-group interested in progressing Mentoring. The team met regularly for three months to develop a mentoring strategy for the studio informed by a practice-wide survey. This led to two approaches to mentoring to cater for different needs – a ‘less formal’ mentoring program and a ‘more formal’ mentoring program.

The less formal mentoring program is compulsory and includes all individuals. This is managed by our Studio Coordinator, who uses software to select random pairings each quarter. Hierarchy does not come in to play in selecting the mentor or the mentee. At any one time you are both; for example, the least experienced person may by the mentor for the most experienced person. This approach was selected to challenge our assumptions of colleagues.

The more formal mentoring is a volunteer program and open to all in the practice. This year, a third of the practice volunteered. The Mentoring Group assists with pairing and program content and the Studio Coordinator and Studio Manager are responsible for program communications and the first point of contact should issues arise.

How do you ensure equal opportunities are provided for all staff, not just the architectural group?

Erin – At Hayball, the GROW Mentoring Program is offered to all staff, not just architectural staff. We make this clear when we announce expressions of interest at the start of the program each year. Though the numbers are not high, we have had multiple support staff participate in the program over the years. Our program is tailored to be mentee driven and guided by their own objectives. As such the Mentor is carefully matched to suit these specific (and often non-architectural) objectives.

Ben – I agree that this is ideal. Non architectural staff are critical for the effective running of a practice. Owing to the structure of architectural practice it would be interesting for this mentoring to take place from an architectural perspective so that they understand how they fit into the practice and its success. Depending on the size of the practice, external mentoring would also be of value so that they are able to get discipline-specific mentoring to assist in their career growth.

Gemma  We recognise that how our work is organised and performed continuously changes. We value the importance of our people across the practice. Critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and collaboration are essential in all roles and contribute to our practice culture. We have been trying to reflect more on how role descriptions consider not only an individual, but the combination of roles that create a really great team.

MonicaMentoring is offered to everyone. Exclusion is too hard to manage.

What are your thoughts on external mentors bringing new knowledge and opportunities back into the practice?

Erin I have been involved in the Property Council Mentoring Program. There is a fantastic opportunity to gain knowledge from related disciplines and have more objective discussions that could be, perhaps, much more difficult to tackle with a mentor within your own practice.

GemmaWe promote external mentoring programs to all of our team.

Monica You can learn from anyone. I’m a big fan of the honesty found when power is removed. I’m also a big fan of the revelations found in experiences outside your comfort zone, whether that’s learning from others who work in different sectors, or learning from others with entirely different career paths. For me, mentoring is more about self-discovery and less about the instructional exchange of knowledge. Not knowing each other helps with managing expectations and assumptions.

Is all mentoring ‘good’ mentoring? Can mentoring place pressure on mentees?

Ben  No from a couple of perspectives. A poorly considered selection process can entrench already existing biases by not making mentoring available to a more diverse cohort. Poorly selected mentors can also pass on poor behaviours and processes to the mentee. Finally, poorly paired mentors and mentees can result in unhealthy mentoring relationships. This poor relationship could be detrimental to the confidence and skills of the mentee.

Gemma Mentoring as a relationship should be based on mutual respect, trust, shared values, good communication and exceptional listening skills. A good mentor should offer constructive criticism, and help make a mentee make informed decisions. Unfortunately, not all mentoring is a positive experience, which is why it’s of paramount importance to establish clear goals – if it isn’t working for you, end it politely and amicably with a thank you!

MonicaIt depends on what you call ‘good’. For me, ‘good’ means breaking down existing power structures to ensure all people have access to opportunity. And so, yes. Any mentoring – most often seen in informal mentoring – that reinforces privilege is not ideal. Also, I’m not a fan of instructional mentoring. A generous mentor allows an individual to grow, subtly shaping interests and assets. When mentoring moves from listening to telling, it isn’t ideal. The unique place that mentoring holds, compared with other forms of education, is its focus on self-motivation and self-critique alongside knowing how and when to ask for help. These are critical skills for any individual to grasp, which definitely places pressure on mentees. It’s about changing habits – and this can be slow and hard for some individuals. I like a mix of quick wins and then long journeys – but I’m a results-driven kind of person. Others may be different.

What are your thoughts on undertaking more formal mentoring in a more private way?

Erin Our formal mentoring program includes a set of principles that underpin the process. Two of these core principles are ‘Confidentiality’ and ‘Trust & Respect’. Privacy and confidentiality are key to building the trust and respect required to address tough issues and concerns.

Ben The degree of privacy and confidentiality between the mentor and mentee is an important consideration to be agreed prior to starting a formal mentoring process. It is quite a different process from the informal mentoring that an open plan office facilitates. I would agree that a more private situation is more conducive to the personal conversations that would take place in a formal mentoring process and that if some of these conversations took place publicly in the office it could be detrimental.

GemmaMentors should be able to clarify and explain the guidance or insights they offer, highlighting how this underpins and reflects a mentee’s strengths and experiences (not theirs!) A mentor should also create a psychologically safe space to make mistakes and have failures.

Monica It’s really tricky…. Confidentiality is essential in a mentoring program. It’s the most important thing. When we pair at SJB, we prefer to pair individuals that have little exposure to each other yet share common interests and needs. This sets the foundations for less ‘correcting’ and more listening. An in-practice mentoring program does assist with understanding the unwritten rules of that practice. That said, those rules aren’t always ‘right’. But they exist, and you have to navigate them. It’s tricky…

I don’t think a single mentor is the be-all and end-all. Perhaps a good metaphor for a mentor is a holiday – a chance for an individual to remove themself from the day-to-day and uncover a fresh perspective. We learn from everyone, and so, changing mentors is almost as essential as confidentiality. And changing a mentor doesn’t mean the end of a relationship – it’s just a shift in the relationship… always meaningful, but less present.

A vital component of a mentoring program is mentor training. This helps new mentors develop skills in sensitivity, alertness to potential, and positive constructive advice. Often, individuals are only receptive to ‘correcting’ if they have reached a point of self-awareness that change is needed. In this situation, an effective mentor will use techniques such as asking questions to build self-awareness and then when the mentee asks for help, advice can be offered and received positively. That said, when part of an in-house mentoring program, I think it’s really important for mentors to also question themselves – is the ‘correcting’ that is perceived as needed reinforcing good or bad habits of a practice. A fruitful mentoring relationship would be open to having this discussion.

If you missed our Stepping Up session on Mentoring, you can watch the video recording at a time that suits you. For more information on mentoring, see our Mentoring case studies, Mentoring Resources, What is Mentoring & Why Does it Matter?, and How to Create a Mentoring Program.