Mentoring and how to get the best out of it

At Quattrain we believe that training and mentoring go hand in hand — the mentoring is a means of putting the learning into action. We are currently running a BAME mentoring and training scheme for the Radio Independents Group and it’s an opportunity to test our belief about the mutual benefit of training and mentoring.

Delegates at the mentoring session

Sometimes a group of trainees don’t gel as well as you hope and you find that you are putting in considerable effort as a trainer to try and make the cohesion work. With this group on the BAME scheme, it was not a problem. When we met for the first day of training they were warm, engaging, open, and entirely receptive to what was going on in the room. In short, everything a trainer would wish from a group of delegates. It is an act of courage to admit to a room full of strangers your self-limiting beliefs, and an act of generosity to applaud and celebrate the achievements of others. Both were demonstrated by this group.

We started the day by taking some time to acknowledge their professional achievements. This is particularly important for freelancers who don’t get the managerial pats on the back that employees might get. We started with a ‘Golden Moments’ exercise where I asked the delegates to think about a recent example of some work they were proud of, what the components of this work were that made it memorable and whether there were patterns that could be repeated.

We also worked on professional narratives and how the stories we tell ourselves can shape us and other people’s perceptions of us. Delegates worked in pairs plotting a timeline, which they walked along, marking significant milestones in their career. Each then told the group a story of their professional journey. In the feedback at the end of the course, people reported back that they realised how far they had come, even when sometimes a career seems to have more setbacks than successes, and that there were narrative themes and threads to their professional journey that they had not seen before. The afternoon was given over to how to get the best out of mentoring, looking at how we learn, and how reflective learning is key to the success of mentoring.

Natasha Maw (left) during the mentoring session

We spend considerable time in finding mentors that will develop and support the specific skills and requirements of our mentees, and we also want to prepare our mentees to get the most out of the experience. For anyone thinking about getting a mentor I would recommend the following:

Decide why you want a mentor, what kind of person that should be and where you want to be by the end of the mentoring sessions. Mentoring should have a time frame with clearly thought out objectives for each session.

Be proactive – it is the mentee’s responsibility to maintain contact and set the agenda. The mentee should be actively working on an objective between sessions and should report back. This is a chance to evaluate, assess and reflect on how the mentee has met challenges and move on.

Don’t expect your mentor to provide solutions for you. A mentor is there to challenge, take an interest, be a sounding board, offer feedback, share experiences and knowledge, but not necessarily to provide answers.

Be very respectful of your mentor’s time and treat them in a professional and ethical fashion.

We are proud to have found an outstanding group of mentors for our BAME mentees that include the head of a large events company, six heads of independent production companies, experienced freelance producers and presenters and a TV comedy development executive.

The delegates are in the process of having four sessions with their mentors. We meet again in January to report back on progress, learn more skills and work on a development plan for the year ahead. We’ll see if the learning was useful to them and, if so, how they put it into practice in their mentoring sessions. This is all useful information because we’re on a learning journey too.