Incorporating Networking into Your Mentorship Program: Dress Casual, Order a Coffee

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Nonfat vanilla latte with an extra shot of mentoring? Yes, please! It’s no secret that many people are motivated to participate in mentorship programs simply because they want to broaden their network.

But here’s the problem: Mentoring programs thrive with structure, accountability, and defined goals. If your company is still establishing its mentorship program, it’s best to focus on a fixed structure that allows one mentor and mentee to focus on growing their relationship.

However, if your company has a seasoned mentorship program, you may want to think about upping the ante by offering networking-focused mentorship programs, or what we like to call coffee shop mentoring.

Coffee shop mentoring programs allow for mentees and mentors to interact in a conversational environment. Unlike your core mentorship program which focuses on individual relationships and goals, this model allows your employees to discuss a variety of topics with multiple people. The vibe is spontaneous and casual, but purposeful. Dare I say it? Even fun!

Here are the components you need to make coffee shop mentoring work:

  • Strong Mentoring Culture – This kind of program works well with companies with established mentorship programs that have become a vital part of the culture. In many cases, it can be an excellent supplemental branch to a more formal mentoring model.
  • Driven Mentees – Mentees rule the roost in the coffee shop model. Generally, they are the parties most invested in developing their networks, so it’s best to let them take charge. Encourage them to help with planning, promotion, and participation.
  • Interested Mentors – If your business has motivated mentees and a developed culture that embraces mentorships, high-level employees will be more committed to serving as mentors. Keep the mentorship program visible, so they see it as an essential part of the job.
  • A Casual Approach – Part of the appeal of this kind of program is its less formal attitude. If networking is the goal, mentors and mentees can expect to participate in several exchanges at one event, discussing a variety of topics. Think speed-dating, but more productive. Keep the paperwork and decorous language to a minimum to maintain a light atmosphere.
  • A Focus on Networking – This might seem obvious, but if this is your first time adding a program like this to your existing mentorship model, it might not be so clear to your participants. Remind them that the goal is to get to know a variety of people, and create schedules or activities that encourage broader interactions.

 

Despite the name, this kind of program doesn’t have to occur in a coffee shop. Flexibility is key, so adjust the environment to suit your company’s culture. If they aren’t extremely familiar with mentoring, an overly casual atmosphere could devolve into more of a cliquey, unproductive party. But if they can handle it, perks like discounted coffees, happy hours, and bagels never hurt!

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Kate Mason
kate.mason@ementorconnect.com

Kate Mason is a writer, historian, and stand-up comic living in New Orleans, LA. She is the Programming Coordinator for the New Orleans Film Society and an avid enthusiast of pop culture. She approaches mentoring challenges with a witty, creative mind.

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