Building Your Cadre of Mentors

Building Your Cadre of Mentors

(Today’s post is by Gabby Raymond, one of our new Team Toolkit Trainees!)

Finding a good mentor is like getting a personalized self-help book, one that is full of insightful questions and practical guidance tailored to you. A traditional mentor focuses on guiding your personal growth. However, you can receive a wide array of guidance from a variety of perspectives when you work together with someone, so let’s expand our vocabulary a bit and use the word Collaborators as a more general term.

Just like you wouldn’t need five copies of the same self-help book, it’s useful to have different types of Collaborators, each playing a different role. The alignment chart below illustrates a variety of Collaborators based on the people I have found particularly valuable in my life. The goal of this diagram is to help you identify any gaps in your current cadre and opportunities to round out your group. And the best part, meeting up with one of these Collaborators only costs about as much as a cup of coffee! (usually)

In this chart, the horizontal axis reflects the Collaborator’s relationship to you; your peers are on the left while those with more seniority, formal authority, or clout are on the right. The vertical axis depicts the Collaborator’s perspective on guidance. The guidance you get from people at the top of the vertical axis helps you with personal growth, while the guidance from people at the other end of the axis helps you solve problems or champion solutions.

When I think of a traditional mentor, I think of an Advocator in the upper right quadrant. As someone with clout who can help you grow career-wise, they’ve been in your shoes and can give you advice. Advocators also know other authority figures with whom they can share your accomplishments; they’re the Collaborator who can help you get your next promotion. I find advocating for yourself and having others advocate for you is an important way to gain visibility in your community.

In the upper left side is the Friendtor, a peer who you trust to give more personal advice. They walk the line of friend and mentor, so they know all the best things about you but can also point out your flaws. I personally ask my Friendtors for advice on team dynamics and navigating conversations with my leadership.

An Educator straddles the line in the lower left quadrant. They are someone with specific domain knowledge about the problem you’re trying to solve. An Educator’s role is to teach you skills or information relevant to your work and are the Collaborator you’re most likely to shadow. I’ve found Educators to be closer to a peer than an authority figure, but that’s not always the case.

An Innovator is a Collaborator who is a problem-solving powerhouse, and they span the whole bottom half of the chart. Innovators can either have a background in your problem area or can be someone with a fresh perspective – both mentalities can be incredibly useful depending on your situation. People who embody the mindset of Team Toolkit are my go-to Innovators.

Solidly in the lower right Authority/Champion quadrant is the Accelerator – think of them as someone who will help catapult your idea. They’ve got high-powered connections and stay up to date with the current trends. The strategic prowess of an Accelerator means they are the ones who can help develop and refine your idea. These Collaborators are moving quickly from success to success and can help you do the same.

Finally, at the center of this chart is a person with a wide network, the Connector. They’re the Collaborator who seems to know everyone. Having a Connector introduce you to someone they know personally is often more successful than cold-emailing someone with whom you want to grab a virtual coffee. They can be your gateway to many of the other Collaborators in this chart.

I hope this post has helped you view mentors through a new frame of reference. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out and grab a virtual cup of coffee (or tea!) with me.



Lotus Blossom Tool Tips

Lotus Blossom Tool Tips

The Lotus Blossom ideation tool is one of the most popular in the toolkit, and it’s also one of the simplest. This is a great way to help a team quickly come up with a large quantity of high quality ideas, in a format that is structured, binned, and categorized. A complete Lotus Blossom, with all the petals filled in, can be a really useful artifact for the team to refer to as the work progresses.

But don’t let the simplicity of the tool fool you. There are some subtle nuances and non-obvious applications & implications hidden in this tool, and it can be a challenging one to use well. Let’s take a closer look at some common patterns and missteps.

When a team is filling out a Lotus Blossom I often notice that one blossom has a lot of blank petals while another is fully populated or even overstuffed with more than eight. As a facilitator I like to direct the team’s attention to the blank blossom and encourage them to explore that idea in more depth. Is there a reason we’re not filling that one out? Is it a good reason?

I might also point out that if we’re focusing (and overfilling) on one blossom, that might indicate a high level of interest in that area so it’s worth pursuing, maybe even using it as the core for a whole new Lotus Blossom canvas. Alternatively, all those ideas might indicate a high level of comfort & familiarity with that topic. Maybe we’re only filling it in so completely because it’s easy to do so. If that’s the case, perhaps we should move on and do the more challenging work of exploring less familiar ground. Either course of action is fine – the trick is to be deliberate in our decision to either pursue it or pivot.

Another thing to watch for is the phrase “I have this idea but I’m not sure where to put it in the Lotus Blossom.” Now, the point of this tool is to develop ideas that are connected to each other. If the team is just coming up with random unconnected ideas that genuinely don’t fit into any of the petals or blossoms, they are just brainstorming and not really using the Lotus Blossom tool. In that case, I try to redirect them towards the empty petals and blossoms that do have labels, encouraging them to build on these ideas by getting more specific and granular.

But sometimes the phrase “I’m not sure where to put this” means you’ve come up with an idea that genuinely fits in multiple places. If that’s the case, it’s possible you discovered a relationship between the ideas that is not currently reflected in the Lotus Blossom layout. At this point you may want to rearrange and combine the related ideas into a single blossom. This is easier to do with a digital canvas than it is on paper, of course.

Another strategy for the “not sure where to put it” situation is to label one of the blossoms OTHER and put all the random stuff there. It’s not optimal, but this strategy can serve as a useful parking lot or holding place for ideas that may find a more connected home later.