There is only a relatively small number of mentoring programmes, which have been designed from the start to facilitate mentoring between employees of a consortium of organizations. Some examples, where this has happened, include:

  • A programme to support career development of women in junior and middle management at An Post, the Irish Post Office. Mentors were drawn from a variety of companies in the supply chain – both suppliers and customers.
  • A large bank looked beyond its own walls for mentors to its regional directors. Building the mentees’ commercial awareness was one of the principal aims, but mentors were drawn from leaders in both public and private sector organizations.
  • Senior managers from a dozen companies were recruited as peer mentors for prison governors. In this case, the companies played an active role in building relationships both with the governors and in some cases, more widely with the prisons.
  • Large holding companies sometimes encourage mentoring relationships between companies and divisions. For example, Petronas, the Malaysian oil company, offers mentees two mentors – one within their own company or division and one in another company within the group. Most mentees report they gain greatest value from the mentor outside their immediate organizational boundaries.
  • Public sector organizations in the same general location have formed mentoring (and in some cases, coaching) consortia to share resources. Local authorities, higher education and public services, such as health trusts, police and fire services have collaborated to share the costs of training and administration and to create a wider pool of mentors for mentees to choose from.

The benefits of this kind of mentoring can be considerable. Among them:

  • A very different perspective on issues, from someone not involved in the corporate politics or acclimatised to the organizational culture
  • Shared costs – particularly for training, administration, support for mentoring pairs, and evaluation
  • Potential for greater openness between mentor and mentee, because there are fewer issues of confidentiality
  • Mutual support and learning for programme facilitators (it can sometimes feel like a lonely role if you are running a programme by yourself!)

But there are disadvantages, too. In particular:

  • It takes more organization and coordination to make the process work, especially at the recruitment stage. For example, there are a lot more people to convince that this is a good idea!
  • Employers may have greater concerns about “poaching” of talent (although the more different the organizations are in sector, size and culture, the less likely such issues are to arise)

What should you look for in consortium partners?

While some difference in corporate values is desirable, a common set of broad values around talent management, respecting employees and openness to constructive challenge create a strong foundation for success. Ideally, there should be few, if any, areas of direct competition between the organizations – if only because of the inevitability of privileged information being part of mentoring conversations. Important questions include:

  • Is mentoring on this organization’s agenda right now? (If not, by the time they are ready to commit, other potential partners, who are ready now, may have lost interest or found other solutions.)
  • Are there obvious champions in HR and in senior management?
  • How compatible will the partner organizations be?
  • Do they have potential sources of funding?
  • Will they be active or passive partners?
  • What is the minimum number of partner organizations we need?
  • What is the maximum number?

Key roles

A lead facilitator, who takes responsibility for general programme management and chairing the steering group, is essential. This person can come from outside the consortium (it helps avoid accusations of partisanship), but an internal HR professional, who is able to gain the trust of participants, sponsors and the programme lead in each of the other organizations, can be equally effective. A degree of passion about mentoring in general and the programme in particular seems to be a requisite characteristic.

Some administrative support is also desirable.

Key programme stages

The key stages are:

  1. Definition – what is this programme all about? What will be the benefits for the employer organizations and the participants? What is the vision of success? How many organizational partners do we need?
  2. Organizational recruitment – putting together the champions and helping them. Remember in communications that each organization may need a different message to sell the concept in to its HR and line management infrastructure. Setting up the cross-organization steering committee and establishing how it will move from storming to performing.
  3. Programme design – recruitment, training, matching, ongoing support, review and evaluation. Research among potential participants is recommended.
  4. Launch – ideally one event for senior managers of all consortium organizations and key influencers; and a series of mini events in each member organization
  5. Recruitment and matching
  6. Training
  7. General programme management and ongoing support, including monitoring and reviewing
  8. End of phase one evaluation and celebration of achievements.

Some FAQs

Should we train people from the same organization together, or have a mixture of participants from across the organizations? Given that the intention is to benefit from different perspectives, it generally makes more sense to mix participants.

What other support/ learning could we provide for participants? One useful idea, originating from diversity mentoring, is to engage mentees in collective projects, with a representative from each company in each project group. This provides additional opportunities for cross-organizational learning.

What do participants need to know about the other organizations? Learning between the mentees is enhanced when they have opportunities to get to know something of all the organizations. In both mentor and mentee training, it is useful to have presentations by participants from each company about their organization’s culture, scope, products, approach to leadership and so on.

What if mentor and mentee live and work in widely separate locations? Distance mentoring is an increasingly common phenomenon. Training for mentors and mentees can include skills of mentoring by telephone or email.

What if relationships don’t work out? It’s actually easier to rematch people, when they are from different organizations — there are fewer consequences and less embarassment. More difficult is gathering the informal feedback – the organizational chatter – that alerts the programme facilitators to problems with individual relationships.

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