In today’s workplace, where “do more with less” is the new mantra, employers are looking for ways to develop and engage employees without breaking the bank. One longstanding method of such informal learning is making a fresh comeback—mentoring.

The word “mentor” originates from Greek mythology: When Odysseus left for the Trojan War, he entrusted his older friend, Mentor, to take care of his son, Telemachus. Based on this story, “mentor” was adopted in the English language to describe someone who imparts wisdom to another.

Traditional mentoring in the workplace still looks similar to this ancient myth: Typically an older or more seasoned employee shares knowledge with a younger or less experienced colleague. Many organizations have created mentoring programs through which one employee is matched to another in a one-on-one relationship for the purpose of organizational knowledge sharing. Some organizations automate the process so that the Human Resources or Learning and Development function assigns these partnerships through a mandated mentorship initiative. Other organizations put the onus on employees to self-select mentors based on their professional interests and needs.

In recent years, new types of mentoring models have developed in response to a changing workplace—one that is more collaborative, global, and tech-savvy. Below are some approaches that many organizations are using in addition to—or in place of—traditional mentorship.

  • Reverse mentoring: A reversal of traditional mentoring in that a younger or less experienced person mentors an older or more seasoned colleague. For example, this type of mentoring is useful if a member from a younger generation can impart knowledge about emerging technology to a member from an older generation.
  • Peer mentoring: A collaborative, cross-functional approach by which colleagues who work at the same level in an organization, but within different departments, mentor each other. This method is an effective supplement to cross-training initiatives.
  • Group (or team) mentoring: A person with unique subject matter expertise—either internal or external to the organization—mentors a group of learners in need of a specific set of knowledge or skills. For example, when an organization implements a new process, group mentoring is useful for bringing teams of employees up to speed.
  • Situational mentoring: A mentorship experience that addresses learning needs as they arise, allowing individuals to learn from one or more experts on a given topic. Through this approach, several people can offer ideas simultaneously to help an individual solve an immediate learning need.
  • Virtual mentoring: Any form of the above mentoring models implemented via a virtual channel, leveraging new collaborative technology. For example, a peer mentoring group is conducted using the social networking platform, Yammer, to connect individuals located in a variety of offices across the country.

Mentorship can be a powerful way for you, as a non-profit leader, to engage employees at all levels, ensure organizational knowledge is shared, and develop high-potential employees—and all with very little impact on your budget. Like any new initiative, don’t get lost in the details or wait until your plan is perfect to act. Instead, start identifying opportunities for mentoring programs and begin connecting employees today.

Which of the above forms of mentoring have you tried, and what was your experience like? Which of the above approaches do you plan to implement in your non-profit in the future? Share your experiences and ideas in the comment section below.