Mentoring programmes in Denmark mainly exists as one-2-one relationships within organisations, unions or at an educational institution. However, it can be difficult for smaller organisations to establish internal mentoring programmes, simply because it is impossible to match a mentor and a mentee who do not have some sort of power relation to each other, and thus may have biased perceptions of others.
Cross-mentoring programmes are a solution for creating mentoring programmes for smaller organisations. In cross-mentoring programmes, several organisations join forces to exchange mentors and mentees. This, of course, means that these organisations cannot be competitors, while at the same time requiring agreement on the purpose of the programme. There are many benefits to cross-mentoring programmes:
- Full confidentiality between mentor and mentee as they come from different organisations.
- No direct power relation, as the mentor has no influence on the mentee’s career in the mentee’s own organisation.
- Mutual inspiration from different organisations, which can help reveal blind spots.
- New solutions that are shared across the organisations.
Examples of cross-mentoring programmes
One of the first cross-mentoring programmes in Europe started in the year 2000 in Germany. The aim was to develop a mentoring programme that could help support female talents in their leadership careers by developing career plans and networks. Among the organisations were Lufthansa, Deutsche Bank, Daimler Chrysler, Deutsche Telekom and others. In 2005, the International Cross-Mentoring Program (ICMP) started in Luxembourg by Rita Knott built on the same model. The ICMP programmes, which are implemented annually, include both mentoring programmes for female leadership talents, programmes for male leaderships talents as well as a special programme for potential female board members, and are also actively supported by the Minister for Gender Equality in Luxembourg.
A large Danish public organisation implemented a different type of cross-mentoring programme a few years ago. Here, they wanted the top leaders of the organisation to get inspiration from the private business community to develop both leadership competencies and organisational culture. The programme was intended as a kick start to create an organisation with greater innovation power and less bureaucracy.
The two programmes mentioned have a fundamental difference in their design and formal intent:
- The ICMP programme is a two-way cross-mentoring programme – each organisation basically offers the same number of mentors and mentees, who are matched across organisations.
- The Danish programme is a one-way cross-mentoring programme – where some organisations only provide mentors, and others only provide mentees.
A third model is a cross-mentoring programme which is part of a larger leadership development programme. In this example, 6 organisations participate, each with 2 mentees and 2 mentors, who are matched in mentor/mentee pairs. At the same time, the 12 mentees are divided into two action learning groups, each of which has one mentee from each organisation in the group. Each group works on tasks that are brought up by the participants, and they work together to develop solutions. The results of these action learning groups are presented at the end of the programme to the programme’s sponsor panel, which mainly consists of a board member from each of the participating organisations. This combination of mentoring, cross-mentoring and action learning seems to create a special synergy that increases the effect of leadership development.
Points of attention
However, there are a number of points of attention when companies want to establish cross-mentoring programmes:
- It is about bringing together a number of organisations that are different, but not so different that you cannot find a community around the purpose, and at the same time that these organisations do not compete, so there is no risk of ”stealing” each other’s employees.
- Ethics and confidentiality must be mentioned from the start, both at company level and at individual level. For the organisations, it is especially about knowledge that must not leave the company, and the question of not recruiting each other’s employees. For the participants, it is about knowing this framework and understanding the boundaries of mentoring.
- Joint training in roles and tools for the mentor/mentee collaboration. The joint training makes it easier for mentors and mentees to ”step into each other’s shoes” and to accept each other’s differences – which may stem from different corporate cultures and values.
- There is a need for a mechanism to ensure that all participating organisations (and their mentors and mentees) experience fair benefits – the reciprocity of both giving and receiving mentoring. We recommend the establishment of a steering group with representatives from all the organisations, where you can follow-up and evaluate the mentoring programme and discuss important topics.