New Frontiers of Mentoring: 5 Out-of-the-Box Approaches

By Mike BergelsonMarch 27, 2014

How would you like to be mentored at 35,000 feet? Or take part in a speed mentoring event in a virtual world? Or be part of a shadow board?  These are just a few of the innovative approaches to workplace mentoring that some companies are experimenting with. Here are 5 examples.

1. In-Flight Mentoring

Forget first class and economy class. Delta Airlines this week announced a new seating section on its planes: “Innovation Class.”

The idea is that up-and-coming professionals apply to land a coveted first-class-style seat next to a leader in their field. They can then chat with their new mentor for the duration of the flight, getting advice and hopefully forming a powerful connection.

The first mentoring session took place earlier this month, pairing Pebble smartwatch founder Eric Migicovsky with visual artist James Patten. Delta is now accepting applications for the next session, with chef Sean Brock assuming the role of mentor, via its LinkedIn page.

2. Speed Mentoring

Some organizations have pepped up their enterprise mentoring initiatives by playing off the speed dating phenomenon. At the Women of the World festival in the UK in 2012, for example, protégés were given exactly 15 minutes to discuss an issue or challenge that they were facing with a mentor, before moving on to talk to a new person. In total, each woman had the chance to talk to four different mentors. Companies such asRockwell Collins have run similar events.

IBM has taken it a step further by holding speed mentoring events inside the “virtual” world Second Life. A group of experienced business leaders act as the mentors, and junior employees get to meet with them in specially built “mentoring pods.” The same 15-minute rule applies: when the time is up, the mentors move on to different pods, and speak with new protégés.

3. Shadow Boards

Industrial conglomerate RPG Group in India has an innovative approach to corporate mentoring high-potential young employees. It invites them onto a “shadow” board, where they work on the same challenges as top management, trying to find their own solutions.

A senior management team member keeps the board on track and helps the young members hone their management skills. The program has been in place for several years and has proven to have a triple benefit: allowing promising youngsters to be mentored by senior executives, giving them practical management experience, and producing some innovative solutions to real challenges the company is facing.

4. Job Swapping

If you’ve seen the TV show Wife Swap, you know what an eye-opener it can be to walk in someone else’s shoes for a while. Job swapping takes the same approach, having employees trade places for anything from a day to six months.

Usually the exchange takes place within an organization, but some executives are experimenting with external swaps. Dharmesh Shah, for example, chief technology officer at, traded roles for a day in 2012 with’s CTO Paul English. The experience gave both of them an opportunity to learn from each other, which is what mentoring is all about – except that instead of talking, they were directly living each other’s lives.

5. Rotational Mentoring

One of the main benefits of traditional corporate mentoring has been the ability to forge long-term relationships. But a program sponsored by Women in Technology in the Washington DC area uses a new approach, deliberately rotating the mentors so that participants get access to different people with fresh ideas.

In this particular program, the mentoring lasts for four sessions, after which the protégé “graduates” and is encouraged to become a mentor herself. But the rotational principle also applies in other organizations with longer-term mentoring, where protégés work with one mentor for a year or two before being assigned to someone else. Participants lose the ability to form a long-term connection with a single person, but gain the chance to meet more people and to hear a variety of perspectives.

These five approaches may not replace traditional enterprise mentoring, but they do provide an interesting spin on it, and can help boost employee’s enthusiasm for and engagement with their organization’s program. We’ll continue to explore innovative approaches to workplace mentoring on the blog, so sign up using the form in the sidebar to get regular updates about our latest posts.


Mike Bergelson

Mike Bergelson

CEO at Everwise

About the Author

Mike Bergelson is the CEO and a co-founder of Everwise, a talent development startup that connects employees to the people, development resources and experiences they need to thrive at every stage of their career.

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