For the past few weeks, I’ve been sharing a behind-the-scenes look into my experiences in teamlancing after many years of freelancing and running my own small agency. This time around in Adventures in Teamlancing, we’ll be talking about mentoring relationships and why they could help you ease into or continue to excel at your new role as a teamlancer.
Mentoring goes beyond your school years
One of the more curious aspects of working as a teamlancer is the fact that, in some ways, you’re not exactly a full freelancer and yet not completely part of a team either. And while in the corporate world you might get full HR training when starting a new gig, when working as a teamlancer, there’s a whole lot of figuring it out as you go. And that’s where mentors can prove to be incredibly helpful.
1. Hone skills
In the traditional corporate or entrepreneurial world, mentors can help you become better at what you do. A mentor might challenge you to hone your skills or figure out how to work well with others. I’ve been incredibly fortunate over the years and on my varied career paths to connect with professionals (and some retirees) generous with their time, connections, and vast amounts of knowledge. And for that reason, I try to be generous with my own knowledge and network when possible.
2. Get a different perspective
Back to teamlancing for a minute. Unlike traditional freelancing where you rely mostly on your own instincts or virtual co-workers, with teamlancing, you have to sometimes make twisty decisions relating to both your career and your place within the team. And unlike a corporate job, with teamlancing, it isn’t as easy to sense when someone higher up on the ladder might be able to help you figure out how best to proceed.
When you start teamlancing, you’ll probably find some uncomfortable or at least new-to-you dynamics. If you don’t have formal co-workers, chances are that, at times, you might feel as if you’re stumbling around trying to figure it all out. Mentors often simply offer a different perspective on things.
Perhaps it’s their experience in the field or the fact that they’ve been through it and can offer a guiding hand or simply listen as you vent. Oftentimes, we know why something is bothering us, but a mentor can help us figure out how to move forward.
The mentor/mentee relationship doesn’t have to be formal
One of the greatest misconceptions about the mentor/mentee relationship is that there has to be some sort of a formal bond created. Since so many of us are working from home or virtually, the mentor/mentee relationship has evolved as well.
“It’s very much a voluntary relationship,” said Patricia Souza, Vice President, Student & Career Services at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, describing the school’s mentoring program. Students are assigned a coach on day one of the program and “they receive outreach, but they don’t have to respond,” she added.
The mentoring program seems to be working since a whopping 71 percent of students take advantage of the mentoring support and interaction provided by student services. Interestingly enough, as the cooking school went virtual, Souza explained that students might need help with anything from making a budget for purchasing food ingredients for that week’s assignments to securing an externship or job post-graduation.
You can be both a mentor and a mentee simultaneously
When I started my new teamlancing gig earlier this year, I had a definite feeling of déjà vu for a short while as I remembered what it was like to be the new kid. While I was secure with my talents, skills, and know-how and excited to share that with my new team, I also tried to figure out how to pace myself and my natural enthusiasm.
Because they already had relationships formed with each other, I wanted to test the waters first before even attempting to fit in anyplace. I wanted to be useful and not overbearing and helpful and not critical. And in those early weeks (So. Much. Zoom.) I mostly listened and took notes before commenting, much less offering critique.
And after a while, I noticed micro-relationships forming with some of my colleagues. While I relied heavily on some for early help and guidance, I was equally eager to share my own best advice with those who asked for it.
What type of mentorship would work for you? Before asking someone to act as your mentor, think about your personality type.
Asking yourself these questions could help you figure out the type of mentor you’d click with:
- Are you smoothly sociable or socially awkward? Do you love long rambling conversations, or do you cut to the chase?
- Do you only want to work together during work hours, or would you like to pop in on weekends or off-hours?
- Are you self-guided or do you need someone to offer regular input?
- Would you like your mentor to offer advice strictly on your career, or could you use advice on things like finances or networking?
Mentors through history
If you’re more of a loner than a joiner, you might think that a mentor/mentee relationship might not be the best fit for you. Consider the fact that some of the greatest thinkers, artists, or industry disruptors had mentors who helped them figure things out.
One of my favorite mentoring relationships is Socrates mentoring Plato who went on to mentor Aristotle. These philosophers shared their experiences and passed them along, and thousands of years later, we’re still learning from their collective shared and evolved wisdom.
In a mentoring relationship that combines both art and commerce, iconic fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent began his career as the personal assistant of legendary couturier Christian Dior. Along the way, Saint-Laurent learned about both design and entrepreneurship.
One of travel entrepreneurship’s most innovative thinkers, Virgin’s Richard Branson, famously said, “If you ask any successful businessperson, they will always have had a great mentor at some point along the road.” For Branson, that was pioneering airline entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker founder of Laker Airways. More than simply acting as his mentor, Laker was there for Branson as he launched Virgin Atlantic.
Next-generation teamlancing and mentoring
I’ll admit that I was ridiculously giddy in finding out that the late Sir Freddie Laker’s son of the same name, Freddie Laker, was not only a serial entrepreneur but willing to talk about both teamlancing and mentoring for this series.
Laker considered his father to be his mentor and in many ways, was groomed to be an airline CEO from birth and was reading financial reports by age 13. Despite having the opportunity to take over Laker Airways, he decided to create his own path. For Laker, that meant that this “self-taught computer guy” also “managed to buy and sell a couple of companies over the years.”
At one point, Laker became CMO in an agency, but he “hated it with a passion.” He said “I wasn’t really depressed or anything, but I wanted different things from my career. I never wanted to have a regular, normal job again and I swore to everyone I would never start another company again.” Only he did.
As founding partner and interim CMO/CDO at Chameleon Collective, a hybrid consulting/marketing services firm providing strategic leadership and experts to clients like Twitter, Live Nation, and Keurig, Laker has created the ultimate teamlancing experience. More than that, he said, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life.” And this despite being “locked in my house for seven months with my wife, my mom, and some Pomeranians.”
3 things to look for in a mentor
- Unlike career coaches or similar, your mentor could be in an entirely different field or simply a few years ahead of you (or many).
- Figure out your own definition of success before asking someone to mentor you. If a high paying salary is your only goal, find someone compensated generously. If work/life balance is your ideal, connect with someone who manages both comfortably.
- Find a responsive mentor. It’s excruciating to bare your (professional) soul to someone only to have to wait endlessly for them to respond.
Leveling up teamlancing
Unlike traditional agencies or even virtual setups, Chameleon Collective is what Laker describes as “a transformation company for private equity firms.” In simple terms, that means that the group operates in three core teams and depending on what’s needed, “we have the ability to airdrop in teams and leaders.”
So, if a company undergoing an “intense period of transformation needs a VP of Marketing, Head of Sales, or Head of Digital, a team can be assembled and ready to work together as a unit.” Laker also explained that there’s a second team in place where there are 60-odd experts who are “executionally focused” and get things done.
Another fascinating aspect of Laker’s company is that “We have no standardized hierarchy.” As he explained it, “ We change the structure around whoever owns the client relationship. If it’s your client, I work for you even if I’m the CEO.”
Which also makes for an interesting take on the mentoring/mentee dynamic. In teamlancing as in life, finding someone to mentor you depends on where you are in your career right here and now.
If you are not sure that a mentor/mentee relationship fits your work style, consider a different option. When assembling all the internal groups at Chameleon Collective, Laker says there’s always full transparency, to further avoid even a hint of a hierarchy. But in assembling the teamlance structures, there is the ability to choose your team. “If you have someone you’ve worked with for years,” Laker explained, you can simply say “I work with my wing person.”
In that type of structure, you’ll always have someone you trust to confide in, bounce ideas off of, or simply vent to now and again.
Where to find a mentor
- You don’t have to look too far to find a new mentor. Do you have an aunt, cousin, or neighbor who has a career you dream of? Approach them as a grown-up and not the kid in the dynamic and see if they’d be open to the idea of mentoring you, or at least providing guidance from time to time.
- What about your alma mater’s alumni association? It’s entirely possible they have career mentor matchmaking services.
- Join a chamber of commerce or even Facebook groups that cover your industry. Or start following industry hashtags on Twitter and see if anyone more advanced in your industry seems open to working with you.