In the workplace, we often talk about how to be a good mentor and offer the most to those trying to learn from us. But how can you best take advantage of a situation when you are a mentee and not a mentor?
I’ve had the opportunity to be both an intern and an Accelerator at Atomic Object. Throughout my time, I’ve worked on many projects, and I think I’ve figured out how to use the people around me to my advantage. “Advantage” here does not mean taking advantage, but rather optimizing the output I can get from what my mentors are putting in.
Here are a few ways that I’ve engaged actively in relationships and meetings with my mentors and peers.
Meet with Tech Leads
Tech leads are already investing a lot by taking on the task of bringing a less experienced person up-to-speed on a project. In my position, I have biweekly meetings with my tech lead to discuss whatever I (or we) want. Throughout the two weeks prior to the meeting, I make sure to prepare by thinking about difficulties or successes I’d like to bring up.
On the day of the meeting, I’ll make a few handwritten notes detailing what I’d like to discuss. Writing things down is a great way to figure out what your priorities are for the meeting. I’ve also found that this is a good way to facilitate giving feedback to your tech lead. Although you’re the one in need of mentorship, folks in advanced positions don’t have many opportunities to receive feedback.
Try to reinforce behavior you like, or ask about trying something new. In this meeting, we might also have our direct manager present. This is helpful because they’re able to offer insight into project problems from another experienced perspective. In the past, we’ve even discussed technical problems where our manager had more experience.
Meet with Direct Managers
In addition to meetings with my tech lead, I also have meetings with my direct manager every month. Similar to the tech lead meetings, I prepare handwritten notes prior to the meeting. It can be a bit hard to remember details throughout the month, so I like to keep a list. If you think of a question you’d like to ask, write it down, and ask your manager later that month.
I like these meetings because it gives me a chance to ask about project problems without the pressure of any team members chiming in. I’m pretty shy, so having this time to brainstorm and make plans for conversations or changes without being interrupted by someone is really valuable.
Most importantly, I suggest using this time for whatever you need, whether it’s project questions, team communications, or questions about internal initiatives. I typically focus on my project, as that’s my usual day-to-day work. I’ve also brought feedback about internal events and communication questions. The important part here is that you feel comfortable discussing anything with your manager. They are there to help you and want you to trust them.
Ask for One-Off Meetings
Meetings with tech leads and direct managers are beneficial, and I appreciate their formality and consistency. But sometimes, we need to consider more than just everyday work. If you feel that you need more specific feedback, just ask. People are generally willing to provide feedback, given the time to think about it, and they will appreciate your drive to improve.
At the end of projects and when making new quarterly goals, ask team members for specific feedback. Send a message or talk briefly about what you’re seeking and give them some time to think.
The best feedback I received out of this exercise was from a previous tech lead. We were ending a project where we would no longer be working together, and I wanted to get his advice on what to work on going forward. Before then, he had primarily given me positive feedback. Given this specific question, we were able to have an honest conversation about where I could improve my technical and non-technical skills. Without the pressure of the formal meeting, we were able to talk more openly.
In a similar way, my project manager and designer also had good feedback, even though we hadn’t worked as closely. In feedback sessions like these, taking notes during or right after the meeting is helpful. It’s a good opportunity to synthesize your thoughts, make goals or priorities around them, and make a record so you can look at them later to see if you’ve made progress.
Consider Your Professional Development
The last type of feedback that I try to optimize centers around professional goals. This may be similar to meetings with a direct manager, but professional development discussions should be focused on you, not on your project.
In the Accelerator program, we create personal objectives and key results (OKRs) and have weekly meetings to check in on progress for weekly priorities, blockers, and successes. I enjoy having peers in this meeting because it helps keep me accountable to both my boss and my team. It also creates a supportive environment to demonstrate advancement.
Find a group of peers who are looking for a formal way to track goal progress and have someone, maybe your manager, facilitate weekly or biweekly meetings. Having someone there who has experience with professional and career development is incredibly valuable for keeping the team motivated and guiding you as you set goals.
In the workplace, there are many areas in which you can receive feedback. This may look different for everyone, but being proactive about asking for feedback is a good starting point. Remember, people are there to help you in your job. Making sure they’re helping you in the best way possible might mean putting in the work yourself to make it happen!