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Review: "Teach What You Know: A Practical Leader's Guide to Knowledge Transfer Using Peer Mentoring"

Don’t be put off by the length of “Teach What You Know: A Practical Leader’s Guide to Knowledge Transfer Using Peer Mentoring“‘s* title! This book is a must read for any one at the apprentice level, right up to CEO.

There’s no earth-shattering advice here, as Trautman states himself in Chapter 10 of the book: “Every idea in this book is common sense…” and it is! Even so, reading the book will give you that “Ah Ha!” moment and lead you into the wonderful world of Peer Mentoring.

Peer Mentoring is the process of sharing your knowledge amongst your co-workers which may be required due to:

  • a company re-organisation
  • the need to spread out knowledge silos (i.e. experts on a subject, however that subject may cross into other areas. In other words, don’t have all your eggs in one basket)
  • train a job replacement
  • bring a new hire up to speed quickly

In fact anyone can benefit from Mentoring, even (or should that be especially?!) your Manager. The idea behind the knowledge transfer will not (as some may think) weaken your position/standing in the company but actually increase it, plus will provide you with extra time to do your work rather than spend hours fixing other people’s problems or answering their “stupid” questions.

Trautman has extensive mentoring experience at companies such as Microsoft and Electronic Arts and he uses that knowledge to give “Teach what you know” all the necessary steps you require in the mentoring process – along with some very good examples of why we should mentor people.

Teach What You Know - Steve TrautmanEach chapter is well written in a friendly, conversational tone and includes various real-world examples of the points Trautman’s putting across – many of which will have you thinking “I’ve been in that situation, if only I’d had this book back then!” I personally found the examples very useful when relating the mentoring process to my current job as they enabled my to think, “Ah, that’d be useful to do with So-and-so.”

The interesting slant with the book however, is not how you will benefit others (whether that be co-workers or the company in general) by using the mentoring process but how you will benefit from the process, how it will save your time, your role, your sanity etc.

“Teach what you know” allows you not only to assess your teaching (mentoring) style but also your communication and (in the case of the apprentice) learning styles as well. It allows you to pin down whether you’re a five minute phone call, a 30 minute weekly face-to-face, weekly review or daily email report type mentor which allowed me to pin down exactly the style of communication I like and there for what I’d like from a mentor and apprentice.

Training plan development, learning styles, knowledge transfer and practical applications of Mentoring are some of the topics covered in what I’d call easily digestible “bite-sized chunks”. I read the book over the course of a week during my (very few and far-between) lunch hours and already by the second day I was beginning to implement some of the techniques I’d been reading about. Points covered in “Teach what you know” include:

  • What do you as a peer want to achieve from the training?
  • What do I as the mentor want to share? What is the message I want to get across?
  • What is the purpose (i.e the goals) of the Mentoring
  • How to best format the training and development plan to suit the apprentice
  • How do you measure the progress and success of the mentoring?

Within a couple of days I was asking people exactly what they wanted to know (rather than assuming what it was they wanted), how they wanted that information delivered (email, quick chat, full meeting etc.) and how I’d know they’d got “it” once I’d delivered.

Another good point of the book is that at the end of each chapter is an “Apprentice”, “Mentor” and “Manager” summary, which gives an overview of what relevance the chapter is to each group. The “Manager” sidebars are particularly useful if you, either as an apprentice or prospective mentor, are looking to set up a mentoring programme in your workplace and need to convince your manager of the benefits it will have.

It’s not often I’d recommend a book to all levels of management/staff in a workplace but this is one that’s relevant no matter what level of the organisation you sit at.

For the manager that’s wondering why he should bother with mentoring here are a few benefits outlined in the book:

  • Your team has a broader skillset which means you have a wide choice of people to put on projects
  • If people move from a role, job transition will take less time. To use a horrible euphemism, they’ll be able to “hit the ground running”.
  • Higher employee morale.
  • Internal mentoring is highly cost effective compared to external training.

From the Mentor’s perspective, sharing knowledge brings great pride in their job, more self-worth, the ability to transfer less key tasks to someone else and the knowledge that if they want to they can “move on” to another position with the minimum of hand-over time.

The Apprentice, obviously gains the most from the mentoring process; greater understanding of the company and the postion they’re in, what is expected of them, what they can achieve and most importantly and increased skill-set (and therefore higher morale and self-worth).

All-in-All, this book is a must have for anyone working in a company that has an existing (or is thinking of implementing) an internal training structure, and a definite “Leave on the breakroom table so I can share it with my colleagues” read.

You can buy “Teach What You Know: A Practical Leader’s Guide to Knowledge Transfer Using Peer Mentoring” from Amazon here*, Visit Steve’s Trautman’s Website and listen to Steve Talking to Wayne Turmel about Peer Mentoring at “The Cranky Middle Manager Show”.

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