When companies decide it’s time to begin a workplace redesign initiative, the outcome they seek to achieve is typically one of three things: cost savings, collaboration gains or productivity enhancement. It’s rare that the word “mentoring” comes up.

And yet, a funny thing happened on our way to achieving these three “typical” benefits in our own workplace redesign. We got a smarter, more mature workforce, too. And, it didn’t cost a dime extra.

When Citrix redesigned our workspace, the walls came down — literally. Not a single leader had an office with a door that closed. Senior Managers, Directors and VPs infiltrated the front line of our IT organization and they brought their conversations with them. And in a single day, we gained the best mentorship program we never knew we needed.

I’d venture to guess that you and I have all had mentors, at least once. And, this is usually how that relationship works:

  • You choose a day and time to meet with your mentor, you usually meet in their office or on a 1:1 GoToMeeting and close the door.
  • You rehash some challenge or decision (all from your point of view, by the way).
  • You receive some sage advice or story from your mentor’s experience.
  • Maybe you apply it, maybe you don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing broken with this experience. It’s a wonderful investment of time from a senior leader or a peer. However, what if you complemented that with a mentoring experience that requires no investment at all? It simply exists in the day-to-day, once leaders come out from behind the door.

I didn’t realize how powerful this workspace experience was and how lucky I am to live it at Citrix until I was sitting next to an executive in my department in a cube area with lower walls.

He was working with his own executive coach on the phone … right there in an open workspace. He’s was very open and was sharing insights he’s gleaned through some challenges earlier that week. Suddenly, he was so REAL! And, his insights were so applicable to me (well, maybe in a few career years). Not much later, another leader was on a GoToMeeting in an open workspace, working on a project-related problem. She was asking really great questions and role modeling curiosity before going straight to solution.

One of the most powerful events for me was the most personal. I was on a GoToMeeting with a team member, conducting a 1:1. I didn’t expect any challenging conversations to come up, but one did. I had a privacy room available where I could have chosen to sit if I expected to hit a moment of friction, but I hadn’t seen this one coming.

After hanging up, a colleague who had been sitting next to me caught my eye. “Want to talk?” she asked. What ensued was an on-the-spot mentoring session, helping me think through next steps with the employee. I was a better leader in the end, and so was the decision the employee and I came to.

The challenges of developing talent are real. According to Forbes.com, 3.6 million baby boomers are eligible to retire this year and 25% of ALL millennials will become managers. If developing talent … fast … isn’t on your mind, it should be. And, thankfully, you don’t need to hire someone to run your mentoring program. Just bring down the walls, and bring leadership out into the open.

You’ll be surprised how fast people will grow.

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