Mentoring is a key part of the architectural profession throughout one’s career. From the first days out of school, to the final days in the profession and beyond – we all learn from others. In my experience, mentoring is a very much a two-way street. In a much earlier time, mentoring may have been reserved only to disseminate knowledge to those with less experience. However, similar to our classrooms of today that are no longer about the “sage on the stage,” mentoring and life-long learning is about active peer-learning. Instructors are more like choreographers and all engaged participants can both give and receive knowledge. The same can be said for our wonderfully creative open studio at Payette where I’ve witnessed mentoring happen in all directions.
When I joined the firm, nearly five years ago, I thought about the images on www.payette.com depicting “studio life” and loved that as I walked through the studio, this is really how we work. There is an enormous amount of exchange and engagement. We sit with our teams alongside Principals and senior architects who are right there interacting with the team, including the newest interns. Teams meet informally as needed, which can be several times a day to facilitate ongoing discussions. Several design or other discussions happen in the studio, where others, if they so choose, can listen to the varied discourse. Weekly, if not more often, we hold pin-ups or alcove discussions about projects where we invite critique from the firm. In addition, we hold formal project showings, where we share information about projects at specific milestones. There are also countless informal interactions across teams at peer-to-peer levels and across disciplines with our building science, interiors, landscape, graphics, marketing, communications, IT and finance teams. It is a vibrant community of intellectual and creative endeavor, all for the benefit of the projects and our clients. The passion and dedication throughout the firm is palpable. What an amazing environment in which to learn.
I recall being right out of school and feeling like a sponge – there was so much to learn and I couldn’t do it fast enough. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful mentor, who was like a grandfather to me. (The profession has come a long way; there were very few senior women at that time). He saw me either as a granddaughter or the daughter he didn’t have and he was open and willing to share and it was clear I was eager to learn. I asked at one point – how could he possibly know so much about so many different things. (Joe, among other strengths, was a great technical architect). He was gracious and generous (a southern gentleman). He noted, “I don’t know that much, I just have a lot of specialists.” He did know a lot and I ultimately got to know a number of his “specialists” who he would regularly call up for “free advice.”
Fast forward a few years – I remember the first time folks began to come to me for advice because I had had experience with something particular they were looking for. It was great to be able to share knowledge and give back.
Since that time and still today, I am constantly looking for opportunities to both learn and give back. I have been witness to so many examples of up-down mentoring – especially in the age of warp-speed technological advances. Emerging staff often mentor senior architects. I chuckled recently when I walked past our VR lounge to see a Principal with a VR headset on – looking up and down, surrounded and being guided by our graphics team and his project team. On my own team, newly registered architect put together a “principal proof” animation – that our Principal-in-Charge and I could run (without fail) to a University Chancellor. At the same time, I am thrilled when I can still offer some lessons in programs such as Excel or Powerpoint to help our emerging staff.
Mentoring though is more than knowledge sharing. It is about helping others cultivate their own careers. It is listening, advising, sharing and being there. It can be opening doors, teaching new skills, or even having difficult conversations. We all benefit from being both a mentor and mentee. It is important to have both types of relationships within and outside of your firm.
I have been involved in a number of formal mentoring programs that, more often than not, have not been sustainable. It seems “forced” mentoring doesn’t always work. In my experience, informal and organic mentoring relationships have increased success rates. I have a number of professional colleagues I look up to, that I have never asked formally “will you be my mentor” – but they very much are. It is amazing, too, when you fast forward in your career how many of those different types of relationships add up. A great aspect about the longevity of this profession is interconnected nature of those relationships. They can have a profound impact on the trajectory of your own career – and you, in turn, can have an impact on the careers of others. This is to say, you must seek out mentors though; don’t wait for the formal programs.
In this day and age, in the open studio format, it is so easy to put in ear buds to tune out what is happening around you. It is totally understandable if you are in a production mode, or need to focus! Noise canceling headphones are a helpful tool, but I encourage keeping an ear opening for listening as much as possible to the discourse in the studio. Engage with team members at all levels of experience and seek out those with whom you can build those lasting mentoring relationships. Before long you will discover the magical impact mentoring can have in your career and life.