Mentoring conversations

Friday, 3 January 2020

At @tes_engineering mentoring is essential to how we work and grow.

Mentoring can vary a lot; often the key duties are:
  • 👂  Be a person to speak to and listen
  • 👐  Offer Tes Engineering support and comfort
  • 🧭  Help people navigate the organisation 
  • 🏋🏻‍♀️  Help people grow capability
  • 🎆  Celebrate success!
There is also massive value from being a mentor. You get to
  • 📤  Share your experience
  • 🏗️  See people grow and see how people grow
  • 👁️‍  Gain insight and empathy 🗨️

Mentor chats

Mentoring revolves around having frequent chats with the person you are mentoring. It might be a free style catch up, or follow a questioning structure. Maybe the right conversation needs structure to help with growth. Without a chat there will be no mentoring - it all starts there.

Conversations are dynamic. Mentors aim to choose a good format and adapt to suit the situation and the mentee's needs.  There are a couple of formats I've found really useful to lean on to get a chat going and to build shared knowledge and rapport.

Catch up style

Catch ups are great to keep remote and timezone distributed people in the loop
  • 🎁 Share what’s going on in your world / team
  • 🐢 See where the conversation takes you
  • 👂 Keep listening

Ask 4 questions

The 4 questions structure is great to help someone gain a different perspective and talk things through. It's my go-to choice.
  • ⚕️ 1. How are you?
  • 👍 2. What’s good?
  • 👎 3. What’s not so good?
  • 🧩 4. Is there something we have not talked about that we should?

Focus on growth and skills acquisition

Growth and skills based conversations are best when supported by goals or a direction.
We have engineering skills maps and 6 monthly reviews to help our people think how they would like to grow. Mentors then can assist in finding ways forward.
  • 🗺️ Look at progression and acquisition
  • 🛣️ Ask them about how to progress a step
  • 🚧 Discuss blockers
  • 🎊 Throw in a good challenge
I've found this style also works well for on-boarding and assisting new joiners learn about their role and how things function.

Why do I like these?

A key to helping someone grow at work is helping them feel safe and happy. No one learns much for long without these. Mentoring conversations should start by helping someone into this position.


Beyond that, you, as a mentor need to build rapport and trust, so you can be told and tell critical information that might otherwise go unsaid.

Active Listening is a great way to do this, as well as a way to learn and guide without dominating a conversation.

(credit to

There's a lot more to the power and value of mentoring, and there is a lot of depth in way you can use conversations to support guide and grow. Hopefully these patterns will get you started.

Testing In Production and Observability

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Test (Expect, Alert,  Degrade, Observe) In Production

Are you are looking to ship new code to your users faster, and want to know how to manage the resulting testing in Production?

I was hit with the same challenge when I joined Tes Global a few years ago, where I need to shift from an 'automate, inspect and ship' process to a continual release method that required a level of testing in Production.

As I've worked through this I've been blogging on their engineering site about my exploration of Micro-service monitoring, Testing in Production and Observability.

Set Live Expectations on your Micro-services
Testing in Production means setting Expectations of correctness onto your live system.

Are your Micro-services collaborating correctly?
How to test the collaboration between you Micro-services is happening correctly in Production.

Production monitoring and team work
Make your alerts accurate, exceptional conditions that your team can act on fast.

Building Reactive, reporting systems
Make your system resilient by using Graceful Degradation and monitoring to not let down your users when broken code is shipped.

Adjusting Your Interaction Style

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

In a dynamic environment a team needs to be continually learning. A team that isn’t learning well risks making ill-informed choices, waiting to fail.

Take time to look at how and what your team is learning and help them focus on the right things. Adjust your style to support, amplify and adapt to the growth of your team.

Learning in a team environment

Whilst learning happens naturally whilst doing, it’s worth asking: what's your team learning and is the team learning well? With this information you choose to can engage with the team and help them with their skill acquisition and knowledge sharing.

There’s a simple participation model of skill learning I like to use: 'See one, Share one, Lead one' (adapted from the medical school learning model). Key for me is it’s hands-on nature and how it helps to generate conversations through questions, guidance and feedback. Conversations engage people in learning. Either as an expert or a facilitator, your conversations have a huge effect on the learning that happens.

Leading and Delegating

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A team that relies on its leader rather than learning to run itself is a team that's likely to fail. 

Building self reliance in your teams means they can work independently. In order to do that sometimes you need to build will and sometimes build skill.

The leader's choice: Facilitate or Direct

We have a choice when leading. Support the team and their abilities to get the job done, or to direct, using our experience to guide the team.

Sometimes there is the need is for direction and focus, declaring the goal and how we'll get there. At others, the capabilities to get the job done are there in the team, all that's needed is support or a little structure.

“Facilitate where they can, lead where they can’t.” is guide that keeps me on the straight and narrow. It helps me to make a key assessment and a decision: do I get out of the way or do I show them what needs to be done.

Of course it's not always that clear cut. It takes time to get to know where a group has great capabilities and give them the space to act. Even harder is to look deeper into the relationship and work out how to grow that independence.

Catastrophe and Engagement

Thursday, 2 October 2014

This is the second part of a series on Leading and Guiding Groups The first covered Safety and Enjoyment as an important part of the learning dynamic.

Pressure effects performance. Consider the demands placed on the individuals in teams and understand how it effects their performance.
Original Source unknown (I have a copy of a copy)
please contact me if you can attribute.

Manage your ability to code

As workers, our ability to deliver is affected by what is asked of us. Under increasing demand, we move from disengagement through stimulated engagement and into increasingly effective focus. However as the pressure becomes higher still, the ability to deliver drops. Initially it hits reductions in capability, but leads towards complete collapse as demand keeps rising.

This diagram helped me focus on my state of mind, when I was learning to manage myself better. Understanding where I was on the curve allowed me to make better decisions about taking on work or asking for help.