4 Collaboration Styles in Social Learning and Mentoring

Chris Browning


4 Collaboration Styles in Social Learning and Mentoring

Collaboration Styles for Mentees, Mentors, Advisors, and Others

Varying collaboration styles need to be taken into account in mentoring programs. We’ve all been there, sitting in a meeting listening to someone speak, when the person asks a question of the group. Cue cricket sounds. No one wants to speak up, and everyone is waiting for someone else to take action.  Now imagine that happening in an online mentoring or social learning environment when people only interact via technology.

One colleague refers to this as playing “social chicken.” The long delays (or outright non-responses) between interactions can cause frustration and lead people to check out of the social learning environment never to return. That’s a recipe for low engagement if I’ve ever seen it.

Working and learning together virtually takes much more intentional collaboration from all participants. We can begin to address the problem of “social chicken” by attempting to understand who our collaborators are and what type of collaboration style they tend to use.   Most of us have preferred collaboration styles that shape the way we are viewed by our colleagues. In the virtual mentoring and social learning environment, four distinct styles or modes of collaboration exist that can greatly impact the way a virtual group works and learns together to accomplish their goals. These four collaboration styles are:

  1. Conformist
  2. Expert
  3. Co-Creator
  4. Community Builder.
Two co workers collaborating on a mentoring project together.


Conformists observe accepted procedures and protocols in an attempt to avoid inner and outer conflict. They are very cooperative and nice toward others, but show very little concern about organizational issues beyond their immediate work team. The group member collaborating in this style does not seek out feedback, avoids negativity, and cannot openly disagree.


Experts are interested in solving problems and are often critical of self and others. They tend to be dogmatic in their judgements, meaning they are assertive when stating matters of opinion. They rely on logic and intellectually determined objectivity to guide their actions. The group member collaborating in this style will work independently to discover the one provable right answer, trust only his/her own judgements, and defer to the authority of his/her chosen craft masters to the exclusion of other social learning collaborators.


Co-creators are initiators of results-oriented action. They hold a vivid and inspiring vision of the future and work well with others to accomplish pre-determined goals. They genuinely care about gaining mutuality with others and seek to cultivate their relationships with coworkers. The group member collaborating in this style seeks consensus, teamwork, and the accomplishment of pre-established goals.

Community Builders

Community builders are creative at conflict management and are process- and goal-oriented. They are aware of paradox and contradiction, and they enjoy playing a variety of roles. They are objective participants and very adept at creating new knowledge and decision-making. The group member collaborating in this style is comfortable with paradox and concerned with helping others reframe their perspectives based on the purposes of the situation.

The collaboration style that we operate out of can greatly influence our effectiveness when it comes to learning. If mentoring and social learning groups had mainly Co-Creators or Community Builders, we may not have much “social chicken” to contend with. However, the reality is that some of us have a collaboration style that fits more in the Conformist or Expert category. By understanding these four styles, we can identify where we typically fit and work to adjust our actions so that we improve as collaborators and contributors to the learning environment.

Action starts with intent. Therefore, if you want to collaborate at a higher level, start by capturing a vision or mental image of what effective collaboration will look like in your social learning group. After you have a clear vision for more effective collaboration, develop strategies and plans to fulfill the vision. As you act on your new plans, assess how the others in your group are responding to your actions, and adjust your strategies, plans or actions accordingly when you stumble upon those that are inappropriate or ineffective.

As you advance your skills as a collaborator, be willing to share what you are doing with your colleagues so that they can contribute to your growth and also learn from your experiences as well. This will help everyone elevate their level of collaboration and hopefully stop the game of “social chicken.”

Mentoring team collaborating on a work project.

Help Mentors and Mentees Find Their Learning Styles

Matching mentors and mentees can be disastrous if the mentor’s teaching or coaching style is different than the mentee’s learning style. Finding that right match will determine just how eager the mentee is to engage, and just how effective the mentoring relationship (and the entire mentoring program) will be.

A simple solution to this is to use matching software. By matching participants based on interests and personality, you’ll take the guesswork out of trying to match manually. Ultimately, this leads to better results, especially considering programs using mentoring software enjoy a 50% reduction in turnover, on average and incredible ROI.

Want to see how mentor matching works? Contact us today to get see mentor matching in action.

Chris Browning

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