Mentoring can be done by anyone, at any time, and in almost any place. Many of you will be able to recall a rewarding professional relationship that informed and enhanced your learning and development. In this section we'll explore the formal mentoring relationship.

The mentoring process
The mentor relationship
Personal review

The mentoring process

Mentoring is usually defined as a relationship between an experienced and a less experienced person in which the mentor provides guidance, advice, support and feedback to the mentee. It can be a focused, planned relationship where the mentor assists the mentee achieve greater self-awareness, identify and plan alternatives and initiate and evaluate actions. Mentoring relationships have a clear start, evolution and ending.

Coaching is the more specific process of learning from or about a task while actually performing it. Coaches can be supervisors, experienced co-workers or colleagues.

Mentoring is a learning process which supports much of what is currently known about how individuals learn, including the importance of experiential and work-based learning. Technology is also assisting mentoring in organisations, as mentors and mentees connect through electronic mail and videoconferencing. The trend towards group mentoring, in which the mentor is the learning leader of a 'learning group' is also proving popular.

The mentor relationship

Mentoring can be viewed as a partnership, with both parties freely contributing to the discussion as equals working together. The relationship is based on mutual respect, cooperation and acceptance.

The mentor relationship can be:
  • flexible
  • one-off, short or longer term
  • formal or informal
  • structured or unstructured.
Your mentor may be:
  • a supervisor
  • colleague
  • respected person outside the workplace.
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What are the key skills of a good mentor?

Mentors should have a high level of competence and a willingness and commitment to help another person develop. Some of the key skills of a good mentor include:
  • strong expertise in their specific area
  • organisational knowledge
  • strong interpersonal and communication skills
  • status and prestige
  • ability to share credit
  • patience and risk-taking
  • willingness to share responsibility for learning and personal development
  • ethical practice
  • strong supervisory skills.

What are the responsibilities of the mentee?

The mentee's role in the mentoring relationship is an active one in which they take a large degree of responsibility for their own learning. This requires the mentee to:
  • identify their own learning needs
  • be willing to seek challenging assignments and new responsibilities
  • be receptive to feedback and coaching.

What are the benefits of mentoring?

Task - writing exercise

Working with a colleague, identify and discuss the potential benefits of a formal mentoring relationship. Record your ideas.

Task - possible answers

The benefits of having a mentor are numerous. They can:
  • facilitate your workplace learning
  • provide information and insight
  • discover and develop talent and skills
  • tap into informal communication channels
  • explain the 'unwritten rules'
  • teach specific skills and share knowledge
  • coach in effective behaviours
  • encourage and support you to achieve goals
  • assist in goal-setting and planning
  • provide new or different perspective
  • model skills and behaviour
  • challenge in a supportive way
  • encourage critical reflection
  • provide feedback on observed performance.
In short, you have a personal guide to assist you to set and reach your goals.
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What can go wrong?

It takes work to develop a successful mentoring relationship. Possible pitfalls include:
  • mentors fail to give sufficient time and attention to mentee
  • mentees become too dependent on mentors
  • mentees are unable to take responsibility for their own development.
A number of problems can be avoided by setting clear guidelines for the relationship at the outset by negotiating a mentoring agreement.

What is a mentoring agreement?

The mentoring agreement will:
  • specify the learning objectives which the mentee would like to achieve and an action plan for how this can be achieved
  • outline the duration of the relationship
  • clarify roles and responsibilities of the mentee and mentor
  • outline agreements on time and frequency of meetings and feedback sessions
  • outline the types of contact (e.g. this can include face-to-face meetings and contact by telephone and e-mail)
  • agree how sensitive issues will be handled (e.g. confidentiality)
  • specify the procedure for dealing with difficulties that cannot be resolved between the mentor and mentee
  • set dates for reviewing the mentoring relationship.
There may be a number of other learning strategies in which you have a particular interest and the following exercise will provide you with the opportunity to explore some of these.

Personal review

Return to your learning strategies 'mind map' and undertake the following exercise.

Task - writing exercise

  1. Select five or more of the learning strategies in Topic 3.2 which you consider may be useful.
  2. Reflect on these strategies and identify some potential benefits and drawbacks of each.
  3. Write these up in your mind map (see example below).

Example using the strategy "mentoring"

Potential benefits:
  • goal-setting
  • different perspective
  • feedback
  • support
  • modelling
  • reflection time
Top of pagePotential drawbacks:
  • no mentor available
  • mentor does not have the skills
  • lack of support by organisation