Mentoring has developed a lot over recent years, not least because the internet means that your mentor doesn’t have be local to you anymore. Gone are the days when mentoring meant vague chats about career aspirations over coffee. Instead, we have video, voice and text chats, email, forums, and shared documents, and a level of flexibility and variety in mentor relationships that yesterday’s mentees could only dream of.
That flexibility is exemplified by the four different types of modern mentorships: one-to-one, reverse, process and group. Which style is right for you depends a lot on what you want to get out of the mentoring relationship, but you don’t need to stick to just one style, or just have one mentor. You can mix and match to meet your needs and can change up your mentoring relationship style as you and your circumstances change. So, what are these four different approaches to mentoring?
Traditional mentoring pairs a senior employee with a junior colleague so that the latter can ask for advice from someone who’s been there and done that. When mentor and mentee are well paired, valuable and long-term professional relationships can be created, benefiting both mentor and mentee.
The stereotypical one-to-one pairing imagines a very senior mentor with a still-wet-behind-the-ears mentee, but realistically it’s better to have a mentor who’s just a little bit more experienced than you, one who can remember what it’s like to be in your shoes. And that mentor can themselves be a mentee of someone more senior. ‘Mentor’ isn’t a job title that you graduate into once you’re senior enough, it’s a temporary mantle that you wear whilst you help someone else, and you can wear it at almost any point in your career.
One-to-one mentorships tend to be focused on personal and professional development, on improving soft and transferrable skills, and on guiding you through a particular phase in your career.
As the name suggests, reverse mentoring sees a more junior employee mentoring a senior colleague in a one-to-one mentorship relationship. Again, reverse mentoring has its stereotypes, of a technologically savvy new hire helping pre-retirement board members access their email and learn about new-fangled things like social media. But again, the stereotypes don’t do this form of mentoring justice.
Reverse mentoring is immensely valuable in bridging generational divides, helping older colleagues understand the culture, needs and values of younger generations. It’s also valuable for senior colleagues to understand the day-to-day experiences of and challenges faced by junior colleagues, through which they can better understand their own business and staff, and effect valuable cultural change. If a business wants to improve staff retention and reduce churn, reverse mentoring is one valuable way to understand what changes need to be made.
It’s also valuable for the more junior mentor, who gets an insight into the challenges management are facing and can learn about leadership and the business decision making process.
Sometimes, you need help to get you through a particular task, perhaps because it’s new to you and you need the wisdom and experience of someone who has done it before. Or maybe it’s complicated and you could just do with a second pair of eyes to help sense-check your decisions. You might be applying for a promotion for the first time, or organising an event or meeting, or submitting your first scientific paper, or just trying to get a bit of code to work properly.
Process mentoring can be very a short experience, just long enough to get a decision made or something fixed, or it can be a relationship that lasts for months or years. It all depends on the specific process that you’re working your way through. But process mentoring is a common and valuable form of mentoring which is focused on discrete, tangible outcomes and with a clear endpoint. Process mentoring is suited to both one-to-one mentoring relationships and groups mentoring.
Group mentoring is far more common than perhaps we realise. From formal tutor groups or advisory councils to Facebook groups, Slack channels and even Twitter, we’ve all asked groups of friends, colleagues and contacts for help at one point or another. Group mentoring, where the mentee asks for help from a group in the hope that one or two people might have had relevant experience is such a fundamental human behaviour that we do it all the time in all sorts of contexts.
Being a part of a community that has expressly gathered in order to mentor and be mentored can be invaluable. Indeed, a recent study of MBA students indicated that successful women surround themselves with a close inner circle of other women who can “share private information about things like an organization’s attitudes toward female leaders, which helps strengthen women’s job search, interviewing, and negotiation strategies.”
Because group mentoring is often ad hoc and informal, it can be a great way to start your mentoring journey, and can help you find people working in your industry that you’d like to either mentor or be mentored by.