Types of Mentoring: Pick the One That Works for You
At EDUCAUSE we define mentoring as the sharing of expertise, values, skills, and perspectives. Mentors function as a catalyst—an agent who provokes a reaction that might not otherwise have taken place or speeds up the steps to a reaction.1 As a catalytic function, mentoring embraces the approach of "let's work together to accomplish your goals and desires" while avoiding telling someone what to do. Mentoring also provides a safe environment for challenging conversations to facilitate powerful learning, providing an opportunity for both mentors and protégés to grow and build trust that leads to professional rewards.
Overall, mentoring has been traditionally envisioned as a formal relationship between a senior, experienced individual and a "newbie" or much less experienced individual in the workplace. However, there are other possible mentoring relationships, and people select whichever best suits their needs: formal mentoring, informal mentoring, group mentoring, reverse mentoring, or peer mentoring.
- Traditional mentoring is the most common relationship, wherein a senior professional provides guidance and coaching to a less experienced employee.
- Formal mentoring is organizationally focused and driven. This type of program operates in the confines of a specific structure, offering participants direct guidance for how to establish and work through their relationship. In addition, the organization is invested in the success of the relationship, while also creating buy-in, connections, and support that can directly influence organizational culture.
- Informal mentoring leverages the connection between the two individuals and focuses on gleaning career strategies, learning through conversation, and applying the results to their careers. It may look and feel like a friendship, where both parties engage in a casual manner. In addition, this type of relationship may provide additional benefits to mentees, since it's a mutually agreed upon, organic connection. In these types of informal relationships, activities such as counseling or role modeling can occur more often.2
- Group mentoring can be conducted with one or many mentors among individuals who have come together to pursue professional development. This is a networking, collaborative group that is guided by one or more facilitators to achieve shared or individual goals. A benefit of group mentoring is that it typically has more fluidity in how mentoring is executed. Examples of group mentoring include peer group mentoring; one (mentor) to many (protégés); many (mentors) to one (protégé); and many (mentors) to many (protégés).3
- Reverse mentoring is less common but can bring value to both mentees and mentors. Reverse mentoring is categorized by a senior, experienced individual receiving mentoring from an early-career professional; it is usually technical in nature, such as a younger employee providing guidance on latest trends or technology within an industry.4 This type of mentoring can be extremely valuable in a multigenerational working environment where needs may center on technical skills, such as the use and troubleshooting of programs and platforms, or on soft skills, such as trends in how people communicate (e.g., through social media).
- Peer mentoring is commonly conducted by a pair or trio of individuals who are on or near the same level professionally and who explore and achieve expressed goals. One of the greatest values of peer mentoring is having someone who is at your career and experience level and who is likely navigating (or has navigated) the same types of challenges and opportunities.
These types of mentoring relationships are some of the possibilities, and we urge readers not to dismiss a mentoring offer because the mentor is younger than you or the mentoring takes place in a group setting. We view mentoring not only as a strategic decision and activity for professional development but also as an opportunity that can arise spontaneously. Engage in a mentoring relationship when opportunity arises, and don't discount nontraditional approaches.
L. D. Inzer and C. B. Crawford, "A Review of Formal and Informal Mentoring: Processes, Problems, and Design," Journal of Leadership Education 4, no. 1 (Summer 2005): 31–50.↩︎
R. L. Huizing, "Mentoring Together: A Literature Review of Group Mentoring," Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning 20, no. 1 (2012): 27–55.↩︎
Lisa Quast, "Reverse Mentoring: What It Is and Why It Is Beneficial," Forbes, January 3, 2011.↩︎