Do you want your mentoring program to be highly structured and formalized, or more organic and informal?
Formal mentoring is structured and based on specific objectives. Mentors and mentees tend to be matched up by the organization running the program.
The official mentoring relationship lasts for a specified amount of time and then is formally ended—although participants can then decide to continue their mentoring relationship informally if they wish. Typically, participants must commit to a certain number and frequency of meetings, as well as response times.
This structured and organized approach provides accountability. It can also be easier to manage and tie back to organizational objectives than informal mentoring. But exchanges can feel forced.
Informal mentoring is more flexible. Here, the mentee proactively contacts a mentor who has offered their time and expertise to those needing it. This mentoring style tends to be driven by the mentee and what they want to learn. There are not necessarily the same commitments regarding the number, and frequency of sessions or the duration of the mentorship. In some cases, the mentee may contact the mentee for help with a short term project or specific information.
Informal mentoring can feel more natural, however, it runs the risk of going off track and disintegrating if it doesn’t have a minimum amount of structure.
Combining elements of both mentoring approaches can be effective. This way your program is structured to help participants reach their goals but it is also flexible so that you can cater to varying individual needs, specific goals, and different learning styles.
Whatever the approach, the parameters of the mentoring (what’s in and out of bounds) and expectations around giving and receiving feedback also need to be defined. What each party wants from the experience and how they wish to be held accountable also needs to be clear.
Other key decisions include:
Is the program open to everyone, do people have to apply, or will it be based on invite-only?
- Connection type
Will mentoring be in pairs or groups?
Will the connection last weeks, months, indefinitely, or just be a single session?
- The person responsible for the program
It’s a good idea to have a central person to manage the mentoring program. This person should oversee all mentors and mentees and provide all the necessary help and resources to ensure that everyone gets the most out of the mentoring program.