Low-Structure, High-Structure, Non-Structured
You may be in a low structure mentoring relationship right now without even placing the “mentoring” label on it. Are you asking more experienced people for reactions and advice? Or otherwise being helped in your personal or professional development? Perhaps you’re engaged in helping relationships that you think might be “mentoring”, even though you and the individuals assisting you have never used the term.
With the limited structure, the relationships usually evolve without a lot of intention or planning. You and they come alongside each other and do life for a while. Over time, you receive feedback, learn concepts, and otherwise add to your growth. Perhaps you’re joined by other individuals casually teaming to being taught by one or more experts. The help you receive is slightly systematic (if at all) but mostly casual. You don’t use the terms “mentors” or “mentees”, except perhaps in joking. Nobody regularly schedules “mentoring meetings” for the sole purpose of helping each other develop. These relationships can continue for years. Not much “measuring” goes on except maybe your mentors’ comments about your and other mentees’ progress.
You may be in a high structure mentoring relationship if you’ve either volunteered for or been invited into a well-organized mentoring initiative or perhaps prospective mentors will approach you to negotiate structure for mentoring arrangements with them.
With structured mentoring, in some settings, coordinators actually plan your relationships and set up some rules and expectations for you and your mentors. Time is focused and managed. You and your mentors usually agree to meet (by one or more modalities) for at least one or two hours a month over a period of weeks or quarters. Structured mentoring relationships usually end after a year.
We prefer that mentees manage or at least steer the structured relationships. This means they’ll propose specific goals, ask mentors about meeting schedules, suggest personal and/or professional development activities, propose rules around confidentiality, and request specific feedback. Often pairs or small groups are matched or given guidelines for a matching process to be used by a team of leaders or a computerized matching system. Commonly, the pairs and groups evaluate the progress mentees make, and both types of participants evaluate how the relationships are going. At the end of agreed-upon time together, partnerships once again negotiate future connections. They decide whether to end the relationships completely, move to less-structured mentoring arrangements, or transition into friendships. They might even decide to thank them but still, end the relationships. This may seem abrupt. “Thanks and goodbye” can be acceptable.
For over, three decades, we at The Mentoring Group have unwittingly cheered mentoring initiatives that are structured while we’ve focused on helping mentoring advocates get tools and training to build mentoring cultures. We’ve unintentionally portrayed ourselves as standing against non-structured or even low-structured mentoring. Indeed, our preference and recommendation are for a balance of mentoring connections at all points of the mentoring structure continuum.
We challenge you to look at some of your options for increasing structure in your mentoring partnerships but at the same time continue valuable connections that have no-or-low structure. We recommend that at any point in your mentoring journey for your personal and professional development you have a structure mixture (i.e., some low, others medium to high). The points along our structure dimension are not mutually exclusive!
You may be giving and receiving mentoring right now without ever placing the “mentoring” label on it. Or perhaps, you’ve engaged in helping relationships that you think might be “mentoring” even though you and the individuals assisting you have never used the term.
Which Type of Mentoring Relationship is Right for You?
As you move forward in life/work, you will probably have opportunities to participate in all three of these mentoring methods. The right type of mentoring for you depends on where you are in life/work, the time you have, and the types of mentoring you have available. We encourage you to grow and mature through a variety of these methods. If you don’t see any opportunities to be a mentor or a mentee you will need to create them proactively. Find that person you respect or look up to who is successful on the job or in life and ask them for help. Conversely, if you are the successful one, find a potential up-and-comer and invest your time, knowledge, and talent in them. It has been suggested that as we mature we should always be in a mentee relationship while at the same time mentoring someone else. Very often successful people do this instinctively without even knowing they are in such a dual role.