Mentoring sessions are the meetings between mentor and mentee, where the advice, knowledge sharing, and problem solving all takes place.
These sessions may only take place every month or so, and there's a lot to discuss. It's therefore important for mentoring sessions to follow a structure, to ensure they stay productive and valuable for both parties.
A mentoring relationship is a two-way process. While a good mentee is commonly expected to drive the session, it's important for both people to be aligned on how the meetings are structured. It's easy to pass the time of mentoring sessions talking about different issues and topics, sharing experiences, and generally getting to know one another better. However, the purpose of mentoring is to facilitate someone's growth and see their progress. By structuring mentoring sessions, both mentor and mentee are more likely to follow up on actions, feel comfortable raising any issues, and keep the conversation focused!
How do you structure a mentoring session?
Every mentoring relationship is different, but there will typically be goals set at the beginning that the mentee wants to achieve. The mentoring will be helping them get to where they want to be, while also developing skills such as self-awareness, confidence, and good communication.
In each mentoring session, it's important that the discussions, challenges, and solutions raised are all contributing to the mentee's overall goals, to ensure progress is being made. There are simple things both mentor and mentee can do before, during and after they meet to ensure a productive mentoring session.
The day before a mentoring session:
Mentee sends over a session agenda including their desired discussion areas, outline of current challenges, key progress updates, and any leftover actions from the last session.
If relevant, the mentor can add any topics or points to the agenda and send it back, so that everyone is aware of the key focuses beforehand.
This helps with preparation, prioritisation, and managing expectations. For example, if a mentor sees on the agenda that their mentee has a new challenge since they last met, the mentor can think about it and come ready with ideas, rather than it being raised during the session when there's already a lot to discuss.
During the mentoring session:
Check in – while the aim of structuring a session is to be as productive as possible, mentoring is ultimately about human connection, so it's good to allow a bit of time to catch up informally at the beginning of a session! Everyone will feel more comfortable.
Decide on a main focus – based on the discussion areas and challenges the mentee featured on their agenda, both parties can decide on a main focus for the session. This could be outcome based, such as coming up with a plan, or exploration based, such as considering a new approach or reviewing something that hasn't worked.
Review actions from last session – before the discussion of any new topics, the mentoring pair should review any actions or 'homework' from the last session. Note: the mentor should not 'tell off' their mentee if they didn't do something they said they would; mentoring is not a teacher / student or parent / child relationship dynamic. Rather, it should be an open and proactive discussion where they can mutually explore why an action was not completed, and decide together whether it's still a valuable action. This is also a good time to update each other on any progress, such as: "I spoke with my friend Kate in Business Development and she'd be happy to go for a coffee with you, I think you'll gain a lot from her experience coming from retail like you".
Explore challenges – based on the agenda, the pair can then explore the challenges the mentee is currently facing. At this point, the mentor can ensure the conversation is proactive and positive, with a focus on learning as opposed to failure or weakness. It's important both parties keep in mind the agreed main focus of the session, and link any challenges back to it where possible to stay on track.
Create a plan – off the back of the challenge discussion, it's likely they'll have begun to explore a number of solutions. Mentoring sessions can easily turn into hour long brainstorming without following a structure, so in order to be productive, they can then establish a plan that tackles the discussed challenges.
Reflect on progress – near the end of the mentoring session, it's important to reflect on the progress the mentee has made. This could be through the discussion of key learnings, celebrating wins, and feedback.
Actions for next session – before the session concludes, an actions list should be created of things to do before the next session, which align with the mentee's goals. The act of doing this makes both mentee and mentor accountable.
Book next session – in order to maintain momentum, it's always good to book in your next session at the end!
Naturally, every mentoring session will vary, and that's not a bad thing! But having a structure in place will increase the likelihood of making progress, as well as knowing there's always a dedicated opportunity to raise certain things.
After the mentoring session:
Mentee sends a follow up with the key takeaways from the session, the list of actions, and the details of the next session.
Mentor can respond with any relevant information or links to resources that were discussed in the session that may help the mentee.
It's always good to follow up when the session is still fresh in mind, to avoid dropping the ball on anything that was agreed to.
And that's how to run a productive mentoring session!
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