Defining purpose and direction setting
All mentoring relationships go through some form of evolution, often referred to as the ‘mentoring cycle’ or phases of the mentoring relationship. The ‘mentoring cycle’ broadly refers to the way in which mentoring relationships change over time, in other words, how the mentee and mentor might interact as the relationship evolves.
Typically, mentoring relationships broadly transition through five phases including rapport building, direction setting, progress making, winding down, and moving on.
In the first phase, rapport building, the mentee and mentor engage in dialogue to understand if they can work productively together. Phase two is the setting direction stage (Clutterbuck, 2005). This involves setting goals, giving the relationship a sense of purpose, and working out what the short-term, medium-term, and long-term direction might be. Potentially, phases one and two can be accomplished in a few meetings and therefore are regarded as taking place at the beginning of the relationship.
Without purpose and direction, the mentoring relationship will lack momentum and may simply become an informal friendship, where the learning and potential for change is significantly reduced and the relationship drifts. Sometimes, mentees may arrive at the mentoring relationship with a purpose and direction in mind. In other relationships, this emerges over time as the mentor and mentee build rapport and feel sufficiently comfortable in the relationship to be open and honest about their needs, what is important, and what they wish to achieve during the relationship.
The mentor can help the mentee to define a purpose and goal with the following questions:
- what does success look like for you?
- how might you prioritise the successes?
- what criteria can you use?
- what will really matter one year from now?
- where is it that you want to be in the future?
- what is your vision for your future?
- what could you do to make the vision a reality?
Questions to consider:
- Reflecting on the summary above, how have your mentoring relationships evolved in the past, to what extent did you establish direction and purpose?
- What questions might you add to the list above, to help establish direction and purpose?
Building and maintaining rapport
Essential to successful mentoring relationships is the ability to build and maintain rapport, alongside this is the clarity of purpose. In mentoring relationships, we might have a broad sense of purpose and focus for the mentoring relationship. This will change over time, as will the depth of rapport. These are two of the most important aspects of successful mentoring relationships.
There are several tools and techniques you can use to build and maintain rapport. However, the essence of rapport has been described as ‘authenticity’, therefore being present, relaxed, open and responding to the person in the moment (Megginson & Clutterbuck, 2007). Arguably, a tool or technique cannot assist in being present, relaxed, open and responding in the moment, rather it is a state of being.
Getting to know each other is the first step in building rapport. Mentors and mentees might explore the following topics, referred to as the conversation ladder (Megginson & Clutterbuck, 2007):
- family origin
- home and current family
- dreams and aspirations.
Like any relationship, mentoring relationships require constant tending to, patience, care and honesty. Once rapport is established, maintaining it is equally important. If rapport feels to have dwindled, it may be that the focus has become too task or outcome driven, where the conversation about the person is lost. This can happen in some work context mentoring programmes, where mentors and mentees become overly focused on goals and outcomes. For mentors, the key skills in building and maintaining rapport involve active listening, noticing, responding and self-disclosure.
Questions to consider:
- Reflecting on the summary above, how have your mentoring relationships evolved in the past; how easy or difficult was it to build and maintain rapport?
- How can you work with your mentee/mentor to maintain rapport in the relationship?
Maintaining rapport and noticing moments of disconnect
Most mentors and mentees will experience moments of disconnect at some point in a mentoring relationship. The mentor or mentee might feel that the mentoring relationship has lost momentum, energy and the conversation lacks direction. Mentee’s circumstances can change frequently, and mentors need to be able to be flexible to adapt to the changing situation and transitions in the relationship. When the rapport is lost and there is a disconnect, mentors may question their ability to maintain a connection or rapport with their mentee. In the second edition of their book ‘Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring’, Natalie Lancer and colleagues share their model: ‘Moment of disconnect: a process management model’ (2016). The model enables both the mentor and mentee to explore their awareness of the potential disconnection, consider the conditions for a sustained connection, the impact, learning and potential action that can be taken to address to reinvigorate the conversation and relationship. The steps are summarised below:
- awareness: consider changes in posture, pace, tone, language, atmosphere and overall communication
- location of the disconnect: is the mentor or mentee disconnected from the conversation, the relationship? Is one party distancing themselves?
- conditions for sustained connection: what are the conditions that help the conversation and relationship to flow?
- describing the disconnection: the mentor and mentee explore and identify what has happened to feel disconnected; what are the mentor and mentee’s roles in the situation?
- impact of the disconnection: the impact can vary from a single mentoring session where the conversation may stall, or the relationship where one or both parties are no longer committed to the relationship
- learning potential: all situations potential for learning. Identifying what lessons and learning can be taken from the situation will enrich both the mentor and mentee in the longer-term
- identifying actions: there are a variety of actions which may be considered, including changing of the mentoring process, conversation, or returning to the conversation at a later date.
Questions to consider:
- Reflecting on the summary above, what experience have you had of feeling disconnected to a mentor or mentee?
- How might you address moments of disconnection in your mentoring relationship?
Recognising changes and transitions
All individuals go through ongoing change and transition; similarly all mentoring relationships go through some form of evolution, often referred to as the ‘mentoring cycle’ or phases of the mentoring relationship. The mentoring cycle broadly refers to the way in which mentoring relationships change over time, in other words, how the mentee and mentor might interact as the relationship evolves.
The two most widely cited models were developed by Prof Kathy Kram (1983; 1988) and Prof David Clutterbuck (2005). Clutterbuck (2005) suggests that developmental relationships, which might be formal (organisationally supported) or informal, broadly transition through five phases including rapport building, direction setting, progress making, winding down, and moving on.
In mentoring relationships, we can use ongoing feedback and evaluation to recognise changes and transitions. Typically, every two or three meetings, mentees and mentors might discuss the following:
- what changes are you trying to achieve?
- how will the change be recognised by you and your stakeholders (team, peers, line manager)?
- what changes have occurred in the relationship?
- what changes have occurred for the individual?
- how will you recognise change?
Questions to consider:
- Reflecting on the summary above, how have your mentoring relationships evolved in the past, what did you notice?
- How can you work with your mentee/mentor to identify how the relationship is changing and transitioning?
The situational mentor
A mentoring relationship is dynamic and constantly evolving. Mentors frequently apply knowledge and skills to a range of mentees in different contexts, organisations and situations. Situational mentoring is often used to support a specific issue, whereby the relationship may be shorter-term. As mentors grow and mature in their practice, they draw on a range of skills, tools and techniques to support their mentees. Mentor will often:
- support their mentees in building capacity for progression, managing complex and challenging relationships, working with ambiguity and change
- work fluidly in the moment, with varied and often complex client issues in demanding contexts
- use reflective practice to identify the salient points both in their mentee interactions and across their practice, to identify, implement and evaluate specific behavioural changes to their practice.
Questions to consider:
- Reflecting on the situational approach to mentoring, what experience have you had supporting individuals with a specific topic or issue?
- How might you adopt a dynamic approach to your mentoring relationship?
- Clutterbuck, D., (2005). Establishing and maintaining mentoring relationships: An overview of mentor and mentee competencies. SA Journal of Human Resource Management, 3(3), pp.2-9
- Coach Mentoring (2019) Liz Merrick, Direction setting – 60 second briefing
- Coach Mentoring (2019) Liz Merrick, Building rapport in mentoring – 60 second briefing
- Kram, K. E. (1983). Phases of the Mentor Relationship. The Academy of Management Journal, 26(4), 608–625.
- Kram, K. E. (1988). Mentoring at work: Developmental relationships in organizational life. University Press of America.
- Lancer, N, Clutterbuck, D, and Megginson, D. (2017). Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring. London: Routledge.