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Phases of the mentoring relationship

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The five stages of  the mentoring relationship

All mentoring relationships go through some form of evolution, often referred to as the mentoring cycle or phases of the mentoring relationship. David Clutterbuck, author and thought leader on the subject of coaching and mentoring, suggests that developmental relationships transition through five phases: rapport building, direction setting, progress making, winding down, and moving on. 

The beginning of the mentoring relationship is characterised by two phases: rapport building and direction setting.

In the first phase is the rapport building stage, where the mentee and mentor engage in dialogue to understand if they can work productively together.  Rapport is dependent upon several factors as outlined in the book “Mentoring in Action’ by Megginson et al (2006):

  • the perception of alignment and values, especially at a personal level
  • the degree of mutual respect
  • broad agreement on the purpose of the relationship
  • broad agreement on the purpose of the relationships
  • alignment of both expectations about roles and behaviours

Developing a high degree of rapport is essential in ensuring the positive development of the mentoring relationship.

The second phase is the setting direction stage. 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 at the beginning of the relationship.

The third phase is often referred to as the progression stage. The intensity of learning for both the mentee and mentor is greatest during this period of the relationship. 

Effective mentors will be responsive to the needs of mentees and help focus the mentee on developing solutions during their mentoring meetings, for example by: 

  • establishing a relaxed, yet business-like atmosphere
  • gaining consensus on the purpose of the meeting
  • exploring the issues from the mentee perspective
  • clarifying the situation, challenging assumptions and stimulating analysis whilst draw on own experience
  • building the confidence the mentee
  • fully exploring the options available to the mentee
  • recapping and facilitating the mutual agreement of actions by both partners
  • summarising
  • offering an outline for the agenda of the next meeting

During this stage, the mentee will grow in confidence, independence and autonomy developing the self-insight and skills to address their own needs.

The fourth phase is known as the winding down stage. Here the mentee and mentor plan to close the relationship by reviewing and celebrating what has been achieved. 

The fifth and final stage is known as the moving on stage. This involves reformulating the relationship, whereby the mentee and mentor close the formal mentoring relationship and may move on to become friends and colleagues. 

Questions to consider:

Reflecting on the summary above, think about a time when you have developed a positive rapport with a mentee, mentor or colleague: 

  • What were the signs of a positive rapport? 
  • What contributed to building positive rapport?
  • How can you use your knowledge of building rapport in your mentoring relationship?
  • How might you and your mentee/mentor structure a mentoring meeting?
  • What steps can you take to raise your and your mentee's/mentor's awareness of the transition points in your relationship?
  • What questions might you explore in the ‘winding down’ or ‘moving on’ stage in the mentoring relationship?
  • How might you recognise the learning that has taken place in the mentoring relationship?

Agreeing the mentoring ground rules

Discussing and agreeing mentoring ‘ground rules’ is one of the most important conversations you will have with your mentoring partner. Mentoring ‘ground rules’ enable the identification, alignment and management of expectations in the mentoring relationship. They also lay the foundation for building and strengthening the relationship. 

The mentoring ground rules are often embedded in the mentoring contract and might include the following items:

  • Agreeing the topics that you plan not to discuss. There may be certain professional and personal areas that may not be appropriate or relevant to include in mentoring discussions. It is important that both mentor and mentee agree what topics or areas are ‘off limits’ for discussion.
  • How you want to give and receive feedback. Feedback is an important aspect of the ongoing evaluation of the mentoring relationship. Feedback can help to redirect the relationship and shift the focus if needed.
  • Your mutual expectations of each other. These should be discussed at the first meeting to ensure that both of you are clear on what you expect from the relationship.
  • How and when you will connect and communicate with each other. Any limitations to contact must be clear from the beginning in order to manage expectations of the mentor and mentee. 
  • How you will address challenges should they arise. Challenges within the relationship, or stumbling blocks may occur, so it is good to establish how you plan to address these should the situation arise. 
  • Ending the mentoring relationship early. It is helpful to identify what steps you will follow if you decide  to prematurely end the relationship for any reason.

Questions to consider:

  • Reflecting on the summary above, what other items might you include in the mentoring ‘ground rules’?
  • Reflecting on your previous experience of mentoring, either as a mentor or mentee, to what extent were your ‘ground rules’ helpful in the development and success  of the relationship?