Mentorship

Mentorship program ideas: 20+ activities and pairing formats

Building up trust and rapport with a mentor or mentee takes time. Having a structure for meetings is an excellent way to guarantee meaningful conversations. Here are over a dozen activities to build a strong mentoring relationship.

Matthew Reeves

May 18, 2021

Having ideas for your mentoring program that you can experiment with and keep the experience fresh for employees is vital. 

Finding the right activities and pairing formats can make all the difference in the program's success. 

Whether you're starting a mentoring program or revamping an existing one, these ideas will ensure your program is varied, exciting, and even fulfilling.

This article will provide 20+ activities and pairing formats for a mentorship program. We'll also discuss several ways to plan your mentoring program, who should participate, and quick tips from experienced mentoring program managers.

Let’s start with outlining the different ways to pair mentors and mentees.

5 ways to structure your workplace mentoring program
The most successful mentoring program managers today are rethinking what mentorship looks like at work. It’s an exciting time to start a mentoring program.

There's more than one way to plan your mentoring program

When we think of mentorship, we usually think of an older, more experienced person guiding a younger person. But from helping over 150 organizations and professional associations launch mentoring programs, our team at Together has seen some unique ways to structure a program. 

In summary, there are 5 distinct ways to run a mentoring program. Let’s look at each:

1-on-1 mentoring

A mentee is paired with a single mentor for a structured period. This mentorship program can be highly personalized and tailored to meet the specific needs and goals of the mentee.

Group mentoring

Group mentoring programs pair mentees with one mentor or a team of mentors. Allow mentees to learn from and collaborate with multiple mentors and peers.

Peer mentoring

A mentoring arrangement between two employees who are at a similar level or have similar experiences. They support, collaborate, and learn from each other in a more informal setting.

Reverse mentoring

A junior employee pairs with a more experienced employee to mentor the senior employee about the latest technology and digital trends. This idea is to close the intergenerational knowledge gap in the workforce.

Flash mentoring

A one-time or short-time mentoring between a mentee and a mentor to address a specific need or challenge. Flash mentoring arrangements only span one or a handful of sessions and are beneficial if you want to provide an employee with quick, focused support and guidance on a particular issue.

20+ mentorship activities that unlock new perspectives and encourage impactful discussion

Getting to know your mentor or mentee can be a fun process. Here are some creative activities that you can do together to build on your relationship. 

Likewise, if you're planning your mentorship program, these ideas will help you encourage meaningful employee connections.

1. Mentees shadow their mentor

Job shadowing in workplace mentorships is a valuable opportunity for mentees to learn from experienced employees. By following their mentor around for a day, mentees gain insight into the company, senior positions, and responsibilities and set career goals. This process also works in reverse, with mentors shadowing mentees to understand their world.

2. Attend a conference together

Mentoring should go beyond talking to each other. Attending a conference together, virtually or in person, can strengthen the mentor-mentee bond and facilitate learning. This can be achieved through discussions and shared experiences after presentations.

3. Choose a book together and discuss it

Many books offer career and life advice that mentors and mentees could read together. There are also many resources to make consuming content easier. Try audiobooks or apps like Blinkist that summarize the key points. Discuss the author's viewpoint, the positives and negatives of their perspective, and whether their advice will work in a practical setting. 

4. Pursue a volunteer activity

Working together on a common cause can cultivate a deeper connection between a mentor and a mentee. Select a charity that you both support and spend some time volunteering at the organization. 

5. Attend a networking event

Having a mentor helps mentees expand their professional network and open up new opportunities. Mentors could even sponsor mentees for new roles and positions. Attending networking events such as the Chamber of Commerce luncheon together can benefit both the mentor and the mentee.

6. Get out of the office and nurture your creativity

Taking time outside work to attend creative events, such as art exhibits or music events, can foster a deeper connection between mentors and mentees and are fantastic ways to stimulate workplace creativity.

7. Complete a project together

Mentors should collaborate with mentees for a short-term project (a couple of weeks or a month) on a project like research, writing an article, or joining a company committee. This collaboration can lead to new opportunities and discussions for both individuals.

8. Grab a coffee and go for a walk

Not every mentoring meeting needs to take place at the office. Slip away for lunch or grab a coffee and chat about non-work-related things.

9. Share interesting articles to encourage discussion

Mentors can share interesting articles, blogs, or information from which they feel a mentee might appreciate or learn. They can also be a launch point for a discussion.

10. Share career stories

Humans love stories. Mentors should share stories about their career experiences, including challenges and successes. Both the mentor and mentee should talk about their careers in depth and discuss the impact of any previous mentors they may have had. Sharing these stories will lead to a deeper and more meaningful conversation.

11. Have mentors sit in on a mentees presentation

Mentors should make an effort to attend a presentation where they can see their mentees in action. Afterward, they can provide feedback and coaching. This is a great opportunity for the mentor to see how their mentee operates daily.

12. Meet up with another mentor-mentee pair

Go for lunch with another mentor-mentee pair to learn from them and expand your networks. Ask them what activities they do together and see if you get any new ideas. This is a great opportunity to see what works with other groups.

13. Provide feedback on each other's work

Mentors, and mentees should observe each other in action to improve certain skills, such as presentation skills and public speaking. The mentor can provide guidance and feedback after observing the mentee.

14. Take a class together

Mentors can help mentees develop the habit of continuous learning by participating in classes or workshops together, whether related to work or recreational events (such as Toast Master). This can foster a strong bond between the two.

15. Mock interviews

Coaching up your mentees for success - give mentees real-world experience and prepare them for success by conducting mock interviews that mimic the job interview process. Provide actionable advice to help improve their performance so they are well-prepared.

16. Field trips

Give mentees unique opportunities to witness the inner workings of different industries through engaging field trips. Let them explore the ins and outs of various organizations up close, inspiring their career aspirations.

17. Case studies

Let your mentees explore the intricacies of real-world situations with carefully curated case studies. Pose thought-provoking questions — and encourage them to consider all the relevant perspectives before coming up with their solution. 

18. Reflective journaling

Encourage mentees to write their thoughts and feelings on a regular basis to help them process their experiences and gain new insights.

19. Leadership training

Give your mentees the skills they need to succeed as emerging leaders through a comprehensive leadership training program. Cover topics like effective communication, decisive decision-making, and creative problem-solving that will be helpful to their career.

20. Group discussion

Mentees develop teamwork, speaking, and listening skills by engaging in group discussions on pertinent topics. These interactive conversations allow mentees to gain perspectives from one another while furthering the development of important social dynamics.

21. Say goodbye in style

As you draw the curtain of mentorship, it is a good idea to plan a celebration to mark the occasion. This can be a time for the mentor to reflect on the mentee's progress.

You can also leverage other plans for both individuals to build rapport and a learning experience.

Is mentorship all that important? Yes. Here’s why

Research has found that today's employees are looking for career paths that help them develop their skills and expand their networks. They also want to work for companies that genuinely care about employee satisfaction. Mentoring is an effective way to make coming to work a more rewarding experience. 

For example:

  • Nine out of 10 workers with mentors have higher levels of job satisfaction. 
  • Nearly 40 percent of employees who don't have mentoring relationships have thought about leaving their position in the last few months. 

The benefits of mentoring are hard to ignore.

Jacqueline Gilchrist, the mentoring program coordinator at The Forum, shares in our customer panel discussion that mentoring is important because it feels better to speak with someone who has been through it:

"It's helpful to have somebody who's there along the way, and I always say, you know, family and friends can be super great as a support network, but sometimes it's just really nice to speak with somebody who has been in the position that you've been in and really understands the intricacies and the ups and downs.

Moreover, formal mentorship programs can be a tool that:

Improves retention

When an employee feels isolated and adrift within an organization, you can bet they would leave. Mentorship programs improve retention rates by providing employees with a supportive network, ongoing professional development opportunities, and a sense of belonging within the organization. 

This can lead to increased job satisfaction and a reduced likelihood of employees leaving the company for other opportunities.

Enhanced engagement and productivity 

Guiding, supporting, and encouraging employees through a mentoring program is an effective way to create a team atmosphere of collaboration aimed at personal growth and improvement. 

Kate Doyle, a career development expert at the UN, argues that mentoring is a more engaging way to learn:

"It's learning through a relationship with someone else, so it's totally different than being in a classroom for a one-time learning event or learning from online self-paced programs. You know, those things are good, but I don't think they can compare in some ways to building a relationship with someone in your organization… and we know that organizations with mentoring programs have higher engagement levels."

Improved diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) 

If your organization has struggled to outperform your competitor, focusing on DEI initiatives is a great way to gain that edge. 

A McKinsey study shows diverse organizations are more likely to beat their competitors on profitability. Mentoring allows employees to form different relationships across different levels, departments, and backgrounds — and this fosters a more inclusive and equitable workplace.

Increased employee learning and development  

According to research conducted by the American Psychological Association, mentors have the ability to shape the behavior of their mentees through the development of a supportive and collaborative friendship. 

This influence has the potential to facilitate social change in the mentees, which can ultimately enhance their learning and personal growth. 

The Social Learning Theory, proposed by Albert Bandura, posits that individuals acquire new behaviors and values through observing and imitating those around them. 

Within the context of mentoring, this theory suggests that the mentorship relationship provides an ideal platform for transferring knowledge and skills from the mentor to the mentee. As such, the mentorship relationship can significantly impact the mentee's development and learning.

Leadership development 

Developing successful leaders requires a dedication to lifelong learning and nurturing of those with high leadership potential. Forward-thinking organizations recognize this, investing in development programs, such as leadership mentoring programs for current and future leaders.

Who should participate in a mentoring program?

Mentoring has been shown to impact various individuals — those starting their career, those transitioning into a new role or field, those who want to climb the career ladder, and — of course, even experienced individuals who share their knowledge and expertise with others. 

High potential employees 

High potential employees, often referred to as "high-potentials" or "HiPos," have the potential to advance in their careers and assume leadership roles within organizations. These individuals often possess a strong work ethic, high levels of competence, and a willingness to learn and grow.

But without guidance from someone more experienced, HiPos may struggle in their career path. Mentoring helps assure them there's someone to guide them at various career stages — improving their self-esteem. Mentoring programs for HiPo employees will lead to long-term benefits for the organization.

Underrepresented talent

Lack of representation, bias, discrimination, limited access to resources, and self-doubt are all features that bedeck underrepresented talents. 

Research has also shown that mentoring programs are effective in supporting underrepresented talent. For example, a study by Heidrick & Struggles found that women and minorities say mentoring programs are beneficial to their career development. 

Through mentoring, underrepresented talents could climb the corporate ladder and become leaders. Interestingly, according to a Gallup study, black employees are 12 times more likely to trust their organizations when they see leaders of their race — ‌it could also help retain diverse talents.

New hires

Most organizations only focus on their onboarding system to help new hires settle into their new role. Why an effective onboarding system is great, it's not enough to get new hires started. 

Despite great onboarding, a Gallup study shows only 29% of employees say they are fully prepared for their new roles, meaning over 70% of new employees still feel unprepared after onboarding. 

With a mentoring program for new hires, they not only get incorporated into the company's work culture, but they also get themselves a workplace buddy. A buddy can help them acclimatize with the new environment and the organization's culture as well as coach them as they ramp up.

New managers

When employees transition into a leadership role as new managers, they face many challenges as they learn to lead their teams effectively. These individuals may need guidance and support to achieve organizational goals and manage others effectively.

To combat this, pair a new manager with a senior manager for 1-on-1 mentoring. The senior manager provides guidance and support to the challenges and opportunities the new manager might face.

Remote teams

There are several concerns for organizations whose teams work remotely. Concerns include on-the-job learning, cultural integration, lack of face-to-face communication, the difference in work style, limited access to resources, and professional development opportunities. 

Virtual mentoring for remote teams addresses these challenges by providing a structured and intentional way for team members to communicate and collaborate effectively, align their work styles, access resources, support, and develop their skills and careers.

Quick tips on building your mentorship program

Mentoring without careful planning and execution will most likely fail. Hence, for an effective mentorship organization should consider the following:

Define your goals and objectives 

Setting clear goals and objectives ensures that the mentorship program aligns with the business strategy and goals. 

  • What do you hope to achieve through the program? 
  • Are you looking to improve employee skills and development, foster leadership, or create a more collaborative and supportive work environment? 

This ensures that your mentorship program aligns with your business strategy and goals.

When you're clear on the goals and objectives, it will help if you name your mentorship program. This article shows you how to name your mentoring program so that it's captivating yet matches your company's value.

Identify your target audience 

Identifying the target audience for the mentorship program will help tailor it to meet the needs of those individuals. However, you don't want to match a mentor with a mentee whose goals don't align. This could frustrate the whole process and render it futile. 

According to Dr. Wendy Axelrod, an executive coach, former HR executive, author, speaker, and renowned mentorship guru, 

"We recognized that there was a need to screen both mentors and mentees, that it can't just be a very informal "get to know each other." 

People needed to understand what was required in the program to get the most out of it. We wanted to see our mentors come back to us again and again" — you can read about the process of matching mentors and mentees. 

Develop a clear structure and process

A clear structure and process will help ensure the success of the mentorship program, including selecting mentors and setting meeting frequency and activities. Every meeting should have an agenda, so here is a list of several discussion topics for mentors and mentees.

Sadly, most mentors and mentees have yet to learn what they're running into when signing up for a mentoring program. 

Dr. Wendy suggests laying the terms out for them so they know what they’re getting into,  

"We tell them this is what is in the program. Do you agree with this? And we don't want them to feel surprised that things were not really laid out for them. We want them to understand we're going to be checking on their goals, and there are rules and boundaries."

Provide training and support

Mentors and mentees should be trained and supported to equip them for success in their roles. To learn more about what type of training you should give your mentors, our guide on mentoring training program discussed everything you should know.

Evaluate and adjust as needed 

Regular evaluation and adjustments to the mentorship program can be made based on feedback from participants and stakeholders.

Start your mentorship program with Together

If you want to start a mentorship program that drives impact across your organization you need Together’s mentorship platform

It’s the best way to make sure every employee is matched with the right mentor for them using our advanced pairing algorithm. Likewise, it’s easy to manage everything from registration and pairing, to monitoring pairs and reporting on your success. 

Join 150+ enterprise organizations leading change across their workforces with mentorship.

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