Traditional mentoring is great. But Peer mentoring - if done the right way - can be a far more effective option (in the right context).
To have the support and guidance of someone you are closer with in age, experience, or both is invaluable.
Consider the benefits of a peer mentoring relationship: would you be more comfortable confiding in a peer or a manager? Whose experiences would you relate to more? Who could speak to you in a way that would resonate with you?
Now think about the benefits for an organization: When employees come together to support and empower each other, your organization builds strong teams and a solid culture. But how do you cultivate this experience in a hassle-free and efficient way?
Peer mentorship programs.
Let’s take a deeper dive into what peer mentoring is, how it works, and why your business should consider peer mentoring, along with the benefits, activities, and ways to run such a program.
What is peer mentoring?
Peer mentoring is a process where two people of similar ages, experience levels, or both work together to help each other grow.
The relationship is less formal than a traditional mentoring relationship, yet structured so that it’s mutually beneficial. Both parties should feel like they are getting something out of it.
Think of a peer mentor as a friend, coach, and companion. They provide support and advice and function as a resource for inspiration and new opportunities.
Although peer mentoring can be a great many things, it’s important to understand what it isn’t.
Peer mentoring is not:
- A co-dependent relationship where your mentor is acting as a therapist.
- A relationship where the mentor disciplines the mentee.
- Someone to save your career.
Helping employees grow individually is the target, but this doesn’t mean it is an avenue to a promotion! That won’t help employees grow organically, which is the main goal of the mentorship program.
What is a formalized peer mentorship program?
Peer mentoring can be especially useful in workplaces where there aren’t enough senior leaders or employees to coach junior team members. For that reason, matching peers to mentor one another is a convenient solution.
In terms of how peer mentoring could function in the workplace, you can either formalize it or keep it informal.
A formalized peer mentorship program is a more structured way of setting up these relationships. Companies set these up to help with employee retention, development, and engagement.
Formalized programs have different rules and guidelines that need to be followed for them to be successful.
- Defining the purpose and goals of the program
- Creating a structure for how the program will work
- Who will be matched with who, how often they’ll meet, what topics they’ll discuss, etc.
- Deciding on what kind of support the company will give to mentees and mentors.
- This can be anything from financial support to giving them time off to meet.
- Planning out how long the program will run and when/how it will be evaluated.
These well-structured programs contrast with the more informal types of peer mentoring that can go on in the workplace. These could be:
- An employee taking a peer under their wing
- Employees helping each other out with work-related problems
- Friendships that blossom into mentoring relationships
Informal peer mentoring is great, but it can be hard to scale and isn’t as effective in achieving specific company goals.
A formalized program ensures that everyone gets the most out of the experience and that there is a clear purpose for why the program exists.
How to decide between peer-to-peer mentoring and senior-to-junior mentoring?
Before going any further, let’s first differentiate between both types of mentoring.
Peer-to-peer mentoring, as mentioned previously, concerns mentoring between two peers of a similar stage in their careers and at similar levels of seniority within their firm.
Senior-to-junior mentoring is quite the opposite. This form of mentoring happens when a senior member of staff acts as a mentor to a more junior member of staff.
Both types of mentoring have their pros and cons.
When it comes to senior-to-junior mentoring programs, they should be used in the following situations:
When to start a senior-to-junior mentoring program
This type of mentoring is excellent for developing leadership skills. The senior member can share their years of experience and knowledge with the junior member, who in turn can learn from their mistakes, develop key skills, and progress quickly up the corporate ladder.
If you have a senior member of staff who is looking to retire soon, a mentorship program can be a great succession planning strategy that helps transfer their knowledge to a junior member of staff so that they are prepared to take on the role when the time comes.
Developing high-potential talent
If you have junior members of staff who show great potential, mentoring can help them develop the skills and knowledge they need to progress in their careers.
This is where a junior member of staff mentors a senior member of staff. It can be used to help the senior member keep up-to-date with new technologies, for example, or to help them understand the millennial mindset.
A sponsorship program is where a senior member of staff actively helps to promote the career of a junior member of staff. This could involve helping them to get promoted or giving them high-profile projects to work on.
While senior-to-junior mentoring can be beneficial, there are also some drawbacks. For example, the senior member may not have the time to commit to mentoring, or they may not be able to relate to the experiences of the junior member.
This is where peer-to-peer mentoring comes in. As mentioned previously, this type of mentoring is between two peers of a similar stage in their careers.
Peer-to-peer mentoring can be used most effectively in the following situations:
When to start a peer-to-peer mentoring program
When new employees join your organization, they can be paired with a peer mentor who will help them to settle in and feel comfortable. The peer mentor will show the new employee around, introduce them to other staff members, and answer any questions they may have. In this way, the peer mentor can be an onboarding buddy.
Connecting remote team members
If you have team members who work remotely, they can feel isolated from the rest of the team. A peer mentor can help to connect them with other employees and make sure they feel included.
When employees work on a project together, a peer mentor can help keep them accountable and on track. The peer mentor can check in with them regularly to see how they are progressing and offer advice and support when needed.
Peer mentors can help employees to learn from each other and share their knowledge. They can also act as a sounding board for new ideas.
A peer mentor can help employees to build their professional network. They can introduce them to other professionals, provide advice on networking opportunities, and help them to develop their networking skills.
There are two ways to structure a peer-to-peer program
Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these ways:
1. One on one mentorship
The name speaks for itself.
One on one mentoring consists of a more intimate relationship between two people. It’s a great way to get started with peer mentoring because it’s less daunting and can be less time-consuming than group mentoring.
2. Group mentoring
Group mentoring is when 3 or more people come together to support each other.
It’s a great way to get different perspectives on the same issue, and it can be a fun way to bond with your colleagues. This can be harder to find than a 1-on-1 mentor, but it’s worth the effort when done correctly.
Regardless of which model you choose, peers should have certain mindsets and expectations when engaging in a peer mentoring relationship.
So, as you plan your peer mentoring program, determine how to create a positive and constructive atmosphere for participants. To do this, start with the skills that they need.
The skills that make an effective peer mentor
Peer mentors can help each other identify goals, nurture talents, and make progress towards becoming a better version of themselves. But all this depends on finding the right person to mentor others.
So, what makes an effective peer mentor? Let’s take a closer look:
1. Focuses on developing a relationship through trust and respect
This is the most important aspect of being an effective peer mentor. If you want someone to confide in you and feel comfortable sharing their experiences, you first need to focus on building trust.
2. Coaches their mentee by sharing experiences and perspectives
The best way to help someone is by sharing your own experiences. This allows your mentee to understand different perspectives and hopefully find the guidance they’re looking for.
3. Offers and accepts constructive, actionable feedback
A good peer mentor will be able to give - and take - feedback constructively. This back-and-forth exchange of feedback is essential for growth.
4. Encourages and challenge their mentee to step out of their comfort zone
A peer mentor should encourage their mentee to explore different aspects of their professional and personal life. They should also challenge them to push themselves further and take on new responsibilities.
5. Is patient, consistent, and reliable
A good peer mentor is someone patient enough to listen to their mentee vent about their day-to-day struggles. They are also consistent in their guidance and reliable when it comes to being there for their mentee.
6. Meets consistently and follows up
A peer mentor should meet with their mentee regularly - at least once a month. They should also follow up with their mentee after each meeting to see how they’re progressing and offer any additional support.
Why is peer mentoring important?
Peer mentorship programs give your employees a space to learn and grow from each other.
This incentivizes newcomers to do well while also providing a place of reflection for existing employees. Mentoring creates a community where skills are nurtured, concerns are heard, and growth is achieved.
Let’s look at some of the key benefits of peer learning and why it’s so important:
1. Encourages Professional Development
One of the most important benefits of peer mentoring is that it encourages professional development.
Mentees have the chance to develop their skills and knowledge, while mentors can take pride in helping others and passing on their wisdom. It’s a two-way street that benefits everyone involved.
2. Fosters a Sense of Community
Peer mentoring can also foster a sense of community in the workplace.
When employees feel like they are part of a team and have people they can rely on, they are more likely to be engaged and productive.
Peer mentoring programs create an environment where people can come together, share their experiences, and support each other.
3. Helps with Retention
Another big benefit of peer mentoring is that it helps with retention.
If employees feel like they are supported and have the opportunity to develop their skills, they are more likely to stay with the company.
Peer mentoring programs can help reduce turnover rates (Randstad did by almost 50%) by creating a positive work environment where employees feel valued.
4. Provides Support during Change
Change can be difficult, but peer mentoring can provide much-needed support during times of transition.
If your company is going through a merger or acquisition, for example, peer mentoring can help employees adjust to the new environment.
Similarly, peer mentoring can help employees who are being promoted or transferred to new positions. Having someone to talk to who is going through the same thing can make the transition smoother and less stressful.
5. Encourages Open Communication
Peer mentoring programs encourage open communication between employees.
Mentees feel comfortable asking for help and advice, while mentors can give feedback without feeling like they are being judged. This open communication can help resolve conflicts and build trust between employees.
What employees should participate in a peer mentoring program?
The way you set up a mentorship program depends on your goals and what you want to achieve. While peer mentoring seems similar to any other 1-on-1 or group mentorship program, it is quite different.
In terms of which employees should participate in a peer mentoring program, the following are the main types of employees that would benefit most from this particular scheme:
For employees working within a newly-formed team, peer mentoring programs can be extremely useful. It can help them get significantly closer to their new colleagues and foster a better working environment.
For newbies in an organization, a peer mentor can be of great help in getting acquainted with the company culture and understanding what is expected of them.
High performers in particular can benefit from peer mentors, who can provide them with an opportunity to learn from their knowledge and expertise and help them reach their potential.
Employees struggling with their wellbeing
Employees who are struggling with their mental or physical health can benefit from a peer mentor who can provide support and guidance during tough times.
However, it’s important not to take this relationship too far down the ‘therapy’ route, as this detracts from the main purpose of peer mentoring.
Remote workers can benefit from peer mentors who can provide much-needed connection and support, especially if they are feeling isolated.
12 Ideas for peer mentoring activities
Here are 12 different ideas for peer mentoring activities to engage colleagues and spur conversations that lead to new insights, growth, and accountability.
1. Lunch and learn
In a lunch and learn, peers take turns presenting an interesting topic to their partner. For example, if one peer comes from sales and the other comes from engineering, they can each share insights from their day-to-day on how to best serve their customers.
The sales mentor may run the engineer through the most common challenges that they hear from prospects. Likewise, the engineer may share how what they’re building addresses some of those challenges.
The point is to encourage each participant to leverage their unique skills and insights to teach others.
2. Question prompts
In this activity, pairs or groups can pull from a bank of questions to ask one another thoughtful questions that encourage conversation. For example, participants may ask one another, “tell me about a time you had to pitch something to a manager.” Answer the prompts and draw learning from each other's experiences.
3. “Show and Tell!”
In this activity, participants both bring in photos or items that are important to them. They share the story behind the photo and why it’s meaningful to them. This is a great icebreaker activity to reveal what drives the different participants or what their values are.
4. Set SMART career goals
Setting long-term career goals are important for giving participants something to work towards. It also clarifies the whole point of mentorship: it’s to help them grow and reach their goals. Share career goals you have and reword them to be in the SMART goal framework. Work out an actionable plan to start making progress toward those career goals.
When setting goals, use the SMART framework, which stands for:
Specific - be as detailed as you can about your goals.
Measurable - have some way to measure your progress towards your goal.
Attainable - a goal needs to be something that you can reasonably attain.
Relevant - career goals should be directly related to your career path.
Timely - set a deadline so you know when you will accomplish your goal.
5. Make a list of things you want to do or accomplish during your lifetime and share them
Similar to setting career goals, this activity encourages groups or pairs to share their life goals or aspirations. It’s a great activity to get to know one another more and talk about what’s important to you. Try to write down 10 different “bucket-list” items you have and share them. From there, you can try the next activity to plan how you will check off those experiences on your bucket list.
6. “What’s your plan?”
Setting goals or sharing aspirations is an important part of mentoring, but equally important is mapping out a path to achieve them. In this activity, make a timeline of your life over the next 5‐10 years. What do you want to accomplish? After, discuss with one another what needs to happen to close the gap between here and reaching that goal. This should be a practical discussion.
Expect barriers to come up in the conversation. When they do, don’t get stuck, but dig into what’s holding you or your partner back. Overcoming these challenges is where meaningful mentorship starts to happen.
7. Icebreaker questions using a deck of cards
If you’re still working on building a peer mentoring relationship, a great icebreaker activity to do is to draw from a deck of cards to ask certain questions. Number each question and then draw that question based on the number on the card you pull.
You can make the questions ahead of time. Think of what you could ask one another that would help you learn about one another. They can be light-hearted or thoughtful. Anything that gets the conversation going is welcome. Hypercontext has a lot of great 1-on-1 questions to draw from.
8. Quadrants icebreaker
In this exercise, you’ll need a page, whether in person or digital. You’ll create four boxes. Fill out each as follows:
- Family (Upper Left),
- Friends (Upper Right),
- Hobbies (Bottom Left), and
- Life goals (Bottom Right).
Fill out each quadrant to get to know one another. This exercise is a great way to encourage discussion around similar interests or goals.
This activity is great to encourage peer mentoring groups to open up. Start with a reversible bag. Whoever holds the bag will start by explaining to the group how they perceive themselves on the outside. After they have expressed themselves, they turn the bag inside out and discuss what they’re feeling on the inside. After they’ve gone, the group can discuss what was shared before moving to the next person.
This activity encourages groups to open up with one another.
10. Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success Activity
In 1948 John Wooden, the basketball coach who led the UCLA men's basketball team to win 10 NCAA Championships in 12 years (1964-1975), created a framework for being a better person. What became an iconic diagram for success has helped athletes, corporations, and individuals chart a path to success and personal growth.
The pyramid has 14 blocks of different character traits, with the 15th block at the top of the pyramid is competitive greatness. Wooden described it as “Be at your best when your best is needed. Enjoyment of a difficult challenge.”
In this activity, groups will each get the 15 character traits that make up Wooden’s pyramid of success. They’ll then arrange the character traits into the diagram, placing the most important traits at the top and the least important at the bottom.
When everyone has arranged their pyramid, go around and answer the following questions:
- Choose your top three traits. Why are these traits most important to you?
- Did you learn something new about yourself?
- Were you surprised to learn that you had a characteristic in common with someone else?
11. Consider a big decision together
One of the great reasons to have a peer mentor is they can help you make big decisions for your career. They can help you consider all the variables and make the best possible decision. In this activity, map out a decision together, weighing the pros and cons. After you’ve concluded, consider how you came to the decision you did. Did it reveal anything about your values, your fears, what drives you? This is a practical exercise but also a reflective one.
12. Job shadowing
Job shadowing can be a great opportunity to learn from other employees and gain insight into their roles. Pairs can schedule a time to follow their peer mentor around for a day. The goal is to gain insight into the company, different positions and responsibilities, and help set career goals.
Consider a project that allows a mentor and mentee to work alongside each other. It could be researching or writing an article together using the qualified help of the Essay Writer Pro service or even a company committee that they could join together.
Starting a peer mentoring program
To start a peer mentorship program, you first need a plan and key goals. What is the purpose of your mentorship program and what do you want employees to get out of it? Then, you decide how you will establish the program and glean its result.
Make relevant pairings
First, identify the criteria to match employees. When you are considerate and intentional in your peer matching, you create a strong team of individuals who can work successfully beside each other. You can use your knowledge of the employees or peer matching software to connect employees based on their goals and skills.
Support mentoring relationships
You should also provide additional resources and guidance to help both mentors and mentees get the most out of the program. This means checking in on how employees are doing in the program and what can be done better.
Encourage pairs to connect with other mentoring pairs
Since adding new perspectives is the key goal of mentoring, you should recommend that pairs and groups connect with others participating in the mentoring program. This will further elevate their experience by giving them more exposure and community support.
Run a peer mentorship program with ease
It is easy to set up and run a peer mentorship program through Together’s mentoring platform. Our platform is easy to use and can be customized to meet your teams’ specific needs. From reporting to how-to guides, we’ve got you covered.
Our guide on how to start a mentoring program breaks down everything you need to know as an organization when starting a mentoring program. And we’ve compiled the best practices from the first-hand experience of program administrators and the expertise of the Together team.
If you’re ready to get started building a peer mentorship program for your organization, we can help. Find out how Together’s mentoring software can work with you to create a successful mentoring program.