One On One Mentoring: Guide to workplace mentorship

One on one mentoring is the most common format for a mentoring relationship. Here's how to make the most of it with examples, activities, and tips.

Nick Saraev

Published on 

July 15, 2022

Updated on 

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Everyone has life skills and experience to share as a mentor. One word, one hour can be all that’s needed to effect a positive change in someone. – Chelsey Baker, author of the Pocket Mentor

One on one mentorship is the most popular form of workplace mentorship. This is the mentoring style we're most familiar with.

A more experienced, senior employee takes a junior colleague under their wing, sharing their wisdom and expertise to help them develop skills and progress their career.

But what if we told you there's a lot more to one on one mentorship than simply sharing your wisdom? In reality, these relationships can take many different forms and be used for a variety of purposes, depending on the needs of both mentor and mentee.

If you're interested to know more about this enriching professional relationship, read on as we cover the ins and outs of workplace one on one mentorship. Let's dive in!

What is one on one mentorship?

Though the type of mentorship we're most accustomed to is one on one, the definition of mentorship can actually be quite broad. You could be in a mentorship group of ten people, all of whom are working towards different goals, or some people even work with multiple mentors for their different professional needs.

For one on one mentorship, the relationship is exclusively between one mentor and one mentee. The most typical arrangement here is that the mentor is more experienced and senior in their field than the mentee, though this certainly doesn't have to be the case. 

In this type of mentorship, the main goal is to help the mentee develop their skills, knowledge and experience to progress in their career.

The definition of one on one mentoring is "A more experienced, senior employee takes a junior colleague under their wing, sharing their wisdom and expertise to help them develop skills and progress their career."

Examples of one on one mentoring

If we look back at some of the most successful people in history, it's fascinating to note just how many of them had a mentor. You might recognize some of these big names:

  • Oprah Winfrey was mentored by civil rights activist Maya Angelou
  • Yves Saint-Laurent worked as Christian Dior's personal assistant
  • Socrates mentored Plato, who then went on to mentor Aristotle
  • Both Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando were both taught the Stanislavsky Method of Acting by Stella Adler

These are classic examples of experienced and successful professionals sharing their wisdom and helping up-and-coming talent to reach their full potential. But one on one mentorship doesn't have to be so high profile – it can take all sorts of different forms, depending on the needs of both mentor and mentee.

For example, reverse mentoring is becoming increasingly popular in the workplace. This is where a junior staff member mentors a more senior colleague on new technologies or digital trends. There's also peer mentorship;  colleagues of a similar level or rank grow together, sharing skills and knowledge along the way.

What all of these examples have in common is that the mentor/mentee relationship is tailored specifically to meet the needs of those involved. Such is the benefit of one on one mentorship – it allows for a high degree of flexibility and customizability, making it the perfect option for anyone looking to develop their skills and progress in their career.

Why is one on one mentoring important?

Mentoring takes a lot of time, patience, and effort – not to mention money and resources – so companies are often skeptical of what they can gain from it. Thankfully, the research has been done many times over. The jury's out, and the verdict is in: one on one mentoring is unequivocally good for businesses and individuals alike.

Let's take a look at the facts:

  • An astounding 97 percent of mentees feel that their mentorship is highly impactful and valuable. 
  • According to Coqual, 57 percent of mentors expand their skillset through mentoring someone else. 
  • Of the upcoming Gen Z workforce, 73 percent are motivated to do a better job when they have a mentor that cares. 
  • Fortune 500 companies with mentorship programs fared much better on average during the pandemic. 

We’ve outlined even more surprising statistics in a separate article. Get the latest research on mentorship

All evidence points to one fact, however: mentorship is incredibly beneficial for mentors and mentees alike. It should be considered integral to any professional's development.

“All evidence points to one fact: mentorship is incredibly beneficial for mentors and mentees alike. It should be considered integral to any professional's development.”

Benefits of one on one mentoring

We've presented the facts, and there's plenty more insightful research we could link out to. But what are the specific benefits of one on one mentoring? What do you – the manager, mentor, or mentee – stand to gain? 

There are countless benefits of mentorship, but we'll focus on the key ones that pertain to one on one mentoring specifically. Let's zoom in.

Deeper focus and more personalized attention

Perhaps one of the biggest draw cards of one on one mentoring is the focus and attention it provides. With fewer people in the equation, mentors can give their undivided attention to their mentee, providing feedback and support where it's needed most.

Of course, this doesn't mean group mentoring is ineffective. These setups are excellent for the rapid transfer of broad skillsets and can be very advantageous for early-stage professionals. For individualized support, however – such as for career development, specific skills training, or personalized advice – one on one mentoring is hard to beat.

Better trust, and therefore, communication

Mentors and mentees often develop a stronger trust relationship than in other arrangements. Most likely, this is because of the incredibly personal, focused nature of one on one mentoring. Trust is essential for good communication, and this is especially true in the workplace.

With trust comes openness, which can lead to better problem-solving and innovation. In short, a trusting mentoring relationship allows for a much more productive mentorship experience – benefiting both parties involved.

Greater accountability

In any professional relationship, both parties should be held accountable. This is especially true in the case of mentorship. You can't expect to see growth without consistent effort and accountability. 

One on one mentoring allows for the kind of accountability that is essential for progress. This is especially true if the mentee has set specific goals for themselves. With a mentor's help, mentees can achieve their goals more efficiently (consider reading up on Career Pathing for more on this).

More time to try new things

Think back to a time when you worked or studied in a classroom setting; perhaps you went to a university or can recall your secondary school days. There was likely one tutor at the front of the room and a few dozen students. You may remember each class having a set structure and the tutor actively moving through predetermined material.

What's missing in this arrangement is the freedom and flexibility to try new things. Since time is short and there are so many students to engage, it's simply not possible for the tutor to go off-script.

This isn't the case with one on one mentoring. With only your time and goals to worry about, your mentor can be much more flexible. This means trying new things, making mistakes, and learning in a more organic way. Granted, this won't work for everyone or every goal – but it's a valuable option to have.

Activities for one on one mentoring relationships

At first, agreeing to mentor someone can feel purely exciting. You're stepping up to new responsibilities and giving someone a great opportunity. But soon after it's all been arranged, the realization hits: what on earth do I do now?

Don't worry; we've got you covered. Here are a few activities that can help get your one on one mentoring relationship off to a flying start:

17 Creative mentoring activities

1. Spend a session getting to know one another. 

The best start to a successful mentorship is one where you get familiar with each another. Take turns to give a rundown of your career and life journey so far – challenges you've faced, ambitions you've pursued, and how you got to where you are today. 

This is a sure-fire way to begin trust building. Both mentor and mentee will walk away with a better understanding of what makes the other tick, which can only help down the line.

2. Run a skills development session. 

For this activity, simply ask your mentor to name one skill they want to gain. (Ideally, ask them to name a skill you currently possess as their mentor). Put together a mini workshop and devote one whole session to teaching your mentor how to do this skill.

If you don't feel confident about teaching the skill yourself, think of it as an opportunity for you to learn something, too. Dig into research, ask colleagues for advice, and come up with a plan to make the most of this mentorship session.

3. Start a project. 

One of your early discussions will likely focus on the goals of the mentorship. If one of your goals is to help your mentee develop specific skills, why not design a project that practically applies these new skills?

For example, if your mentee wants to go into biological research, you might suggest they design and carry out a simple experiment within one of their interest areas. An aspiring public speaker could be challenged to write a provocative speech or prepare a debate.

For more examples of activities, you can do with your mentor, be sure to read our comprehensive article, 17 mentoring activities to try in your next meeting

How to start a one on one mentoring program

Feeling more confident about the ins and outs of one on one mentoring? We hope so! Regardless, the prospect of planning and executing mentorships within your workplace can be daunting. How will you ensure that everyone involved benefits? How do you find the right pairs? And what do you do if things don’t work out?

This is where mentorship programs come in particularly handy. Our platform has been designed to make the entire process a breeze, from pairing the right people together to tracking and reporting on progress. We've got a powerful algorithm that knows exactly how to pair mentors and mentees, taking into account things like skills, personality traits, and goals.

Don't be shy – get in touch with us to learn more about how our mentoring platform can help you set up and manage a successful workplace mentorship program. You're a few simple steps away from happier employees, higher productivity, and more cohesive workplace culture → [Try our platform for free]

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