Mentoring is a journey that both the mentor and mentee take together. Success is based on the relationship and the dynamic between participants. While it has traditionally been a connection cultivated between a more senior employee and a junior one, mentoring between peers can be just as successful.
In this article, we’ll outline how you can be a great peer mentor and, if you’re the peer mentee, what to expect from a peer mentor. We’ll start by defining peer mentoring, exploring why peers can be mentors, how it compares to traditional mentoring, and, finally, tips for peer mentors.
Let’s jump in!
What is Peer Mentorship?
A peer mentor is an employee at a similar level in the company to the individual they’re mentoring but has different experiences and unique skills or knowledge. Sharing their unique experience with their colleague can lead to growth for both of them.
Often each participant has something to offer and something to gain from the mentorship. In this sense, both parties assume the role of mentor and mentee.
The relationship is intentionally formed, and the goal is two-fold.
- First, peer mentorships provide a space to share job-related information and knowledge.
- Secondly, it also offers psychosocial support for participants.
Peer mentoring can take place in a group or as a one-on-one mentoring relationship.
A peer mentoring relationship is more than just a work friendship. It’s focused on mutual growth. It’s likely that it will lead to a friendship, but at the start it’s an intentional relationship where you two support each other through encouragement, discussing your goals, and holding each other accountable to grow.
Can A Peer Be A Mentor?
Mentors can be people that are at the same or similar level in the organization as you. These mentorships may even be more successful as your mentor has a deeper understanding of the challenges you face.
You may even share the same challenges.
Peer Mentorship vs Traditional Mentorship
Traditional mentorship is a one-on-one relationship between a senior employee and a junior employee.
Peer mentorships look different from traditional mentoring.
- It can be one-on-one meetings between employees at the same level in the company.
- It can also involve group mentoring sessions where several peers or colleagues meet together to exchange knowledge and support each other.
When discussing the differences between traditional and peer mentorship it’s important to outline why you would go with one over the other. Let’s explore their strengths and weaknesses.
How Effective Is Peer Mentoring?
Peer mentoring is different from a traditional mentoring relationship, but it offers unique advantages. Likewise, it also has its unique challenges.
If you’re considering a mentor and trying to determine if a peer mentor is better suited for you than a more senior one, here are the strengths and weaknesses to be aware of.
Additionally, if you’re an HR manager or People Leader looking to introduce a workplace mentoring program and peer mentorship is new to you here’s what you need to know:
The advantages of peer mentorship in the workplace include:
- Enhances employee wellbeing by ensuring that employees are able to build a strong support network.
- Attracts talent who want to have an onboarding buddy to make the transition smooth.
- Retains top talent who don’t want to lose the peer support they’ve cultivated.
- Increases employee engagement as they are more motivated to take control of their careers.
- A peer mentoring program works in situations where there may be more peers available than senior mentors.
- Remote employees are given space to intentionally connect with their colleagues.
There are also some drawbacks to peer mentoring, including:
- Peers may lack the experience that more senior mentors offer and not being able to give the insight that mentees need for particular situations.
- Senior mentors may be able to open doors for advancement that a peer mentor cannot.
- In some instances, peers that have similar goals may end up competing with each other, leading to a conflict of interests and an awkward situation.
Knowing the pros and cons of peer mentoring is important for employees looking for a mentor or considering mentoring someone at the same level as them. Can they offer the type of career guidance that their colleague needs?
Likewise, for People Leaders, is it better to have peers mentor each other or bring in more senior employees to be the mentors? You’ll need to consider the advantages and drawbacks when designing your mentoring program.
To make peer mentoring concrete, let’s look at three examples of what’s expected from a peer mentor.
Examples Of What To Expect From A Peer Mentor
Having a colleague that we can go back and forth with can help us come up with new ideas and set goals. After we help each other identify our goals we can also hold each other accountable to making progress toward them.
Here are three examples of what you can expect from a peer mentor.
With peer mentoring, participants will want to set their own goals that clarify what they expect to get out of the experience.
For example, one participant may be seeking knowledge on a particular hard skill, while the other may want to strengthen their leadership or communication skills. They’ll have to align on what they both expect to get out of their engagement and how they can best structure their time.
They can break their individual goals into smaller steps, which makes them more manageable and will show progress as they consistently meet.
For example, one participant may role-play an upcoming meeting they have with a subordinate so they can get feedback on their leadership skills or constructive feedback. Likewise, the participant who wants to learn a particular skill may find an expert in their colleague. They can then be tutored by them.
The important thing is that both peers align before they start the relationship on what their expectations are. Then they can see where they’ll help one another. Doing so will set the peer mentoring relationship up for a great outcome.
One of the reasons that mentoring works so well is that the mentee defines their goals, but they are also accountable to someone else to achieve them.
For peers, having someone keep you focused and on track to achieving your goals can be one of the biggest benefits of peer mentoring. Peer mentoring engagements will likely have participants with their own goals that they’re working towards. They can check in with one another and be an encouragement.
“You’re the average of the people you spend the most time with”, as they say, so having a peer mentor who’s working towards their own goals will motivate you to achieve your own. And when challenges come you’ll have someone close by to offer encouragement and support.
Anyone who’s gone through a difficult season can attest to the significance of having someone else to lean on. It’s crucial.
Peer mentors should also provide constructive feedback. An example could be a peer mentor reviewing an upcoming presentation. They can listen to them share their slides and provide feedback on how they can improve.
Peer mentors are great for reflecting on decisions. This includes discussing a challenge or problem they faced. They can outline how they handled it, what reactions they had, what they think went well or didn’t and how it could be better managed in the future.
Research into reflection’s impact on decision making reveals that “reflection is a powerful mechanism by which experience is translated into learning. In particular, we find that individuals perform significantly better on subsequent tasks when they think about what they learned from the task they completed.”
Reflect on your decisions. Go to your peer mentor and talk about it. Pick them apart and learn. It will lead to growth and that’s what peer mentoring is all about.
Now let’s look at how to be a great peer mentor.
How To Be A Great Peer Mentor
Being a great mentor involves commitment and work. Here are eight steps you can take to become a great peer mentor.
1. Focus on relationship
Mentorships need to be built on trust and respect, which is even more crucial in a peer mentoring setting. As a mentor, offer support rather than direction. You want your coworker to develop their own skills and capabilities rather than just follow you. Share some of your weaknesses as well as strengths. Being human will help you build a connection.
2. Meet consistently and follow up
Set up a meeting schedule that works for you both and stick to it. It’s easy to begin mentorships with enthusiasm but then have them fizzle out because you keep rescheduling meetings. It’s also important to follow up with each other between sessions to build on your connection.
3. Share goals and experiences
One of the best aspects of peer mentoring is the ability to connect over similar goals and experiences. Don’t be shy about sharing your own ambitions with your mentee. You can both encourage each other and may be able to help each other along the way.
4. Hold each other accountable
It’s important that neither of you grows complacent when pursuing your individual goals. You can avoid this by holding each other accountable and checking on one another’s progress. A great practice is to take brief notes during your meetings of what to follow up on so you don’t forget. Hold each other accountable to take notes on areas you both need accountability on.
5. Coach each other; share what you learn
Peer mentorship can also be like having a good coach. Offer feedback to each other about meetings, presentations, or negotiations. It can enhance learning. It’s also helpful to share resources you’ve enjoyed, such as articles, TED talks or books. You can also share tacit knowledge to help the growth process.
6. Create peer mentoring groups
Consider expanding your peer mentorship to include others and develop peer mentoring groups. When you do this, you’ll be creating a supportive, encouraging, and coaching culture.
7. Practice active listening
Listening may feel like a passive activity, but it can be one of the most active forms of communication. Help your mentee to feel understood by hearing what they are saying and repeating it back to them. This can clarify for both of you the issues or challenges that may lie underneath. For more on learning well read this article by HBR on what great listeners actually do.
Don’t be a toxic mentor. Rather, keep things that your mentee shares with you confidential. Sharing inappropriate or private information about others at your company will reflect poorly on you and damage your relationship with your mentee.
Peer Mentoring Program
Peer mentorship programs allow for organizations to formalize peer mentoring relationships. By developing workplace mentoring, a company can ensure that all employees are able to access the benefits of mentorship.
To learn more about starting a mentoring program, check out our guide to group mentorship.