Mentoring relationship

Productive mentoring sessions: 5 tips

Too often, poor preparation for mentoring sessions leads to poor results. To have impactful and productive mentoring meetings, here are 5 tips.

Ryan Carruthers

Published on 

December 29, 2021

Updated on 

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Mentorship benefits both mentors and mentees. That’s why so many Fortune 500 companies have them, from Johnson and Johnson to Walmart to AT&T and more. 

For mentors, research has found that they are more satisfied with their jobs and committed to their employers. This leads to lower turnover rates. For mentees, 90 percent report being happier and more satisfied in their career. And 75 percent are committed to their workplace. 

Your mentoring sessions are key to getting the best out of the experience. That’s why you need to approach them carefully and be prepared. Mentoring sessions can easily become little more than a superficial conversation or an unnecessary project check-in if a mentee arrives unprepared.

How do some mentoring sessions get off track?

Unless mentorships are managed, mentoring sessions can quickly get off track. This can happen for a number of reasons, such as:

  • Mentee and mentor failed to set expectations and decide what they want to gain from the experience
  • There was no discussion about what a mentee or mentor expected from each other
  • Participants didn’t agree ahead of time on a discussion topic
  • Neither the mentee nor mentor did any prep before the mentoring session

When it happens, the result is that nothing is achieved in the mentoring session. Rather, it can become an update session rather than one that focuses on growth or learning. 

If mentoring sessions are not structured well, it can become an unmeaningful check-in that lacks substantial discussion. It will start to feel like more of a chore for mentors and mentees because there’s no growth from the conversations. The underlying issue may be a lack of commitment to the mentorship by one or both participants.  

Employees have enough meetings to discuss project updates. They don’t need another one. 

Mentoring sessions need to stay focused on growth and development. That is, where mentors and mentees identify goals, create plans to achieve these goals, and overcome obstacles or challenges that stand in the way.

eBook Guide Mentors and Mentees To Better Relationships

What does an effective mentoring session look like?

Mentors and mentees who can have focused mentoring sessions dedicated to growth and development will get the most from their experience. Here is what a great mentoring session looks like:

At the beginning of the mentoring relationship, a mentor and mentee discuss their expectations and draft a mentoring agreement. Once they’ve set expectations, they both prepare for mentoring sessions, including sending an email with questions or topic suggestions before their session. 

During the session, they’ll work through these questions. But participants can also be flexible and let the conversation flow naturally so long as the discussion is still meaningful for the mentor and mentee. Mentor and mentee demonstrate their commitment and empathy by taking notes and asking thoughtful questions. 

After the mentoring session, participants follow up with an email to hold each other accountable for commitments made during the session. 

Great mentors and good mentees all do these things to create a thriving mentoring connection.

Advice from a real mentor

We asked our friend, Elaine Ezekiel, the Marketing Director at Atomic Object, what her experience with mentorship has been like. Throughout her career she's taken on the role of both mentor and mentee. With that she has several tips for current mentees and mentors aspiring to be better:

As a mentor, I find it important to make sure the person asking for mentorship has a clear idea about how I might help them. I remember being in college and not realizing that asking for an hour phone call with a professional could be a pretty big request. I try to extend that empathy to people who ask me for my time, and I prompt them to do some introspection before we spend time together.

My best experiences have come from people asking about very specific and narrow situations or things they want to learn. If they have done some of that work, then I see it as my obligation as a mentor to give them undivided attention and listen or ask questions more than offer advice. I typically arrange these conversations during a walk or a meal so that I can make the impact on my schedule sustainable.

Oftentimes, I find people are looking for access to a local network when they reach out for something like mentorship. So something that I've found valuable and efficient is putting a lot of work into a template email that lays out the best networking groups, events, and online communities for someone in search of a local network.

As a mentee, I have benefitted from both formal and informal mentorship arrangements. The informal mentorship is almost all about observing and asking questions about things going on around me. I've learned so much this way, and I think it takes the pressure of the dynamic when you leave the "mentorship" label off the experience.

I've also been lucky enough to experience 9 months of formal career mentorship from a coach sponsored by my company. I appreciated my mentor's structure she applied to the arrangement, and I got a lot of value by doing some journal reflecting about what I was learning in between our sessions.

How to have a great mentoring session

The good news is that great mentoring sessions don’t just happen. You can plan and prepare for them. Here are some tips on how you can create great mentoring sessions. 

Agree on expectations for the relationship

Mentors and mentees should discuss what they want out of the experience. Is there something specific they want to learn or unlearn? Define how each mentoring session should be structured. What do you want to talk about? How much prep and time investment is required? It’s also crucial to clarify who drives the relationship (hint: it should be the mentee).

Choose discussion topics ahead of time

It’s never a good practice to attend a meeting without a plan, which holds true for mentoring sessions. Know what goals or challenges you want to work through in your sessions. Use these to inform your agenda, which you should create before each mentoring session. 

Have an agenda for your conversations

Similar to agreeing on a topic ahead, it’s important to build a plan before each mentoring session. 

If you’re running a formal mentoring program, you should be providing agendas to mentoring pairs ahead of time to help guide the discussion. 

These don’t need to be word-for-word scripts for mentoring sessions but something that participants can use as a starting point. Conversations can remain surface level without an agenda and not lead to a meaningful discussion that spurs growth. And without growth, your mentoring program won’t be cultivating the kinds of experiences that lead to vital changes in your employees and your organization. 

Ask great questions

The key to asking great questions is to listen and think about what is being discussed or shared with you. 

Doing this can help the other person feel understood and heard, which are two crucial ingredients to effective communication. 

To help get you started, here are some great questions to ask if you’re a mentee and thoughtful questions to ask if you’re the mentor.

Show empathy for one another

Empathy is critical to a successful mentoring relationship: demonstrating an understanding of the other’s experience, struggles or challenges is essential to finding the best solutions together. 

Remember that demonstrating empathy does not mean that your mentoring session needs to be a pity party or a counselling session. Rather, showing empathy just means that you can see things from the other’s perspective.

Keep mentoring sessions focused with structured mentoring programs

Effective mentoring sessions are the building blocks of a great mentoring experience. By developing a structure for sessions and your workplace mentoring program, you will be enabling employees to learn and grow in the most meaningful ways. 

Organizations that want to ensure every employee has access to mentoring opportunities need to understand how to build and manage a successful workplace mentoring program. 

At Together, our mentoring software makes it easy to find great mentor-mentee matches and support the relationships as they develop. Learn more about launching a mentoring program that nearly runs itself by connecting with us to see a product demo

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