Mentoring happens when a more experienced professional shares knowledge and advice with a greener mentee, with the goal of transferring skills and fostering professional development.
The mentor-mentee relationship differs from the typical manager-employee structure in that a manager’s main responsibility is to ensure an employee is completing their core job functions, whereas a mentor’s main role is to provide perspective to a mentee and help them with career development strategies.
Mentoring has many benefits. Employees who are mentored tend to be more productive and engaged. And mentees are promoted five times more often than those not in a mentoring program, according to one study.
There are many different types of mentoring — from peer-to-peer to group mentoring — and each style has its own unique benefits.
Types of mentoring in the workplace
In a one-on-one mentoring relationship, a more experienced mentor helps a less experienced mentee develop their career. This can look like:
- Mentee setting professional development goals, and mentor helping mentee achieve these goals
- Mentor teaching mentee new skills
- Mentee asking mentor questions about how they’ve navigated their career
- Mentor advising mentee on next career steps
- Mentor advising mentee on how to handle job-related pain points
Mentorships usually last for a defined period of time — often three months to a year. Both people commit to meeting with some type of regularity, likely once or twice a month. But if the arrangement is mutually beneficial, it can last for far longer.
One-on-one mentoring can happen in person (think grabbing coffee) or virtually. If you’re considering whether you’d prefer to be mentored in person or remotely, consider your goals and needs.
Meeting face to face can foster a safe space for openness and authenticity — a connection that can be challenging to create in front of a screen. But the convenience of meeting on Zoom might make a monthly mentorship commitment more doable. Meeting virtually will also allow you to cast a wide net while searching for the ideal mentor.
Situational mentoring is useful when you’re looking to develop a skill or solve a specific problem. This type of mentoring relationship involves approaching a mentor who’s had success navigating a business challenge you’re facing. The goal is for your mentor to use their experience to help guide you through this specific situation.
Situational mentoring can be particularly helpful for entrepreneurs — especially when navigating a complex phase — like courting investors, building a team, or selling the business.
Reverse mentoring happens when junior professionals mentor more senior professionals in a specific area. This type of arrangement can be helpful for tech-related skill sharing. If an older founder is trying to build a marketing strategy on TikTok, for example, they might benefit by tapping a Gen Z employee.
Similarly, Gen Z and millennial professionals can help boomer and Gen X leaders understand the younger generations. This type of knowledge sharing can help older leaders:
- Develop more appealing products
- Understand the importance of practicing anti-racism and seeking out a diverse and inclusive workforce
- Learn how to use digital communication and productivity tools like Zoom, Slack, Notion, and Asana
Reverse mentoring can also help foster intergenerational understanding and friendship.
Group mentoring is an arrangement where three or more employees or professionals share knowledge with each other. Sometimes everyone in the group is at a similar career stage, which is more of a peer mentoring approach. Or there could be a more experienced mentor guiding multiple mentees in group sessions.
In a group mentoring scenario, mentees benefit by learning and gaining support from multiple peers in a similar career path, rather than from just one mentor. Group mentoring can work particularly well for entrepreneurs, who’d benefit from meeting with a group of fellow founders to troubleshoot business problems, swap marketing lessons, and share go-to-market strategies.
Types of group mentoring
Facilitated group mentoring
Facilitated group mentoring involves a group of mentees working with a mentor. In this type of mentoring situation, mentees shape meeting agendas and spec out group goals. Mentees can learn from problems and questions posed by fellow mentees, which may reveal relevant insights you didn’t originally consider.
Facilitated group mentoring is great for collaborative learners. A potential drawback, however, could be not having enough time to ask your mentor all your questions.
Peer mentoring happens when a group of people, usually in similar roles and career stages, come together to share lessons. This approach could involve sharing takeaways from tricky clients, delving into industry trends, or workshopping a problem a peer is facing.
Learning in this type of environment — where everyone is on the same playing field — can be super helpful. But not having a more experienced mentor to propose solutions could cause the group to get stuck.
Team mentoring happens when a group of mentors and a group of mentees join forces to learn together, often within the context of an organization. Benefits of team mentoring include building community, developing business communication skills, and learning from a diverse range of people.
Types of mentoring styles
As a prospective mentee, it’s important to think about what type of mentoring style might work best for you. Mentors should also be able to describe their mentoring style. Discussing these preferences upfront will help mentors and mentees find good matches.
According to the mentoring platform Together, there are eight different types of mentoring styles, including:
Advisers use their experience to guide mentees down a specific career path. This involves suggesting what steps to take to get from A (current job) to B (desired job). This style is more of a top-down approach and assumes the mentor has the answers.
If you’re looking for advice on how to advance to the next level in your career, seek out an adviser that’s followed a path you’d like to take.
Protectors focus on creating a safe space for their mentees to explore. Seeking out a protector might be the right move during a stressful career event, like transitioning to a new role or industry — or after getting laid off.
Coaches tend to let their mentees direct the relationship. This approach involves active listening, celebrating the mentee’s wins, and anticipating challenges. Seeking out a coach might make sense if you like solving your own problems but could use a bit of guidance.
Connectors like to introduce mentees to their networks. When a connector understands what skills their mentee wants to develop, they’ll connect the mentee with a contact who’s strong in that area.
Being mentored by a connector can be particularly helpful for entrepreneurs looking to develop several parts of their business. A connector could introduce their mentee to different experts to discuss things like writing a business plan, creating a budget, and making a hire.
Challengers like pushing their mentees to think critically and problem-solve creatively. They also love playing devil’s advocate. Consider seeking out this type of mentor if you find being challenged in this way makes you a better thinker, worker, creator, or problem-solver.
Clarifiers help mentees understand company culture, politics, and organizational structure. Being mentored by a clarifier may be particularly helpful if you’re new to a company or if you work cross-functionally at a large company.
A sponsor uses their influence to advocate for a mentee (AKA protege), in an effort to connect them with career and business opportunities. Finding a sponsor can be especially helpful for founders who are in search of clients, partnerships, or investment capital.
Affirmers act as a sounding board for their mentees. They help mentees unpack and work through challenging situations by listening and offering guidance. You might consider seeking out an affirmer if you feel like you need validation for decisions you make at work.
Types of mentoring relationships
Mentoring relationships can be either formal or informal. An example of a formal mentoring relationship would be a six-month company-organized program where mentors and mentees set goals and meet for an hour each month.
Formal programs are popular among large organizations: About 70% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs to their employees.
An informal mentorship could start with a casual meeting that morphs into occasional phone conversations or Zoom happy hours. Or it might look like a podcast producer meeting with an audio engineer friend every once in a while to pick their brain.
If a mentoring relationship develops organically, don’t feel pressured to put structure around it. But defining goals for the mentorship and chartering your progress can help you stay motivated and focused.
Seeking out a mentor is a great way to broaden your perspective and develop your career. There are many different types of mentorships. When thinking about your ideal mentoring situation, start by defining your short-term goals. Your goals will inform the type of mentorship you should seek out.