Leadership & Productivity

Mentoring and coaching: The differences and why mentor based collaboration is key

4 min read

25 April 2019

There is often some confusion between the terms “coaching” and “mentoring”. Both approaches to development are important, however, in this article we will be looking in particular at mentoring. This is not a new concept and for many years organisations have been positively using mentoring schemes as an informal way to develop and support employees.

Traditionally, there are a number of benefits of mentoring. Mentoring is normally an informal relationship of development that takes place between an experienced employee and a newer employee.

When is mentoring used in a business?

Often organisations will appoint a mentor to a newer member of staff in the hope that the mentee will respond to the mentor, ask questions and learn the ways of the organisation and its culture. Whilst this relationship is considered casual in some organisations, the mentor will still have a remit to check progress and development in somewhat of a structured manner.

What are the negatives to mentoring?

Unfortunately there are also some shortcomings to traditional mentoring. At times the approach can be clouded due to personal views of the mentor and this can adversely affect the relationship between the two parties. The mentor may consider the mentee’s profile to be incomplete, or lacking skills that in their opinion are essential for the position.

Other views of mentoring suggest that this role can be challenging when exercised alongside other organisational activities which demand equally as much time, if not more. To some mentors such an informal role can be seen as a chore, perhaps time-consuming and unrewarding. Organisations need to work to alter such assumptions and views of the mentors, and ensure this role is maximised to full effect in order to develop and support high performing individuals and teams.

Mentees can mentor themselves

Nowadays organisations are constantly looking for more innovative, flexible and creative ways of developing their employees, and as team dynamics and levels of autonomy change so does the role of the mentor.

One approach to mentoring could be through collaborative and self-directed mentoring, whereby the mentee will lead his or her own development.

This form of mentoring goes some way to address the original issues of making presuppositions of the mentee being inexperienced, and where knowledge of the job is limited.

Through mutual understanding of the mentee’s skills and existing knowledge the relationship can flourish and the mentor can take the lead from the mentee. The mentee becomes more empowered to direct his or her own learning and development of skills within the workplace. This leads to other benefits, such as increased motivation and enthusiasm and reduces levels of apprehension.

What’s in it for the mentor?

There are also advantages of this approach for the mentor; for instance, the mentor can tailor his or her practice in relation to the skills and knowledge of the mentee. This will ensure that the mentor is providing only the required support, and thus takes pressure off them. This leads to better management of activities and time.

It is entirely possible that the mentor could learn from the mentee once the time is taken to develop the relationship and understand what the mentee has brought to the organisation with regards to past experiences and training. Ultimately, this can only be of benefit to the organisation.

Although to some mentors this approach may move away from the organisation’s remit for checking progress and ticking a box, the process enables the mentee to form his or her own development plans and approaches to learning. Consequently, this results in the mentee taking responsibility and accountability of his or her role, thus improving performance and commitment to the organisation.