10: Building the mentoring relationship

After reading this section you should:

● understand the importance of the initial meeting between mentee and mentor

● be able to help mentoring pairs to build a strong rapport

● be able to help mentees clearly articulate their long-term vision and short-term goals

● be able to help mentoring pairs establish an agreement.

Key questions to ask yourself

  1. How much time is available for the initial meeting between mentees and mentors?

  2. What resources are available for the initial meeting?

  3. What are the program objectives? How can the initial meeting support the achievement of those objectives?

10.1 Initial meeting formats

At every mentoring program we’ve ever run, we always get feedback about how important the initial meeting is between mentees and mentors. It’s a chance for the mentee and mentor to get to know each other, to discuss their hopes and fears, and to agree on goals that will form the foundation for their mentoring relationship over the length of the program.

The format you choose for the initial meeting will depend on your mentoring approach and your design constraints. Some options you might consider are summarised in Table 6 below.

Table 6: Initial meeting formats

Primary format

Relevant mentoring approach





Mentoring orientation workshop

Face-to-face, event-based

  • Face-to-face meeting that normally goes for 3 or 4 days and covers a wide range of topics

  • All mentees and mentors are included

  • Enables mentees and mentors to develop a strong bond by doing various fun and reflective activities together

  • Sufficient time to think about goals and set really meaningful commitments to each other

  • Flexible design

  • Additional time commitment, particularly for mentors

  • If not designed and facilitated well, participants may feel it is not a good use of their time

Open networking

Face-to-face, event-based

  • Informal face-to-face meeting, normally a few hours long

  • All mentees and mentors are included

  • Easier commitment for busy mentors to make

  • Can be quite fun

May not be enough time to build a bond or go deep

Introductory webinar(s)

Face-to-face, event-based, online

  • A series of 90-minute virtual calls

  • Can be designed as pre-recorded sessions for pairs to watch together or can be live

  • Easier commitment for busy mentors to make

  • Less time commitment required from mentoring coordinator

  • Can be difficult to get people in remote areas to join

  • May not build a collaborative group culture

How to select a webinar tool for online training

Online/remote introduction

Face-to-face with no facilitated workshop, event-based, online

Email sent to both mentee and mentor to introduce them

Encourages the pair to take initiative – a key attitude for developing a successful mentoring relationship!

Pairs may not take the initiative to introduce each other and may not develop a strong bond

Introductory email to mentees and mentors (event-based)


  • Participation in the mentoring program is identified on the registration tags of mentees and mentors

  • Mentees and mentors notified of the others’ arrival when registering

  • A designated meeting space is made available for mentees and mentors

  • Ensures event staff are aware of the program and can provide additional support

  • Reminds mentees and mentors of their participation in the program

  • Provides a clear place to meet

Additional time and resources required to liaise with event organising committee

Instructions to give to conference organisers and/or registration staff

10.2 Helping mentees and mentors to bond

Mentees and mentors must form a bond built on mutual trust, respect, openness, and honesty. Bonding is a powerful tool that enables the mentee to learn and grow in a safe and protected environment.

No matter whether your initial meeting is virtual or face to face, ensure that you have included a couple of bonding activities, such as:

● guided conversations

● icebreaker games

● collaborative activities (e.g. a cooking class for an orientation workshop, or a suggested simple task to collaborate on for a virtual introduction).

10.3 Articulating a personal purpose

A personal purpose is someone’s overall intended contribution to the world over the course of their life. Helping mentees to write their purpose for themselves and their work is a very empowering exercise – it helps mentees own their reason for being who they are and doing the work they do. A personal purpose is something one may never achieve but is the guiding star for the decisions one makes.

There are many tools to help with writing a purpose:

● The Purpose Road Map (see below Example and Template) is used to articulate a purpose and then map out the career path, achievements, and skills needed at each stage of the journey to reach that purpose.

● Career timeline

● Writing your own obituary.

Inviting mentees to present their purpose in front of the other mentees and mentors and/or at a networking function is a really powerful way to build their confidence and to motivate them to achieve their goals during the mentoring program. It can also be a great event to invite potential donors and partners who may be interested in the program but yet to commit resources – when they see these passionate young people sharing their life’s purposes, they can’t help but be inspired!

10.4 Setting goals

Goals form the backbone of the mentoring relationship – it’s what helps the mentoring pairs maintain focus and enables them to measure their progress over the length of the program.

Once mentees have articulated their personal purpose they can then determine their goals. These goals will help them take the next step in their lives to get closer to achieving their purpose.

Goals will be informed by both the defined objectives of the program and the mentees’ specific needs. Mentees may feel a push to collaborate with their mentor on a new project. This may not be the most effective way of addressing their needs – they may be better able to achieve their purpose by building an interpersonal skill – so you may need to coach them and their mentor through the process of goal setting.

Mentees can have trouble setting goals for themselves, which is why it’s important we provide some guidance on how to set goals.

When setting goals, we encourage mentees to make them SMART:






Read more about how to write SMART goals here. These SMART goals should be written into the mentoring agreement.

10.5 Managing expectations

Both the mentee and mentor will have joined the mentoring program with all kinds of expectations – about how their mentee/mentor will behave, about what goals they will achieve, about how they want the program to support them.

It’s important to encourage mentees and mentors to have a conversation about their expectations of themselves, each other, and the program, and to take the time to address these truthfully (e.g. Can I meet your expectation about this? If not, what impact will that have on your experience?).

Mentees and mentors may also have expectations about the program itself, that will either be:

a) difficult for you to meet; or

b) possible for you to meet.

If difficult for you to meet, it is important to explain this to the mentees and mentors, and discuss why. If it’s possible for you to meet these expectations, that will lead to a stronger program.

10.6 Coming to an agreement

We have developed a mentoring agreement template to help mentees and mentors discuss and record their decisions on the important foundational topics for a healthy mentoring relationship.

We recommend that the mentoring coordinator explain the template to the mentoring pairs/groups and then give them time to discuss and complete it together. We also recommend that pairs submit a copy to the mentoring coordinator so that the mentoring coordinator can be informed on what the pairs will be focused on and can use this as a guide when checking in with them over the course of the program.

It’s important to emphasise that it is okay for goals to change – that’s life. Not reaching a goal isn’t failure, it’s a learning process. What’s most important is that the mentoring pair is able to share what they have learnt by striving to achieve their goals. You may encourage mentees and mentors to review the mentoring agreement every few times they meet. Are the goals still relevant or do they need to be changed? Are we doing what we said we would do to keep each other motivated?

10.7 Coaching mentors

Not everyone has all the skills needed to be an effective mentor. Some mentors may need some coaching to develop their mentoring skills. You may wish to run a training session specifically for mentors, or encourage experienced mentors to support less experienced mentors.

The two key skills that good mentors need (and are often lacking) are:

● effective listening

● ability to ask good questions.

In the past, we have used the GROW model to encourage mentors to develop these skills. You can find more details about the GROW model here.

This approach also equalises power, avoiding this potential source of conflict between mentee and mentor (more on that in Module 11 – Maintaining the mentoring relationship).

10.8 Developing a collaborative group culture

If you are taking a cohort approach then it will be really important to be intentional about the group culture you set. A group of mentees and mentors that are encouraged to help each other and collaborate (informal peer mentoring) will fare better than a group of mentees and mentors that are competitive and unwilling to share their skills, experience, and stories.

Ensure that you have a conversation about this early in the group-building process. This could be as simple as asking the group, “How do we want to be together during this program?”, and documenting what they say they want and need from each other. Ask them also how they would like to be held accountable to those needs (which will guide how you support them as a mentoring coordinator).

You can also develop some collective program values and principles that will guide how the group behaves with one another. These could be related to the program principles that you identified in Module 1 – Getting started. Doing this together with the mentees and mentors ensures they have input into and ownership over what they are agreeing to.

Take action!

  • Decide on a format for the initial meeting.

  • Decide what tools you’ll use to support mentees to develop a purpose and set goals.

  • Decide what tools you’ll use to help mentoring pairs discuss expectations and set an agreement together.

  • Prepare the agenda and relevant content for the initial meeting.



Dorothy, Deputy Director of AWARD, sharing experience and advice on helping mentees articulate their vision through the Purpose Road Map

Maggie, YPARD Philippines Mentoring Coordinator, reflecting on her experience of helping mentees identify and decide on their goals and vision

Dorothy, Deputy Director of AWARD, discussing her different experiences in coaching mentors