11: Maintaining the mentoring relationship

While this module is primarily designed for mentoring programs that involve ongoing/long-term mentoring relationships, it can also be useful for informing your follow-up and potential ongoing facilitation of event-based programs. See “When your mentoring program isn’t designed to be long-term” towards the end of this module.

After reading this section you should:

● be clear about how you will support mentoring pairs for the duration of the mentoring program

● be familiar with key challenges mentoring pairs may face and how to overcome them.

Key questions to ask yourself

  1. What time and resources will you have for ongoing facilitation of mentoring relationships?

  2. How will you manage conflict?

  3. Do your program design and resources allow for re-matching, and if so, how will you approach this?

11.1 Why check in with mentees and mentors?

Running a successful long-term mentoring program is not as easy as launching it and hearing back from the mentoring pairs in 6 or 12 months’ time. Mentees and mentors will undoubtedly have challenges in their relationship, and it is the mentoring coordinator’s role to support them along the way.

No matter what way you choose to check in with mentees and mentors, ensure the tone of your check-ins is friendly and warm. The main point of the check-in is to know how they are. The more comfortable you can make them feel with you (i.e. the more they can feel that you care about them and their development), the more open they will be to sharing what is really happening for them.

It’s also very important for you to maintain confidentiality during these check-ins. Mentees and mentors will only be confident to be honest and open about their failures with you if they know they can trust you. Be sure to discuss confidentiality with them at the beginning of your check-in and always ensure they have consented to how you intend to share their data.

11.2 How often to check in with mentees and mentors

There’s no magic number, but we find that checking in with each mentoring pair around once every 2 months is frequent enough to pick up on any challenges they may be having but not so frequent that they feel like they are being watched. In special cases where the relationship is bumpy/challenging, we encourage you to check in more often (as long as your checking in is adding value and not worsening the situation).

11.3 Check-in approaches

You will decide on the data you intend to collect during check-ins as well as the approach(es) you will use to check in when you develop your M&E plan. Check Module 6 – Monitoring and evaluating the mentoring program for more information about choosing a method, and what each method requires.

You may wish to check in with the mentoring pairs; with mentees and mentors separately; with the group of mentees; or with the group of mentors (or a combination of these). Table 7 below outlines the pros and cons to each approach; keep in mind what you’re aiming to achieve and what method will best help you to achieve that.

11.4 When progress reports become marketing material

Often the lessons that mentees and mentors are learning have value for the broader community. If possible, you may wish to encourage mentees and mentors to publish their learnings publicly via a blog. Guidance on how to write a blog and examples of blogs can be found in the Resources section of this module.

Table 7: Check-in approaches

Check-in approach

Pros

Cons

When to use it

Just the mentee or mentor on their own

More comfortable to be vulnerable and share, particularly if they are experiencing challenges

Time consuming for the mentoring coordinator

With mentees or mentors who you can sense are having challenges, when you’re trying to get to the bottom of the issue

Mentee and mentor together

May help the mentee and mentor deepen their relationship with each other

May deepen the challenge if not handled well

When the mentee and the mentor seem to have a good relationship

Group of mentees or mentors

  • An opportunity for community/peer network building – may help the mentees or mentors to share experiences, support each other, and feel ‘normal’

  • You may observe patterns happening across all pairs

Can be difficult to do virtually and expensive to do face to face, especially if people are located in rural areas

  • It’s recommended to have program participants drive virtual group check-ins, with the mentoring coordinator providing technical support if needed.

  • Face-to-face group check-ins can be run as part of a mid-point retreat/workshop.

11.5 Common challenges and how to overcome them

Table 8 below summarises some challenges that are commonly experienced in mentoring programs.

Table 8: Common challenges in maintaining the mentoring relationship

Challenge

Approach you may take to resolve it

Mentor/mentee is too busy to schedule catch-ups

One of the biggest challenges mentoring pairs face is finding time to schedule meetings. Your first step is to call the mentor/mentee to find out if there are any underlying reasons for the scheduling issues. If it is a question of commitment, you may need to be firm in explaining the program’s expectations of their commitment.

If it is simply a difficulty scheduling, you may wish to suggest they use some meeting scheduling tools. These may help take the stress and time away from this task:

https://calendly.com/

http://whenisgood.net/

http://doodle.com/

https://youcanbook.me/.

Mentee and mentor don’t have chemistry or are not aligned in skills/experience

It can happen that two people may not “click”. Therefore, it is essential that mentoring pairs come to an agreement at the beginning about how they will deal with “chemistry” problems, so that there will be no hard feelings if the mentorship doesn't work out. If they decide to terminate the relationship, then re-match the mentee with another mentor.

Mentor talks a lot and doesn’t listen to mentee’s needs

Call the mentor/mentee to find out what is going on and the impact it is having on the mentoring relationship. Use tact to share with the mentor any negative impacts you discover; be sure to focus on the behaviour and not personality when explaining the impact and consequence/s of their behaviour.

Use a coaching approach by asking questions that drive the mentor to come up with possible remedies to the situation. For example, you could ask what they think they can do differently to be more effective.

At the end of the conversation, underscore the importance of listening and how it enhances the mentoring relationship in terms of meeting the goals. Find out whether they would be interested in exploring some tools that enhance listening skills; if so, recommend some and let them know you will be checking in again but are available for any support they may need in remedying the situation. If there is no improvement after about a month then you may need to start considering a re-match.

Mentor/mentee doesn’t show up to planned meetings

Call the mentor/mentee to find out what is going on. Explain the expectations of their commitment.

For event-based mentoring, ensure that the mentoring coordinator is present at the event.

Mentee does not feel like they are making progress

Call the mentee and the mentor to better understand the situation from both perspectives.

If it’s a confidence issue, see if you can encourage the mentor to focus on building the mentee’s confidence and congratulating them when they make small gains.

Revisit the Purpose Road Map and mentoring agreement with both mentee and mentor and discuss whether these documents need changing.

Mentor does not feel like their mentee is making progress

Call the mentor to better understand the situation. Call the mentee to check in.

If the mentee and mentor have different understandings of the mentee’s progress, you need to coach the mentor to listen to the mentee’s needs and not to project their own objectives onto the program. This situation can arise when a mentor’s ego drives their interaction, so you may need to tread carefully.

Mentee comes to meetings unprepared

Give the mentee constructive feedback by describing their behaviour and the impact it has on you, the mentor, and others who may be concerned, and explain the possible consequences of that behaviour. Watch and listen for their response. If positive, ask what the challenge may be and what help they need. If negative or indifferent, give them some space before revisiting the issue. If they remain unresponsive and continue to show up unprepared, take action based on the terms of the mentoring program.

Mentee needs help with a task but feels ashamed to ask their mentor because they are worried they will appear stupid

Ask some open-ended questions: What is the question you want to ask? What makes you feel it will make you appear stupid? How important is the answer to you? The idea is to get to the real reason behind the shame if possible. This could relate to self-esteem, seniority of the mentor, limited trust in the relationship, the stage of the relationship, and so on.

If and when this is revealed, then address the issue jointly with the mentor; be sure to have the mentee’s permission to involve the mentor by explaining that it is important for the mentor to be aware of the situation so that they can be in a better position to assist, since they are taking the journey together. Add that this will also enhance openness in the relationship. In some cases you may need to re-match if the mentee remains closed up and especially if the reason for that has to do with the mentor.

Mentor is pushing the mentee to take risks they are clearly uncomfortable with

Take time with the mentor and explain that meaningful, lasting gain can only be achieved with the full and willing engagement of the mentee. Let them know you appreciate their efforts and see their enthusiasm for the mentee to grow, but if the mentee is not ready it may do more harm than good. Give them an example like that of the larva in a cocoon that is forced out too soon and is unable to transform into the beautiful butterfly.

Discuss with the mentor what steps they can take to make amends without adversely affecting the mentee. Check in with them after the consequent meeting and remain open for them to springboard until both are comfortable with the pace. Be careful not to be too prescriptive. Use coaching to lead the mentor to solutions; that way they will own the corrective process and apply it more effectively. If the issue persists then re-match the mentee.

The mentee/mentor is feeling sexually harassed and has complained, or you have observed behaviour that is questionable in this regard

Confidentiality is paramount in handling this type of situation because this is a highly sensitive matter that has the potential to ruin many relationships.

Call the mentee/mentor who is being harassed and listen to the complaint where one is presented, or explain why you are suspicious. Find out whether there is merit in what they are saying through skilful questioning. Any consultations must be done in a very discreet manner.

Re-match if you see no hope of resolving the issue. Even if you think the complaining party has misconceptions, as long as they are not willing to change their position, the relationship will not work.

Tact, discretion, diplomacy, and suspending judgement will be your most valuable skills in such a situation. Do ask for help from a trusted, experienced individual related to the mentorship if overwhelmed.

Mentee and mentor are having an inappropriate relationship (intimate/romantic)

This will require proper investigation and fact finding before even bringing it up. Be very discreet when gathering information. Do not confront without clear evidence. So if you are sure but cannot present solid evidence, then you may have to find another valid reason to re-match the mentee.

If you have clear evidence, then confront the two, present the facts, and listen to them fully. Then discontinue their participation in the program or re-match. Keep all dealings completely confidential. Such scenarios can ruin the reputation of the mentoring program and must be kept very low-key.

This situation and that of sexual harassment are not very common and the chances of them occurring can be reduced considerably by carrying out well-structured, thorough interviews at the recruitment stage.

11.6 When the challenges can’t be resolved

If a mentee and mentor are having challenges that can’t be resolved then the best approach is to re-match the mentee with another mentor. This can be a sensitive process for both of them so it is important that you reassure them that this does happen from time to time and it’s not either of their faults – sometimes things don’t work out.

You then will have to go back to Module 9 – Matching mentees and mentors and go through the process again.

If you re-match the mentee with a new mentor, you will need to run some extra training for the mentor to help them understand the approach your program is taking, what is expected of them, and possibly how to be an effective mentor.

11.7 When the mentoring program isn’t designed to be long-term

If you chose to take an event-based mentoring approach, and have not designed this to continue into a longer-term program following the event, there are still some actions you can take to support ongoing relationships:

  • Send a follow-up email soon (within 2–3 weeks) after the event. This could be as simple as a collective email to mentors, and a separate email to all mentees.

    • You may link this to an evaluation form (see Module 6 – Monitoring and evaluating the mentoring program). Emails to mentees should encourage them to contact their mentor if they haven’t already, and include some suggested “conversation starters” (for example, to thank the mentors for their support during the conference; to follow up on particular topics or points of discussion).

  • Contact all participants 6 months after the event. This could be framed as simply seeking updates on where they are and what they are doing, but would also act as a reminder for mentees and mentors to get in touch with each other if they want to.

Take action!

  • What other challenges might you encounter? Note them down and think through how you might approach solving them.

  • Do any of these challenges make you afraid? Think about what extra training or support you might need in order to support mentoring pairs in the best way possible.

Resources

Stories

Dorothy, Deputy Director of AWARD, talking about AWARD’s approach of checking in with mentees and mentors and tips for check-in questions

Dorothy, Deputy Director of AWARD, sharing a story of a mentoring relationship that was experiencing major challenges.