Use Experiential Learning to Introduce Mentoring

Four-Way-Split_2A colleague recently asked me for ideas about how to introduce mentoring to the corporate executives he was coaching. This kind of request is becoming more and more prevalent in the business community as various executives and service providers learn about the value (or business case) for mentoring.

A consensus exists regarding the factors necessary to increase organization buy-in or commitment to a mentoring initiative, and they have been clearly identified by mentoring experts David Clutterbuck (see page 5 of this issue of the Peer Bulletin), Ann Rolfe of MentoringWorks, and Rene Petrin of Management Mentors. While the ingredients these experts enumerate are essential, I’ve created two activities that will  provide executives and managers with direct and immediate experience with mentoring, and engage even the most reluctant stakeholder in supporting the value of mentoring.

Activity One: Mentors in Our Lives

When many people are asked to identify a person in their life that they consider a “mentor,” they often draw a blank or say they didn’t have any mentors. This is not an unusual reaction. The term mentor can generate a variety of unstated definitions or characterizations based on popular myths.

This activity is designed to provide a more accurate definition of the term mentor, while at the same time establishing both a cognitive and experiential consensus for what characteristics are associated with the term mentor. Such a consensus typically increases interest in and commitment to mentoring.

The activity begins by asking participants to:

  1. “Think back in your life, and picture a person outside of your family from whom you learned what we might call a life lesson; that is, a lesson or viewpoint that you still use or think today.”
  2. “When you have that person in mind, write the person’s initials on a piece of paper.”
  3. “Find a partner in the room here, and (a) share the brief version of the life lesson (what you learned from the person); and (b) identify the characteristics of that person (or what you recall they did or said) that helped you learn this life lesson.”
  4. “After you’ve (each) identified and shared the list of characteristics with each other, see if you can further identify any common elements and rank them in terms of importance.

The activity leader then solicits the findings from the group members, and writes them on a flip chart or whiteboard. What’s happening here is that the activity leader has provided a definition of the term mentor (a person from whom you learn a life lesson), has engaged the participants in experiencing that definition, and is soliciting from the participants a list of mentor behaviours or actions without having to provide a lecture or presentation about mentoring. (This is the essence of the Peer Resources’ experiential learning model.)

When the group has provided the characteristics (that are now on the flip chart), the leader asks the group to rank the various characteristics in order of importance.

When this is completed, the leader then suggests to the participants that not only have they identified mentors in their lives, but they have also identified the characteristics that mentor experts also identify as associated with effective mentors.

Should the leader examine the list and see that they do not match up with what mentoring experts suggest are the key characteristics, then the leader can add those characteristics to the list and ask the participants for (a) their sense of why their list differs from the experts; and (b) what they think of the experts list.

To conclude this activity, the activity leader asks the participants to share (a) what they’ve learned from doing this activity; and (b) how they might use or apply what they’ve learned in their work or personal life (with the possible inclusion of expressing gratitude, thanks or appreciation, if appropriate, to the recalled mentor.)

Activity II: The Five-Minute Mentor

5 minThis activity can be used to assist stakeholders and others who might consider becoming mentors to directly experience (a) how little time it actually takes to be an effective mentor (thus reducing the often expressed concern about the time required); (b) how a mentor can be effective without being an “expert” (thus reducing the need to view mentors as “all-knowing” in their field); and (c) introducing participants to a set of steps and questions for effective mentoring. The activity consists of six steps and follows the Peer Resources experiential learning model.

In each of the steps that follow, I’ve suggested dialogue or questions that the Mentor can use. These prompts are designed to achieve the purpose or value of that particular step. The Mentor may need to engage in additional listening such as demonstrating understanding and asking for clarification in order to assist the partner to articulate his or her ideas. (As the facilitator of this activity I typically wander around to each pair and provide coaching if they are stuck or engaging in unhelpful prompts.)

Step One: Find a partner.

Decide who will be the mentor and who will be the partner. (Note that we call the person receiving mentoring a “partner” and not a mentoree, protege, or mentee. We believe that the term partner more accurately reflects the learning-oriented relationship of mentoring.)

Step Two: Develop the Relationship (Build Rapport).

The Mentor sends a welcoming message (verbal and non-verbal) like, “I’m glad we could meet together. I’m really looking forward to working with you as your mentor.”

The Partner sends an appreciation message (verbal and non-verbal) like, “Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. I think I can learn a lot from our connection.”

Step Three: Set the Agenda (Formulate the Purpose)

The Mentor initiates the conversation (typically during early mentor/partner meetings) to establish an agenda and says something like: “Let’s focus on this session with Rey.”

The partner responds by adding to the agenda by saying something like “That’s great; and if we have time, let’s arrange our next meeting time and possible topics.”

Step Four: Engage in the Learning Conversation (Share Objectives, Current Reality, Challenges, Methods, and Action Plans)

The Mentor says something like: “I’d like to know about your goals for this session. What’s the most important thing you want to learn during this session on mentoring?”

The Partner: (shares learning goals)

The Mentor: “What is it about your learning goal that makes it important to you?”

The Partner: (shares value)

The Mentor: “How do you plan to achieve your goal?”

The Partner: (shares strategy or plan)

The Mentor: “What, if anything, might interfere with your plan?”

The Partner: (shares possible blocks)

The Mentor: “What methods might you use or have you used in the past to prevent block(s) from occurring?”

The Partner: (shares methods)

The Mentor: “Given what we’ve discussed so far, what actions will you take to put your plan into practice?”

The Partner: (shares action(s)

Step Five: Close the Session (Assess Progress)

The Mentor (referring to the mentoring interaction) summarizes what he or she has learned, suggests an agenda item for next session, and expresses appreciation for something he or she has observed.

The Partner summarizes what he or she has learned, suggests an agenda item for next session, and expresses appreciation for something he or she has observed.

Step Six: Identify Learning and Action

Now that the mentoring pairs have completed their experience, the leader asks the participants to identify what they learned from engaging in this activity and how they plan to put that learning into practice in their current work or personal lives.

As a result of what participants share in this step, the leader will know how successful the session was in achieving the goals as well as what areas may need more clarification or elaboration. Thus, the leader may now be able to initiate discussion based on the actual experiences and concerns of the participants.

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