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Module 02: Stages and Forms of Mentoring

Stages of Mentoring

There are mainly four stages of mentoring:

  • Initial Stage
  • Cultivation Stage
  • Separation Stage
  • Redefinition Stage

Let us explore all these stages.

In the initiation stage, two individuals enter into a mentoring relationship. For informal mentoring, the matching process occurs through professional or social interactions between potential mentors and mentees. Potential mentees search for experienced, successful people whom they admire and perceive as good role models. Potential mentors search for talented people who are “coachable.” Mentoring research describes this stage as a period when a potential mentee proves him- or herself worthy of a mentor’s attention. Both parties seek a positive, enjoyable relationship that would justify the extra time and effort required in mentoring.

Formal mentoring programmes manage the matching process instead of letting these relationships emerge on their own. Good matching programmes are sensitive to demographic variables as well as common professional interests. The assignment of a mentee to a mentor varies greatly across formal mentoring programmes. Mentors may review mentee profiles and select their mentees, or programme administrators may match mentors and mentees. Regardless of the method, a good formal mentoring programme would require both parties to explore the relationship and evaluate the appropriateness of the mentor-mentee match.

The cultivation stage is the primary stage of learning and development. Assuming a successful initiation stage, during the cultivation stage, the mentee learns from the mentor. Two broad mentoring functions are at their peak during this stage. The career-related function often emerges first when the mentor coaches the mentee on how to work effectively and efficiently. Coaching may be active within the mentee’s organisation when a mentor assigns challenging assignments to the mentee, maximises the mentee’s exposure and visibility in the organisation, and actively sponsors the mentee through promotions and recognition. Mentors outside of the mentee’s organisation can also provide valuable advice on how to thrive and survive; although they lack organisational power to intervene on behalf of the mentee directly. The psychosocial function emerges after the mentor and mentee have established an interpersonal bond. Within this function, the mentor accepts and confirms the mentee’s professional identity and the relationship matures into a strong friendship.

The cultivation stage is generally a positive one for both mentor and mentee. The mentor teaches the mentee valuable lessons gained from the mentor’s experience and expertise. The mentee may also teach the mentor valuable lessons related to new technologies, new methodologies, and emerging issues in the field.

The separation stage generally describes the end of a mentoring relationship. The relationship may end for a number of reasons. There may be nothing left to learn, the mentee may want to establish an independent identity, or the mentor may send the mentee off on his or her own the way a parent sends off an adult child. If both parties do not accept the relationship’s end, this stage can be stressful with one party unwilling to accept the loss. Problems between the mentor and mentee arise when only one party wants to terminate the mentoring relationship. Mentees may feel abandoned, betrayed, or unprepared if they perceive the separation to be premature. Mentors may feel betrayed or used if the mentee no longer seeks their counsel or support.

During the redefinition stage, both mentor and mentee recognise that their relationship can continue but that it will not be the same as their mentoring relationship. If both parties successfully negotiate through the separation stage, the relationship can evolve into a collegial relationship or social friendship. Unlike the cultivation stage, the focus of the relationship is no longer centred on the mentee’s career development. The former mentor may establish mentoring relationships with new mentees. Likewise, the former mentee may serve as a mentor to others.

Forms of Mentoring

The mentoring relationship is inherently flexible and can vary tremendously in its form and function. The mentoring relationship exists between one individual in need of developmental guidance and another individual who is both capable and willing to provide that guidance. Further, the mentoring relationship represents an important developmental relationship for the mentee as it supports and facilitates his or her professional development. Given the wide variety of mentoring relationships, they are broadly classified as formal or informal according to the manner in which the relationship formed. Below are some of the possible needs of mentees, roles and characteristics of mentors, and settings for the relationship, which can be combined to create a wide variety of relationships.

Mentee Needs

  • Guidance in a general or specific professional area
  • Series of questions or issues
  • Broad career development
  • Early career development
  • Ethical and moral guidance
  • Assistance in navigating professional settings, institutions, structures, and politics
  • Professional identity development guidance

Roles and Characteristics of Mentors

  • Acts as an experienced role model
  • Provides acceptance, encouragement, and moral support
  • Provides wisdom, advice, counsel, coaching
  • Acts as a sponsor in professional organisations support networking efforts
  • Assists with the navigation of professional settings, institutions, structures, and politics
  • Facilitates professional development
  • Challenges and encourages appropriately to facilitate growth
  • Provides nourishment, caring, and protection
  • Integrates professional support with other areas such as faith, family, and community
  • Accepts assistance from mentee in the mentor’s professional responsibilities within appropriate limits
  • Enjoys the opportunity to pass on their wisdom and knowledge and collaboration with early career professionals


  • Professional settings
  • Organisations
  • Community
  • Internet, email, telephone
  • Informal national and international networks within specialities

Relationship Types

  • Established career and early career
  • Professor to student
  • Professional to professional
  • Peer mentoring (same developmental level with specific experiential differences)
  • Friendship
  • Parent-like features can be present
  • Task-focused versus relationship-based
  • Daily contact versus less frequent contact
  • Short-versus long-term mentorships
  • Collegial collaborations

Formal and informal mentoring

Formal mentoring relationships develop within organisational structures that are specifically designed to facilitate the creation and maintenance of such relationships. There are six primary characteristics of formal mentoring programmes that can directly influence the programme’s effectiveness:

  • Programme objectives,
  • Selection of participants,
  • Matching of mentors and mentees,
  • Training for mentors and mentees,
  • Guidelines for frequency of meeting, and
  • A goal-setting process.

Programme objectives may vary from socialising newcomers into an organisation to the intense career development of a target population (e.g., high potential people, women, ethnic minorities). These objectives affect the scope of the mentoring and will help drive goal-setting and training objectives. Formal mentoring programmes are generally more effective when mentors voluntarily participate (rather than being drafted or coerced) and are intrinsically motivated to help mentees.

Formal programmes vary widely in their methods to match mentors and mentees, and in their preparation of individuals to engage in mentoring. Programmes that solicit important matching criteria from both parties are more likely to initiate successful mentorships. Matching criteria may include professional interests, demographics, geographical location, human interest factors (e.g., hobbies, lifestyles), personality, values, and learning orientation.

Orientation or training programmes for mentors and mentees can help both parties establish a psychological contract for the relationship. Training objectives can include clear communications of expectations of the relationship, goal-setting procedures, conflict resolution skills, and general structure of the mentoring programme. Finally, a goal-setting process provides structure to the relationship. Good goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Informal mentoring relationships develop spontaneously and are not managed or specifically recognised as a mentoring relationship within a larger organisation. A mentor reaches out to a mentee (or vice versa), and a relationship develops which benefits the mentee’s professional development. Due to spontaneous development, these relationships depend somewhat more on the individuals having things in common and feeling comfortable with each other from the beginning. The relationship may develop out of a specific need by the mentee around a task or situation for guidance, support, or advice. The relationship is most likely to be initiated by the mentee as she or he seeks support around a specific task. This type of relationship might also develop when an established professional needs an early career professional to complete certain tasks within an office or project setting.

Developmental Networks and Mentoring

Mentees often have more than one mentor throughout their careers. With multiple mentors, a mentee can benefit from different mentors who have a variety of experiences and skill strengths to share. A developmental network perspective is used to expand our understanding of mentoring. Different mentors may be able to address different developmental needs of mentees to facilitate career progression.

It is observed that most organisational newcomers had multiple role models that served different needs during the work adjustment process. Although most of the mentoring research has focused on only one mentor-mentee relationship, many scientists recognised relationship constellations that provide multiple sources of developmental support for a mentee. Two dimensions describe the typology of developmental networks:

  •         The diversity of social systems from which mentees draw upon to form developmental relationships, and
  •         The strength of these relationships.
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