The Power of Informal Mentoring Experiences

Criterion Mentoring Wordcloud

The Power of Informal Mentoring Experiences


By Kathy Wallace, Program Manager, PMP

When the topic of mentoring comes up, many people think of a formal relationship with monthly meetings and career-oriented assignments. Some participants, both mentees and mentors, may even feel intimidated by such an arrangement. However, I strongly believe in the power of mentoring and actually prefer an informal process.

Previously, as a mentee involved in a formal program, I was unfamiliar with the mentor selected for me. Although we were supporting similar programs, we often seemed to be speaking different “technical” languages; therefore, we spent a great deal of time translating. This was a major roadblock to our developing a rapport.

What we were each seeking from the relationship was never clearly established, nor were the goals understood. This compromised what may otherwise have developed into a productive mentorship. I found myself struggling with expectations which had little to do with the direction I wanted to go with my career. While my mentor endeavored to keep us on track, I’m certain he felt my frustration.

Fortunately, this was an exception. Other mentoring relationships I’ve experienced have been extremely beneficial. One of my most successful mentoring relationships occurred when I wasn’t even aware of it! I thought we were simply discussing my challenges and what I needed to focus on in order to progress to the next level in the organization. As it turns out, I received more than career guidance: I was provided with opportunities to participate in projects and training which were way outside my comfort zone, but key to my progression from a field technician, to project lead, to program manager.

Based on these informal mentoring experiences, I’ve come to greatly appreciate the value of mentoring and want to provide the same opportunities to others. When I mention mentoring, there is often a misconception that I’m preparing to leave the organization. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, mentoring within my team is part of my own career progression plan and helps me prepare talented employees to assume greater responsibilities.

Some of the reasons I seek out mentoring relationships include:

  • The mutual development of both participants.
    • For the Mentee:
      • Develops a career progression path.
      • Improves skills at a faster pace.
      • Establishes rapport and opens the line of communication with senior leadership.
      • Enhances job satisfaction.
      • Raises awareness of organization goals
    • Mentor:
      • Gains insight into skills and knowledge of the mentee, which aids in identifying, nurturing, and retaining talent.
      • Identifies career challenges employees may be facing in the workplace.
      • Enhances own communication skills, especially listening.
  • Organization benefits:
    • Reduces turnover.
    • Encourages employee support to organization goals and participation in business opportunity events.
    • Strengthens succession plans and reduces turmoil caused by sudden loss of leadership (retirement, promotion, sudden departure).

I would encourage any team members interested in participating in a mentorship to start by developing one or two sentences on exactly what they would like to gain from a mentoring partnership. Share your goals with your direct supervisor and inquire as to whether a mentoring relationship could be arranged.