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Mentoring

Providing guidance and advice to enable someone to set and reach their objectives.

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is a mutually beneficial relationship in which a mentor provides guidance to a mentee (also sometimes referred to as a protégé) to help the mentee reach their goals. Mentoring is often confused with coaching since they both heavily rely on developmental conversations, active listening and asking thought-provoking questions. However, unlike coaches, mentors actively share their experience, advice and opinions, often acting as a role model and advocate for their mentee.

Your organization may have a formal mentorship program set up by the company to help newer or less experienced staff members. Companies often sponsor these programs in order to help fulfill business goals such as increased employee retention, diversity enhancement, skills and career development, or new-hire onboarding. 

Often, no such program exists and it’s up to individuals to either become a mentor or seek out a mentor. These pages are designed to help you determine if mentorship is something you feel is worth pursuing.

Mentoring Principles

When companies have formal mentoring programs, they may have established procedures for how mentors and mentees are matched, and how each conducts themselves during the mentoring relationship. However, when no formal program exists, it’s up to the mentor and mentee to figure out how they will work together. We’d like to share some of the elements of successful mentorship that has guided us in the past:

  • Connection - Fundamentally, the most important thing is that the mentor and mentee want to work together in mentorship. The relationship must be based on mutual trust and respect. 
  • Intentional - At the core of mentorship is a focus on understanding and supporting the  mentee’s career and/or developmental goals. It’s important for the mentee to be able to articulate their goals to their mentor and for the mentor to be confident in their ability to appropriately guide their mentee.
  • Active - The mentor actively provides advice and guidance to the mentee, sharing anecdotes from their own experiences and providing crucial feedback. The mentee receives feedback and takes responsibility for implementing the lessons learned from the mentor.
  • Clear - Both the mentor and the mentee must be clear that they are establishing a mentoring relationship and should set appropriate expectations to avoid disappointment. Whether you and your mentor or mentee create a written agreement is entirely dependent on your particular circumstance. For some, this level of clarity is important. For others, it is excessive formality.
  • Limited - Mentoring relationships can be fairly long-term, ranging from many months to years. It’s often useful to create an understanding of when the mentoring relationship will end. This can be based on a specific lapsed time, or better yet, the achievement of certain goals. The mentoring relationship is successful if the mentee advances enough to no longer need the support of the mentor. 

Skills and Traits of a Mentor

  • Experienced - Having the appropriate background is crucial for being able recount your own experiences and to provide pertinent advice to your mentee.
  • Knowledgeable - Your mentee will come to you wanting to achieve success in a particular domain. It’s important to have knowledge of that domain.
  • Supportive - You should be able to engage in active listening and asking powerful questions in order to stimulate your mentee’s reflective thought process. It’s important to listen to your mentee’s goals and concerns and base your guidance on what you heard. You must be capable of delivering feedback in a way it can be received by your mentee.
  • Committed - You must be dedicated to your mentee’s personal and professional development and success.  Mentors are often willing to expend their own political capital in order to advocate for their mentee’s career advancement within the organization.
  • Approachable - As a mentor, you should be able to create an atmosphere of openness and trust. Your mentee should feel comfortable talking about potentially awkward topics  and you should be willing to share personal and professional information in order to help your mentee.
  • Focused - You should have the ability to help create clarity and direction for your mentee. This could take the form of goal setting, next steps, action items or anything that would help the mentee move forward on their goals.

Traits of a Mentee

Before you seek out a mentor, you should make certain that you’re prepared to be mentored. In particular, mentorship works best if you are working on specific goals.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you recognized that you are facing a particular challenge with which you want support?
  • Do you have the ambition to advance in your career or achieve a goal?
  • Are you willing to actively seek feedback and act on it?
  • Are you ready to take responsibility and ownership of the interaction with your mentor and drive toward your objectives?
  • Do you have the time to devote to the relationship?
  • Are you comfortable sharing potentially uncomfortable topics if it helps you succeed?

Success with Mentorship

The formality of the mentoring relationship is based on the needs of the people involved. It can be very formal, with a written agreement of the goals, details of how they will interact, documented progress reviews and formal kickoff and closing meetings. Formal mentoring relationships are most common with company-sponsored programs and when the mentor and mentee do not have a prior relationship. 

More informal relationships often occur when a mentor and mentee are acquainted and find that entering a mentoring relationship would be rewarding. They may not create a written agreement on how to conduct the relationship, but they should consider the principles of mentorship and the traits of both the mentor and mentee. 

Finally, there can be ad hoc mentoring relationships. These mentoring opportunities tend to occur when the mentor and mentee work closely together. As ad hoc as these interactions may be, it’s important that the mentee agrees to be mentored and it must be in the style the mentee feels is appropriate. Making certain that this understanding is in place mitigates the risk that the mentee feels they are being treated as an inferior, creating resentment between two colleagues.

Why is Mentoring Beneficial for Scrum Teams?

While the Scrum Master has specific accountability for mentoring Scrum Team members on the use of Scrum, every team member has knowledge and experience that will benefit their colleagues. These relationships can be within or outside of the Scrum Team.

Mentorship examples on Scrum Teams

It’s rare for formal mentoring relationships to be formed among members of the same Scrum Team. For example, it’s difficult to act as a sponsor to a peer on your team.  However, due to the self-managing nature of Scrum Teams, mentoring relationships are continually forming. Mentorship within a Scrum Team is generally ad hoc with one team member with particular prior experience guiding other team members. We sometimes refer to this as taking a mentorship “stance.” For example:

  • When a team member has experience that could help their team reach a desired approach or outcome, or support their team’s decision
  • When the team is trying a new approach or solution and one team member has prior experience with a similar situation
  • A newly hired team member can be mentored by a longer-standing team member
  • There is often the possibility of cross-role mentorship when developers, POs or Scrum Masters want to be mentored in other roles
  • A team member may mentor others on the benefits of empiricism, self-management and continuous improvement by recounting their prior successes with them 
  • When a new team is formed, there may be opportunities for mentorship around setting a successful mission, team values and goals
  • Teams often struggle with how to steer toward or evaluate their successful outcomes. A team member with experience with  Evidence-Based Management (EBM) or Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) may be able to guide the rest of the team.

Mentorship outside of your immediate Scrum Team

Mentorship outside of your immediate team is more likely to take the shape of a more traditional mentoring relationship. For example:

  • If you have significant experience as a Scrum Master, Product Owner or Developer, you may be asked to mentor someone with less experience in these roles
  • There are opportunities to participate in mentorship structures such as communities of practice, or during hackathons or peer reviews
  • Often less experienced team members benefit from having mentorship around how the organization operates
  • Setting up a new team or introducing Scrum requires the benefit of experience. Having a mentor with this type of experience can be invaluable.
  • Mentorship is not restricted to junior team members, the organization’s leaders can often benefit from having mentors guide them in understanding how operating in an empirical way impacts the organization and its structure
     

Resources about Mentoring

European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC)