This article was originally posted on the Eventbrite Engineering Blog.
Mentoring is hard. Mentors and mentees usually have many things on their respective tables between work, personal projects, and their training paths. Learning opportunities are infinite, but the time available is not. How can we foster productive mentoring relationships without consuming our time communicating and aligning our expectations? Read on to learn how a mentoring agreement can help you streamline the mentor-mentee relationship, making communications more efficient, and setting the – sometimes hidden – expectations on both sides of the deal.
My struggles navigating the mentorship program
At Eventbrite, we run an engineer mentorship program. During six months, developers and leaders both mentor and receive mentorship from their peers. A committee matches participants depending on the skills they want to learn or teach. The program has happened a couple of times already, and I have always had hardworking mentees and great mentors. However, during the initial cycle, I struggled with several aspects of the relationship. The first issue was accountability and commitment: How could I motivate my mentees to get things done and make the most of our time? Also, how do I continue to motivate without coming off as pushy or too demanding? Other challenges I faced were inefficient communications or lack of clarity in terms of goals and expectations. As a mentee myself, I assumed my mentors might be experiencing similar challenges. With these issues in mind and craving to improve, I did some research and looked for solutions. Inspired by 6 Things Every Mentor Should Do and Kim Clayton’s talk Overcoming the Challenges of Mentoring, I arrived at a process that includes a mentoring kickoff meeting, where mentor and mentee discuss a mentoring agreement.
The mentoring kickoff meeting
The mentoring kickoff meeting is a quick gathering where mentor and mentee set goals and talk about how they will measure their achievement. In that meeting, you could also:
- Set hourly commitments and cadence of meetings and communications.
- Draft a plan of action for the whole mentorship period.
- Arrange a review meeting later on, where you and your mentor/mentee can sit down to evaluate the relationship.
However, the most critical part of the kickoff meeting is to read, understand and clarify the points of the mentoring agreement.
What is a mentoring agreement?
A mentoring agreement is a reference document where mentor and mentee agree what are their commitments during the period they work together. A mentoring agreement can enrich the mentor-mentee relationship with the following qualities:
- Clear expectations. The agreement highlights what mentor and mentee are going to do, establishing a two-way relationship. The shared expectations also make accountability an official part of the mentorship experience and also help with identifying areas where either mentor or mentee need extra support.
- Honest communication. The agreement specifies how communication should happen between the two participants, establishing the channels you are going to use and striving for open and transparent communication.
- Goals and deadline setting. Discussing what the mentee will do and agreeing to a timeline is an essential component of this document, especially in terms of keeping both parties on track and the overall experience productive. You need to know what success looks like to achieve it.
I like to keep the mentoring agreement short, with five to eight bullet points per role. Some points are intentionally vague, leaving room for interpretation and ongoing discussion.
Here is the mentoring agreement that I propose to my mentors and mentees for a healthy and productive relationship:
- Is there to offer support as a guide
- Will push the mentee to produce their best work
- Acknowledges the work put forward by the mentee
- Prepares the mentee to become a mentor
- Must finish homework on time and with a quality
- Will graduate after <agreed period
- Should let the mentor know if anything is not clear
- Sets the meeting agenda and shares it with enough time for the mentor to prepare
- Suggests activities and exercises to do together
- Welcomes constructive criticism
- Should keep the relationship going
Both Mentor and Mentee
- Should be responsive and communicative
- Should get to know each other
The value of a process
Subscribing to a mentoring agreement sets the expectations of the mentor-mentee relationship, streamlines communication and highlights the goals and deadlines of the interaction. Although you could say this is all common sense, there is value in making the shared terms explicit. It is more efficient, as you compress several conversations into one. Moreover, you demonstrate the value you bring to the mentorship experience by running it like a pro.
In my first try, this agreement has worked well: it reduced communication overhead, and my relationships have been more productive. I will admit that from time to time I have let a deadline slide for fear of affecting the relationship. I know! I should stick to the agreement, but I guess that's material for another blog post. Would you add anything else to this agreement? Is there something you think is helpful to mention? Drop me some lines below or ping me on Twitter @golodhros.