M2.03. Analysing the conditions relevant to the mentoring process at the workplace

6. Pitfalls and barriers affecting the mentoring process in the workplace

Several pitfalls and barriers can cause programmes to fail. The following list is not definitive but can serve to stimulate discussion, during the planning and design phases, of some of the factors which can cause programmes to fail.

Pitfall 1: Mentoring without a clearly identified purpose
Relationships will fail if there is no clearly defined and agreed purpose. Meetings will have little or no structure, can stray easily into territory out of the boundaries of mentoring practice, will waste time and will be difficult to review, monitor and evaluate effectively.

Pitfall 2: Having no defined end point
Without timescales the relationship is likely to drift aimlessly. Having an end point makes it easier to set goals. However, this does not mean that timescales cannot be reassessed in light of developments. It can also influence how often you hold meetings.

Pitfall 3: Irregular meetings and postponing meetings regularly
Both parties are busy people who will not always be in a position to change arrangements at the last minute. Knowing in advance when the meeting will be held allows the mentor and mentee to schedule their week and more readily set their objectives and prepare for their meetings.

Pitfall 4: Not knowing how to structure meetings and how to begin the process
It is important that there is an agenda for each meeting. Identifying and setting goals at the beginning of the relationship, which you can explore in more depth as meetings progress, is also crucial.

Pitfall 5: No, or inadequate, preparation for closure or ending of the relationship
Both parties need to prepare for the end of the relationship. Taking the time to discuss and acknowledge that it will not go on forever and having an idea about when it will end as a formal arrangement, will go some way towards avoiding dependency and feelings of loss. When you reach the end point the relationship may end completely or continue on a different basis: different timeline, different goals.

Pitfall 6: Confusion of roles - coach or counsellor
There is common confusion about the role of the mentor, for example sliding into the role of counsellor. Having a role description with clearly stated objectives and the opportunity to participate in a robust training session will provide opportunities to explore the role and its boundaries and to consider additional sources of support and guidance for issues which may arise.

Pitfall 7: Lack of mentoring experience - believing that being an effective manager or supervisor is a good predictor of mentoring success
The credentials for mentoring are not necessarily within the skillset of successful managers or supervisors. Mentoring is a skill, like all others, which improves with training, reflection, practice and experience.

Pitfall 8: Mentor as line manager
Many organisations appoint line managers as mentors. This rarely works. The role of manager is generally seen to be incompatible with the mentor role as both have different aims and objectives in their relationship with the mentee/employee - the mentor focuses on the mentee and the manager focuses on the work and the organisation.

Pitfall 9: Failure to review progress and the effectiveness of the relationship
Mentors and mentees should build in a regular review of the relationship and the progress they are making. Failure to do this can reduce the chances of achieving the goals which have been set – goals and actions need to adapt and in some instances change as things progress. If you do not monitor and review the quality of the relationship regularly and with honesty, problems may go unrecognised or acknowledged causing, in some instances, irreparable damage to the relationship.