Matching mentors and mentees

by Dora Carlos

Dora Carlos, Director of Programs, SIL Southern Africa

Some people have had negative experiences in the past in mentoring relationships, which makes them hesitant to sign up for being a mentor or mentee again. However, there are ways to match mentors and mentees well and to support their relationship in a way that makes negative experiences much more unlikely.

In SIL Southern Africa it is the role of the mentoring coordinator to mediate the mentoring relationship. This role could be assumed by a supervisor, too, if there is no mentoring coordinator in the organisation. In my experience, the matching-process can happen in a number of ways:

  • A staff member comes to me as the mentoring coordinator and asks if so and so can be their mentor. I ask them what made them choose that person. If we come to the conclusion that the desired mentor could be a good match, I approach that mentor and ask. So far, I haven’t received a “no” in such a scenario.
  • I have had one mentor who was interested in mentoring a specific mentee. I asked why and then I asked the mentee what he thought about it. That worked well too. 
  • Sometimes I ask a staff member if they are ready to mentor a certain person, because I think the two might be a good match. Reasons might be that I know that the two have a good relationship already; or that they will have a chance to work together closely and to see each other from time to time. This is very important in an organisational unit where we work in 10 different countries, some of which are francophone, others anglophone and lusophone. I will always ask the mentee too before we go ahead with the match. 
  • In one specific case I decided to ask a more advanced consultant-in-training to mentor a newer colleague because they seemed to be a perfect match in terms of personality because their locations were close. This worked out beautifully. I think they are enjoying their relationship immensely and the mentor underlines how much mutual learning is happening. 
  • In a few cases I have asked a mentor from outside our organisational unit. In one case that worked very well because the mentor and the mentee were friends and the mentor was very engaged in the mentoring relationship. In another case, it didn’t work that well because expectations of those involved didn’t match up,  and I didn’t have any leverage, as the mentor was not part of our system. This was some years ago when I hadn’t yet clearly formulated our expectations of mentors and of a mentoring relationship.

Some tips to facilitate the matching process:

  • Our staff know that they will be supported in their mentoring relationship by the mentoring coordinator.
  • The coordinator makes sure that the necessary resources and opportunities to learn and work together are available. This often involves negotiating with partner organisations.
  • Clear guidelines for mentors and mentees are helpful for all parties involved. 
  • Main mentors are responsible for the overall professional development of their mentee but they can be assisted by a couple of session mentors, or competency mentors, if necessary, who offer a variety of practical learning experiences for specific topics. 
  • I recently started to offer Strengths Coaching to our programs staff so that they are more aware of personality differences and can work constructively with them. 
  • In our mentoring program, the responsibility for success doesn’t lie solely with the mentor but also with the mentee and the mentoring coordinator. This takes a lot of pressure off the mentor’s shoulders.

Developing people is a privilege and a calling. It challenges the mentor to grow, too, and is a great way to leave a legacy. Don’t let the past hold you back!

Discussion question:

What strategies do you use for matching mentors and mentees? Leave a comment. We would love to hear from you.

Image by Alexas photos on Pixabay

3 thoughts on “Matching mentors and mentees

  1. Very helpful Dora thank you!. One way that has worked for us is to try out a mentoring pair in a workshop situation. Nothing formal sometimes nothing stated, but just see observe how a mentor and mentee work together e.g. over a few sessions of simulated translation checking. Michael

  2. Are there any guidelines with principles and criteria available as a document on matching mentors and mentees?

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