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Mentoring -- a process that helps individuals with personal or professional development -- comes in three types: formal, informal and situational. Each type of mentoring uses different styles or approaches to the mentoring relationship. The type or style used in a particular mentoring situation depends on the mentoring goals and participant preferences.
In a formal mentoring program, goals, guidelines and meeting schedules are set beforehand, and mentors and mentees agree to and stick with the structured process over the duration of the mentoring period. Formal programs are used by organizations that have clear and specific goals in mind. The process is usually managed to ensure a successful outcome. With a formal structure, mentoring typically occurs one-on-one, and is generally offered to new employees, giving them the opportunity to better assimilate into the workplace.
Informal mentoring, on the other hand, has little to no structure. Specific goals are not usually set, and the process has no oversight for ensuring favorable outcomes. Even without structure, however, informal mentoring can be beneficial in providing individuals with career development or personal guidance. For example, a peer mentoring relationship may develop between coworkers, helping them to support one another in achieving professional development goals. This type of mentoring relationship is between colleagues, and is not based on job rank or hierarchy.
Sometimes mentoring is needed to overcome certain hurdles or challenges. In situational mentoring, the relationship between mentor and mentee is established to address a specific challenge, issue or opportunity. The mentor may be on hand to assist the mentee more frequently, but the duration of the mentoring period is typically short. An example of situational mentoring is when a senior employee helps a junior employee quickly get up to speed on a specific set of job procedures.
In a mentoring relationship, there is usually an adjustment period during which mentor and mentee discover their style and preferences of working together. For example, in an advisory relationship style, the mentor gives advice on how to solve a problem; in a cooperative mentoring style, the mentor involves the mentee in coming up with the solution; and in a prescriptive mentoring style, the mentor lets the mentee take the lead in problem resolution, offering input along the way. Participants need to figure out which style works best for them and their particular mentoring relationship.