Organisational Development

Establishing ground rules of the mentoring relationship

Mentoring relationships thrive when firm ground rules have been established. Learn more about these important considerations.

At the beginning of any mentoring relationship, it's important that all parties are clear about what to expect and how the mentoring will work. This stage is known as ‘contracting’ and is perhaps the most important phase in mentoring.

Taking time to consider the ground rules, boundaries and expectations with your mentee will help to avoid any misunderstandings and frustrations further down the line and gives the mentoring arrangement the best chance of success.

Things to consider before you meet a prospective mentee

Ask yourself:

  • What is my purpose for mentoring this person?
  • What do I need to know about my mentee?
  • What does my mentee need to know about me?
  • Are there any barriers to me being an effective mentor? If so, what can I do to overcome them?

What to agree in your first meeting with a mentee

In conversation with your mentee, you should agree:

  • when, where and how often you will meet and for how long
  • the criteria of success
  • how you will know whether the mentoring arrangement is working
  • how you will you monitor progress
  • what to  do if one or more parties feel that it is not working

Also consider

The duration of the mentoring relationship

This might already be specified by the mentoring scheme, but if not it is important to agree an initial duration, which could always be extended if all parties agree. This might be a set number of meetings or a time period over which you will meet.

The boundaries of your conversations

These should include

  • what you will and will not discuss
  • any potential conflicts of interest, and how will these be managed
  • how to ensure mentor and mentee confidentiality

Consider the impact of a mentoring arrangement on other working practices, processes and relationships. If a conflict of interest exists, you may need to set boundaries around what you can or cannot discuss and possibly seek advice from a mentoring scheme coordinator.

If you feel that entering into a mentoring arrangement will compromise you or your mentee in any way, you may need to advise your mentee to seek an alternative mentor.

Finding additional support for mentees

As a mentor, you are not required to have all the answers. In fact often it needs to be the mentee that finds the solution themselves. Be honest at the start about what you can and can’t support your mentee with.

If during discussions it becomes clear that they need additional information or support from other sources, bring this to their attention and assist them in finding the appropriate support mechanisms.

Maintaining confidentiality

Confidentiality is of utmost importance in mentoring relationships and is essential for building trust and rapport.

If there are situations in which you would not be able to maintain confidentiality you must make these clear in the first discussion with your mentee. Ensure that any records, notes and correspondence relating to your mentees are stored and disposed of securely.

For more information about data protection and to book onto a short course, email gdpr@sussex.ac.uk.  

Next steps

Contact us

Organisational Development
Human Resources
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E od@sussex.ac.uk
T 01273 606755 ext 4806

Professor Malcolm Reed on the ground rules of mentoring