How Should We Configure Mentor Support?

2001, Barry Sweeny


Lots of mentoring programs begin by making an assumption that, of course, one-to-one mentoring is the only format to consider. In fact, such a Mentor-Protege configuration is so common as to be the natural choice, even to the point of barely thinking about it and never considering any of the alternative configurations.

It is true that one-to-one mentoring is certainly the easiest to set up, since one person handles all the responsibilities of the mentor. However, there are frequently extenuating and logistical circumstances in which such a mentoring arrangement is almost or even entirely impossible. What happens then? Do we not assign a mentor when one is needed, just because there is no one person available who can fulfill the role?

“No”, is the answer to that question. When we cannot assign one individual to be a mentor, we create a team of two or more persons who together will have the desired strengths needed to effectively meet the protégé’s needs for help in close proximity and help from someone who knows the same job assignment as the protege. Of course, when we assign a team to mentor someone, we must ensure that there is a “mentor of record” who checks that the team is effectively addressing the needs of the protege. That way, the needs of the protégé and their eventual professional growth are not left to chance.

There are even times when a team environment already exists in the work place. In that case, it is very natural to assign the entire team the responsibility to mentor the protege. They’d probably do it anyway without us asking them to, if they are an effective team.

Here are the options laid out to allow you to consider the strengths and limitations of each.


Options for the Configuration of Mentoring Support
One-on-One Mentoring Team With One Responsible Mentor Team Mentoring
• The “Classic”, expected way to configure mentoring, at least at the start of a program• Limits support to the strengths of one mentor

• Requires training to assure the skills and development of the “ideal” mentor who can do it all, AND to learn strategies for reaching out to the whole faculty to solicit and arrange added support for the protege.

• May not address all of the protegeís needs

• The best of both models• Provides strengths of a diverse team

• Provides clear responsibility for ensuring the protegeís needs are assessed and addressed

• Requires leadership by and training for the mentor who is responsible to “orchestrate” the strengths of the team to meet the protege’s needs

• Models collaborative team norms

• Provides the strengths of a diverse team to help the protégé• Implies that the protégé might choose one person on whom to most rely.

• Models the desired team collaboration

• May allow a protégé to “fall through the cracks” since no one person is responsible to check if the protégé’s needs
are met