Using a “Trainer of Trainers” Model to Develop a Mentor Training Design and Capacity

By Barry Sweeny, © 2003


Pros & Cons of Using an Expert Mentor Trainer

The single most effective step a mentoring program can take in the transition from an informal to formal approach is to add mentor training to the program. Giving mentors the access to the wisdom of other experienced mentors makes the small amount of time mentors can give to mentoring much more productive and rewarding.

Some organizations prefer to hire a consultant to provide mentor training for the mentors-to-be on their staff. This is often the very best way to ensure that a program gets an expert level of research-based, effective, results-producing mentoring training. Creating such a quality experience from scratch, on your own is almost impossible initially, and takes many years and lots of resources to develop.

While this approach does provide access to the experience of an expert and to a proven training design, that approach also has its limits. (I should know, I am asked to do it frequently.) A better solution which I try to use as a mentoring consultant incorporates a “training of trainers” process in which I share my expertise AND I help the client to build their internal capacity and become a self-sufficient provider of their own mentor training. This latter process is what I urge YOU to do, regardless of who you use to get you started in mentor training.

  • This is particularly valuable since mentors will require on-going support, coaching, and periodic training, all of which should eventually be supplied by in-house staff.
  • An additional benefit of this approach is that those who become the in-house mentor trainers will become even better mentors themselves.

The following sequence is one suggested method for such a “training of trainer’s”


1. Selection of the training cadre : It’s best to try and select at least the initial training cadre from the group that designed the mentor program. These are the folks who know the purposes to be attained and who have struggled to reach consensus on roles, tasks, etc. which will form the essence of the training content. It is also a wise idea to select several people, perhaps 3-4, to be the trainers. This allows working in several combinations, assignment to training sections based on strengths of the individual trainer, as well as promoting continuity across time when one or two trainers can not continue in that role and others must be developed to fill their places.

2. Define the role of the trainer cadre :The role of the training cadre is that they will serve as mentors to the mentors, at least during the training, if not afterward. This means that the cadre must be able to model best practices, the qualities of effective mentors, and the knowledge and skills that mentors must learn.

3. Determine what mentors are likely to already know and what they will need to learn : The training cadre meets to discuss the Mentor Program’s purposes and the roles and tasks of mentors. They discuss and reach consensus about the typical strengths of existing employees who are likely to become mentors. The expectations for mentors and their probable strengths are compared to determine what knowledge and skills should be the focus of training content. This is an hypothesis which will need to be tested out in reality.

4. Develop questions to guide observation of a mentor training:The training cadre discusses and develops questions about each of the areas likely to be in the training. These questions should be written from the perspective of what the training cadre wants to learn about how to lead a mentor training and what the content of the training should include.

5. Hire a mentoring expert to conduct the first mentor training:or attend a mentor training elsewhere. The training cadre participates in a regular mentor training. They observe the trainer, looking for the answers to their questions, taking notes on ideas and solutions to problems.

6. The training cadre analyzes the training experience & develops recommendations: After the “model” mentor training the cadre meets to compare notes, discuss options, and to reach consensus on what was important and what is useful. The cadre meets with the expert trainer to critique the training, ask questions and to clarify why specific strategies were used in the training. This is an exciting point in the process as here is where the cadre will learn the most about being effective training leaders themselves.

The cadre develops a recommendation for what the training content should include and for what the training process should be like to deliver the content. The recommendation should also include the specific skills and strategies that mentors need to develop and a proposed process for facilitating that learning.

7. The mentoring consultant critiques the training design : The mentor training cadre and the mentoring consultant meet and review the recommendations for the training design, including both content and process.

8. Training design revision :The training cadre ( and perhaps the original program committee) revise the training design to incorporate the recommendations and all of the experience of the mentoring consultant, and the mentor program committee. The design is checked to ensure that it will accomplish the purposes of the program and that it aligns with the needs of the mentors (step #3 above).

9. Assign trainer responsibilities : The training cadre discusses their individual strengths as facilitators and trainers and how they might best match their strengths to the needs of the training design. Individual preferences of the trainers should also be considered. Each part of the training should be assigned to at least two people, whether or not they will actual team teach it or not. In this way there will be a person who can lead a part of the training if the other person is unable to do so. If a part of the training is not assigned to anyone the mentoring consultant might do that part. In any case, some pair of people should assume the responsibility to work with the consultant in designing that part and eventually assume the leadership for that part.

10. Trainer preparation :The individuals in the cadre work in pairs to prepare the materials, details of the training sections, training strategies, resources needed, participant activities, etc. Eventually the whole cadre compares their plans and refines the training to ensure a variety of training strategies & activities and to ensure that the pieces fit well together as a whole. The cadre predicts the time each section and the whole training will take.

11. Training “walk-through” : This step can be optional, but doing it frequently pays off big time. Trainers schedule and conduct a “dress rehearsal” which is observed by a representative of the program committee and the mentoring consultant. The rehearsal should also be video taped to allow the trainers to self-critique and compare their own impressions with those of the two observers.

12. Final training design refinements :The cadre and the consultant (optional) meet to agree on final revisions to the training design, trainer assignments, activities, etc. The cadre discusses the role of the consultant during the training, such as to serve as an observer and coach and as an expert who is “on call” ready to handle tough questions or model when requested. Design an evaluation for participants of the training to complete.

13. Conduct the training with mentors : The cadre conducts the actual training with mentors. The mentoring consultant observes. The training is video taped to allow comparisons with the rehearsal and to allow the trainers to self-critique their techniques and to revise their design. Conduct the evaluation by the participants.

14. Final design revisions :The training cadre (and consultant?) discuss the consultant and participants’ feed back, the video, and their personal feelings about the mentor training. They make any final revisions to the training design and materials.

15. Plan for change :The mentor training cadre needs to expect and plan for future transitions in its membership. It is good to expand the initial cadre to include other experienced mentors as the program grows. Their personal mentoring stories and experiences will enrich the training.


1. Needs Assessment Data – Although it may not occur the first time this sequence is done, it is very important to make the training design more dependent on data the actual participants provide for each training topic BEFORE the training occurs. That ensures that the training fits the needs of the actual participants, and it provides baseline data against which a post-training assessment of the same topics can be compared. THAT allows the trainers to actually see the extent of real growth in participants, provide added support for mentor growth as needed, and to further tweak the training’s effectiveness.

2.  E-Learning & Mentor Training – Many organizations are experimenting with, or whole-hog implementing e-learning initiatives. If that is the case in your world, you may be tempted to drastically alter the process suggested in this page. I strongly recommend caution if that is your inclination!

The reader can see by all the content I have created on-line, and my work as IMA webmaster that I am very invested in electronic forms of learning and knowledge capture. However, effective BLENDED solutions have become the clear winners in delivering RESULTS. And that is the point. This is not about delivering the content of a mentor training, it’s about developing highly effective mentors who can facilitate the professional growth of their proteges and actually improve practice! That means the training must include modeling and several other very subtle but critical aspects for the training to be effective. Also, the training we provide to mentors should be as exact a “mirror” of what we expect the mentors to do with the protege. Very clearly, an all e-learning course of mentor training WILL NOT deliver what is needed.