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Published on 15th August 2023

Structured versus Unstructured Mentoring Programmes


Structured versus Unstructured Mentoring Programmes

A structured mentoring programme is generally managed centrally. Somebody will have
taken ownership of and responsibility for the programme. They will have set out what is
expected from both the mentor and mentee, and will no doubt have a support package in
place, ensuring that the mentor is equipped to fulfil their role. An unstructured mentoring
programme develops over time, with little consideration, guidance or support from central

The key differences between structured and unstructured mentoring include:

Shared Expectations
For any mentoring programme to be successful the potential mentors and mentees need to
know about it and understand the benefits of it! Unstructured programmes adopt a freefall approach to mentoring, whilst structured programmes tend to ensure that the value and
benefits of mentoring are well understood through internal communication programmes.
This ensures that the mentors and mentees have a shared understanding of the mentoring
programme and have similar expectations of how it will work. For instance, a structured
programme ensures that both parties understand that the mentor’s role is to nurture,
empower and support the development and growth of the mentee; whilst the mentee is the
driver of the relationship. This provides a firm basis to the relationship between the mentor and mentee and encourages successful outcomes.

Encouraging the Right Mentors and Mentees
Seniority is not a reason for an individual to become a mentor. It is essential that the
mentors have the right skills and experience. At the same time a mentee must be driven to
develop and understand that they have to take personal responsibility for their own
development. A structured programme will help the right potential mentors and mentees
step forward for inclusion on the programme, through robust internal marketing,
recruitment and selection of the right individuals.
Matching the Right Mentors with the Right Mentees
The right mentoring relationship will deliver exceptional results – the wrong mentoring
relationship can damage the mentee and indeed the mentor. So, the matching of the right
individuals is essential. This matching is not only about both individuals’ knowledge, skills,experience, and objectives, but also about rapport and chemistry. A structured programme will support this, encouraging the right individuals to work together.

Providing the Right Support
A structured programme provides support and supervision to the mentor and mentee and
their relationship. It may provide training for the mentors, so they understand their role is to nurture and not to advise the mentee. A structured programme also enables a support
network between mentors and mentees, highlighting best practice which in turn
encourages the mentor and mentee relationship to flourish.

Providing Structure
It’s all in the name – a structured programme provides structure! Structure ensures that
there is a framework, guidelines and timelines for mentors and mentees to follow. This
ensures that the mentoring sessions happen, that the mentee sets out their goals and how
they will achieve those goals and also makes the mentee accountable to themselves and
their mentor, therefore encouraging the achievement of those goals.

Assessing Progress
Structure makes it easier to assess the impact of the mentoring programme and allows the
consideration of what works and what doesn’t, so there can be a continual improvement of
the mentoring programme itself. This is less easy with an unstructured mentoring

In Summary
In setting out above the key differences between a structured and unstructured
programme, it would appear that there are significant benefits to a structured programme.
However, there are benefits to an unstructured programme – quite simply that there is no
structure, there is no process, agenda or focus on timeline. This provides much greater
flexibility and allows the mentoring relationship and outcomes to be much more organic. Of
course, a mentoring programme can take a hybrid approach, with elements of both the
structured and unstructured approaches. Whether an organisation should have a more
structured mentoring programme will in part be driven by the organisation’s culture. But it is worth noting that research suggests that over 70% of Fortune 500 companies have structured mentoring programmes in the workplace.