What’s the quickest way to ruin a mentoring relationship? Never scheduling meetings. You can have a perfectly formatted program structure, the best match conceivably possible, and an eagerness to get things done. However, at the end of the day, if mentors and mentees never meet at all or don’t meet frequently enough, all of that is a moot point. Mentoring is inherently based on social learning, and you can’t have a “social” aspect without getting together at the right cadence. So how frequently would a mentor and mentee meet?
We come across this question quite often. The nuances of proper scheduling are a frequent hurdle for everyone involved in the mentoring relationship: mentors, mentees, and program administrators. In this post, we’ll provide some clarity into how frequently mentors and mentees should meet and offer some strategies to ensure that meetings happen as planned.
Understanding the Importance of Regular Mentor-Mentee Meetings
There’s a chance you’ve heard something along these lines: “It takes 10,000 hours to learn a skill.” Posited by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book, Outliers: The Story of Success, the concept rests on Gladwell’s retelling of how long it took the Beatles to develop their expertise as a band. His “10,000 hours” idea was hardly scientific, and it’s a number that’s routinely disputed (including by bestselling author Josh Kaufman, who says it takes only 20 hours of focus time).
The number of hours resting behind the concept is less significant than its underlying truth: Any skill requires continued practice and repetition, as well as feedback on whether what we’re doing is effective.
It’s not so much that the Beatles played 1200 times in Hamburg, Germany over the course of 4 years and accumulated hours and hours of skill development. The Beatles listened to and responded to audience feedback along the way. As they did, they changed their approach.
Writing in JSTOR, Matthew Wills notes how the band’s first venue wasn’t the success they’d hoped:
“Ultimately, the lads from Liverpool didn’t win over the old Indra Club patrons…But when they moved down the street to the Kaiserkeller, they found their audience. “They soon fell in with a group of art students who defied the conventions of their bourgeois upbringing to experience the thrill of live rock and roll in a smoky cellar,” according to Sneeringer.”
Not only did the Beatles respond to audience feedback to know what to change (in this case, the venue), they later responded to insights and direction from their mentor and producer, George Martin. They played and practiced their craft, but they also used the insight provided by others to better understand what worked and what didn’t.
Growth in a mentoring program is all about feedback and, importantly, responding to feedback. That feedback typically comes from the mentor, who helps mentees better understand what works and what doesn’t. Mentors help mentees follow the path they’ve set for themselves.
Now the connecting tissue.
Mentors and mentees need to meet frequently because mentees need that feedback for adequate and sustained growth. Ideally, mentees take what they discuss during their mentoring meetings and practice those skills, habits, behaviors, and attitudes between meetings. The next time they meet, they should be unpacking all of that and asking the right questions to get feedback and new insights from their mentors.
Without a meeting frequency that contains those elements of feedback and change, mentees may end up in a cycle that fits within Eistein’s parable of insanity: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Factors Determining Mentoring Frequency
I know you’re eager to know exactly how frequently you should meet. But, again, there’s no definitive answer to that. It all depends. “Never” is certainly out of the question. And I can say with some certainty that “once or twice” is probably not enough, either.
Beyond those two non-starters, you’ll find that there are different factors that may influence or determine the frequency mentors and mentees will have meetings. These can include:
- Individual availability and schedules
- The complexity of the learning new skills
- Stages in the mentor-mentee relationship
Although somewhat self-explanatory, we’ll qualify each one a bit more.
Individual availability and schedules
Scheduling is always complicated. Everyone’s busy. And we’re in a bit of a meeting hellscape, especially with so many of us working remotely. According to Reclaim.ai, the average professional has 21.5 hours of meetings per week, and busy professionals have an average of 32.9 hours of meetings per week. It’s a wonder we get anything done these days, right?
But that needs to be taken into account. Busy meeting schedules and then necessary productivity time means that mentors and mentees need to be incredibly intentional about finding time to schedule their meetings. That said, that time needs to be found for mentees to make the kind of progress they need or for those mentoring relationships to have positive impacts on mentees’ growth.
The complexity of learning new skills
Many mentoring relationships are focused on learning new skills or adopting new behaviors. That’s usually a process. If you meet too frequently, mentees may not have had a chance to really dig into the practice and implementation of a new skill or behavior.
If you meet too infrequently, they may have had plenty of time to practice but could also have lacked the necessary feedback to understand what they’re doing well or poorly. In the process, they may develop bad habits that seep in and that need to be undone or corrected.
The complexity of learning new skills is often dependent on the mentee. Everyone learns differently and at different paces. Mentors and mentees need to get a better understanding of learning styles, techniques, and timelines early on in their relationship.
Additionally, mentors and mentees should not be too strict about any of those. Growth is never linear, which means you may need to adopt more flexibility to the scheduling.
Stages in the mentor-mentee relationship
Every great story has a beginning, middle, and end. Or, if you have an English teaching background like I do, there are technically 5 parts:
- Rising Action
- Falling Action
- Denoument (Resolution)
Mentoring relationships are like great stories. You often spend more time in the exposition or beginning because an understanding needs to be established. Who are the characters? What are they all about? What’s their motivation? What are their weaknesses and strengths? What problem are they encountering that they’ll need to solve?
The story flows from there, with varying amounts of time spent in each phase. Again, that’s just like a good mentoring relationship. Mentors and mentees usually spend a large amount of time, in the beginning, trying to understand each other, but especially the mentee’s needs, strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and goals. Then, the story plays out with the mentee working toward growing and finally, achieving some level of success toward those goals.
Each mentoring relationship is different, however. Sometimes, mentors and mentees already know each other well, so they’ll need to spend less time in the exposition phase of the relationship and more time in the middle sections (rising action and climax). Sometimes, growth happens quickly, and the mentee zooms right to the resolution of the story.
Play it by ear. Understand what works for each relationship and consider a scheduling frequency that takes those variances into account.
Ideal Meeting Frequency: There’s No One-Size-Fits-All
Sorry to tell you, but we’re going to repeat ourselves here. There is no set standard for how frequently a mentor and mentee should meet. That’s going to depend on many of the factors we’ve already listed above. Still, I know you’re probably itching for some numbers, so here are some good starting points:
- Once per week for the first month of the mentoring relationship
- Bi-weekly for the second and third month
- Once per month for the fourth and all consecutive months
Meeting once per week at the start of the relationship will give you more time to get to know each other and better establish goals and timelines. From there, meeting bi-weekly will give your mentee time to start practicing new skills while getting more frequent feedback. You can better learn each other’s styles without too large a gap between meetings. Finally, shifting to once per month puts you on a good cadence to ensure mentees have enough time to put ideas and insights into practice and gives you more to talk about at each meeting.
Still, this is not a one-size-fits-all cadence. You may have a different meeting cadence that works for you. But if you need something to build off of, consider using this format.
Role of Program Administrators in Meeting Scheduling
Who is in charge of establishing a meeting cadence for mentors and mentees? That depends on how the mentoring program is structured.
In an ideal world, mentors and mentees can schedule their own meetings. If you have mentoring software in place, this is fairly easy to accomplish and can be done through an integrated app. However, we’ve worked with many clients with more structured mentoring programs with more administrative control over scheduling.
Administrators can have as much or as little control over the schedule as they see fit. It all depends on the nature of the mentoring program and the desired outcome of those relationships.
It’s not uncommon for mentoring programs to follow a fairly strict curriculum and timeline. In those situations, you likely don’t want mentors and mentees meeting too infrequently. There’s usually no harm in them meeting more frequently than recommended, but a minimum baseline tends to be the most effective route.
Just don’t try to force everyone in a program to meet at the same time every week. As noted earlier, mentors and mentees likely have complicated schedules. Allow them to work out a meeting schedule that makes sense with their day-to-day. Flexibility leads to better results, even if there’s some administrative oversight and guidelines for a meeting cadence.
Structure and Consistency Is the Key to Effective Mentoring
Although the Beatles are known as a band from Liverpool, that wasn’t the city where they cut their teeth. As Dean R. Owen wrote in a 2019 article for the L.A. Times, “Forget Liverpool. Hamburg, Germany, made the Beatles into the band they became.”
Owen offers up the following quote from Beatles member George Harrison:
“We had to learn millions of songs because we’d be on for hours,” George Harrison later said. “Hamburg was really like our apprenticeship, learning how to play in front of people.”
Mentees need to put in the time and effort to grow. But consistent feedback matters just as much, if not more, for that personal growth to accelerate authentically. Getting them in front of the people that matter (their mentor) as frequently as possible will ensure that growth happens and that your mentoring programs succeed.
Where do you go next? Start by building programs with MentorcliQ so you can match, manage, and measure programs with ease. Book a demo today to learn more!