Reciprocal Mentoring: Redefining the Mentoring Relationship

Amanda Dreher - Monday, May 23, 2016


“We don’t have enough senior people to put together a mentoring initiative, but we know we need it. What should we do?” Reciprocal Mentoring


 “We want to make mentoring available to all of our staff but don’t know how that will work. What can we do?” Reciprocal Mentoring


 “We want to create a learning community, one where people learn and share learning with others on a regular basis. How do we do that?” Reciprocal Mentoring


What is reciprocal mentoring?

Reciprocal mentoring is a relationship structure that harnesses the power of mentoring into a mutually beneficial relationship where each participant takes turns being the mentor and the mentee. Since much of the power of mentoring lies in the accountability and encouragement, both participants can be trained to be in both roles. This can double the potential for learning without doubling the number of participants. The mutuality of reciprocal mentoring breaks down barriers and prejudices, allowing for mentoring relationships to cross generational, global and gender biases.

Training and setting appropriate expectations are key to making this work, but once people understand the process, it moves forward quickly. The beauty of reciprocal mentoring is that it can be done in any environment because it doesn’t rely on expertise or seniority. In this way, it involves more of your staff, raising engagement levels of a broader base in your organization. Mentoring becomes a benefit, not an obligation. Experts can still give their expertise, but this frees them up to do that with more people (since they are not tied into just one mentoring scenario). It can exponentially increase the effectiveness of your mentoring efforts


How do we do this?

In past mentoring structures, the relationship has often been hierarchical with the mentor giving the mentee advice, expertise and wisdom. With reciprocal mentoring, both people in a mentoring pair serve as mentor and mentee. Sometimes they switch off every other meeting, sometimes they hold both roles in the same meeting. In the mentor role, they hold each other accountable and give each other encouragement and feedback on their goals process. In the mentee role, they work on goals and process learning. Both brainstorm where the mentee can find experts, resources and role models to work with to promote their learning (these things do not have to be provided by the mentor). The bottom line is that each person has someone in their corner encouraging them to grow personally and professionally in an integrated process.


Case Study: The Network of International Christian Schools (NICS)

When the CEO of NICS came to me, his genuine concern was evident on his face. The turnover rate for his teachers was extremely high. And while this was hurting their bottom line, his focus was truly on his teachers well-being. He wanted his teachers to feel valued. He wanted them to know they were important to NICS. He thought that a mentoring initiative would help toward this end, but there were so few senior teachers to be considered as mentors that giving all of the newer teachers a mentor was just not possible. As we talked, the answer became clear: Reciprocal mentoring. By using reciprocal mentoring, we were able to include all of the teachers in a mentoring relationship. The mentoring pairs took turns. One week a person would be a mentor. The next they would switch roles and that person would now be the mentee. Because the power of mentoring is in the accountability and encouragement, we found that with training and structure, these relationships were very successful. NICS reported a reduction in turnover and the teachers reported feeling valued and glad they were a part of NICS’s mission.


Written by Dr. Liz Selzer


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