Each mentoring relationship is just as unique as the individuals in it and needs to work for both mentoring partners. However, some degree of proscribed structure in the way of timelines or organizational goals usually exists in a mentoring program.
Formal mentoring programs generally fall under the aegis of an organization, and many organizations now are pushing to ramp up the level of practice for both the mentor and the mentee in informal mentoring relationships as well.
When mentoring partners are totally accountable for their own participation, solely determining frequency, duration, content and outcomes, the mentoring relationship is considered informal. How each of these gets played out varies considerably. Popular wisdom to the contrary, informal relationships run the gamut from casual, catch-as-catch-can conversations or “conversations on an as-needed basis” and information sharing to more structured, formalized relationships.
Whether formal or informal, mentoring relationships follow predictable cycles characterized by key tasks associated with each phase. The phases include preparing (getting ready), negotiating (establishing agreements), enabling growth (facilitating learning) and coming to closure (looking back and moving forward). Knowing what to expect ontributes to a more successful mentoring relationship.