How to set up a mentoring and buddying scheme

It can seem a daunting prospect to establish a mentoring and buddying scheme, especially if you’re starting from the ground up. Melanie Hadwin and Susanta Banerjee set out 10 steps you can follow when creating your own scheme.

Having addressed why you would want to set up a mentoring and buddying scheme, we now turn to how.

The key to ensuring that your scheme is beneficial and meaningful is to take your time.

There is little merit in rushing the onset of a scheme if it is not fully thought out.

A scheme that doesn’t work as anticipated can be worse than having no scheme at all.

1. Review

Start by reviewing what you already have in place.

What formal or informal mentoring already takes place? Has this happened naturally or is it a result of people expanding on a basic supervision structure?

If there is some form of scheme, even if informal, find out what’s working and what isn’t. Find out who is engaged and how that came about.

Do you have any mentoring documents? This could be as little as a list of questions to be asked on each session or topics for discussion. Have these been discussed and agreed?

If there is a kernel of something already that could be improved, that could be a better place to begin than imposing something entirely new.

2. Consult

Set up a working group to discuss and agree how the scheme is going to be run.

Different people bring different ideas and two brains are always better than one.

Having people who are keen to establish the scheme in the group will your best advocates for it.

If these people have mentored or benefitted from mentoring, all the better: their shared experiences can be vital in establishing something that will work for you.

3. Set aims

Decide what you want from your scheme before you look to how to achieve that.

Always have your goal in mind and work back to formulate a scheme that will let you achieve this.

Is your aim to support with career progression? Is it to provide a confidential place to speak openly?

Is it to establish a more formal scheme that will incorporate mentoring and a more formal element of supervision to meet regulatory requirements?

You need to know what you want before you can put in place a strategy to get there.

4. Decide who is going to participate

Is the scheme going to be open to all? Is it going to be compulsory or voluntary?

Will a certain seniority of colleague be expected to provide mentoring or are you going to differentiate and have those who relish the role taking up the mentoring positions with those who prefer doing other roles in the firm being tasked with other activities.

If you are a sole practitioner or work in a very small practice, are you going to approach other smaller practices to invite them to form a collective network of mentors?

This could start at a local networking group or local law society. Find out what groups are already available locally for you to join.

5. Paperwork or no paperwork?

If you’re going to offer pastoral support in a confidential setting, you may not need any paperwork to go with your mentoring scheme.

It may be based purely on the need of the mentee, as and when they need support, and so be more fluid and responsive.

If your scheme will cover more areas of support and look to an element of supervision, having workable documents to use can be of great assistance.

Any documents need to be focused and designed to assist in meeting the aims you have established.

Far too often, documents for mentoring sessions can be voluminous with little obvious reason. This can detract from the aim and make engagement harder.

We are all busy. If people feel daunted by the prospect of even filling in documentation for a mentoring session, engagement simply will not take place.

You do not want the process to be a burden.

Deciding whether the process is going to feed in to wider, potentially already established appraisal scheme (or other scheme), is important. You may need to change other paperwork or policies to reflect the new mentoring scheme.

6. Timing

Decide how frequently you are going to have mentoring sessions and plan a timetable for the year.

You could link this with periods through the year such as appraisals, year-end or promotion season.

Again, make sure the frequency is not onerous.

7. Method

Is the mentoring going to take place in person, remotely or on a hybrid basis?

We have found that leaving the method fluid can help, especially if the mentor and mentee are not based in the same office.

A hybrid arrangement can work well – even if you are not in the same location as your mentor, you should have access to them remotely. Zoom or Teams can be great tools.

8. Pause

Once you have established your scheme, take time to pause and reflect.

You might think you have covered all issues and are “ready to go” but it could be helpful to get the opinions of someone outside the group to sense check the plans.

9. Deliver

Once the scheme is finalised, make sure you communicate the aim, method and benefits of engagement and then… get going!

Our experience suggests that you may face hesitance to begin with.

You will have to overcome this with positive messaging and open and frank discussions about the merits, whilst also reflecting that to begin with, it might still be a work in progress and it will take time for everyone to see those benefits.

10. Reflect

It is unlikely that even the best planned scheme will be perfect first time round.

Take time to reflect after the scheme has been established – say six or 12 months – and review whether any adjustments are needed.

Ask for feedback on both the positive and negatives and be open to change.

We are both passionate about mentoring and the benefits it brings. It is our hope that these 10 tips will help many more reap the benefits in the years to come.

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Use Melanie and Susanta's checklist to set up your own scheme (Word 41 KB)

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