How to Overcome the “Too Structured” Mentoring Meeting

What to Do When Your Mentor Isn’t Flexible

A Look at the Rigid Mentoring Meeting

The clock strikes 2:30 p.m., second Tuesday of the month, your mentor’s office. She sits across the table from you, cup of coffee settled neatly on the coaster, and begins with the anticipated, “What would you like to talk about today?” followed by, “Did you get a chance to read the article we planned to discuss?”

You’d be okay with this if it wasn’t the same scenario every month, same time and place, same questions, same assignments.

You wriggle in your chair a little bit, shifting to make yourself more comfortable for the ensuing hour. Yes, you did read the article. And the book from last month. Of course, you are prepared to discuss it.

You are thankful to have some of your mentor’s time. Secretly, though, you are a bit disappointed that you don’t ever step out of the bounds of the ordinary, the expected.

The boring?

What do you do about a mentor who only adheres to a mentoring program, who is far too comfortable with too much predictability?”

I’m calling this mentor, the “By-the-Book Mentor,” — the one who just sticks inflexibly to a “mentoring regimen.” No doubt their intentions are admirable, they really do want to mentor you, it’s just that creativity and “outside the box” thinking is not their key strength and your mentoring meetings reflect that.

Also Read: How to Overcome the “Busy Schedule” Mentoring Challenge

Shake Things Up (Do Something Different)

Linda B. was a cool mentor who never thought to be a By-the-Book type. Certainly, sometimes we met in her office and talked about whatever was on my mind. Many times, though, we thought up other stuff to do. We would attend a presentation together. We served on the board of one of our company’s employee development groups together. We had lunch or coffee outside of the office. A couple of times we shared a meal with spouses and family.

I was uplifted by her easy, flexible way and invitation to many experiences within our company and outside of it. I saw firsthand how she handled herself with senior leadership, with community leaders, with her peers and family. These were valuable lessons I would never have gleaned had she stuck to “program rules” of sitting at the table at a specified time to discuss assignments.

Also Read: 5 Tips on How to Find the Right Mentor for YOU in 2018

Have a little fun

Even though mentoring is life-changing stuff, we can poke a little fun at ourselves occasionally, and then talk about some helpful solutions.

Check out “The By-the-Book Mentor” in this quick video, and then as a mentee who might have such a mentor, or be contemplating connecting with one, you can decide,

Buy-In?        (Yep, I’m sticking with my mentor.)

Buy Time?  (Hmmm. Might have to think about this awhile.)

Bye-Bye?     (I don’t think this is going to work for me. Adios!)

You might even want to watch the video together and laugh about the way both of you “don’t want to do it.”

(To give the mentor equal time to take a poke at an over-the-top mentee, check out It’s all in good fun!)


Also Read: 3 Essential Tips to Make Mentoring Easy

Determine the right structure together

In a mentoring relationship, what is the right amount of structure?

I’ve heard from many workshop attendees that are frustrated with rigid programs and formatted rules of mentoring.

Stephanie, a senior analyst from a medical research firm, said, “In our company’s program, I was paired up with a mentor. He chose the book to read, questions to answer, forms to fill out and a timeframe to meet. Our mentoring relationship didn’t last longer than the assigned time. I was frustrated with having to follow such a fixed set of rules.”

Undoubtedly, there are benefits to some structure. Discuss this up front. In your initial conversation, set expectations* for your meetings, both in form and substance.

You both have to be comfortable with the degree of formality and structure.

Use your interim evaluation* time, too, as a chance for you, the mentee, to suggest creative ways to do mentoring together. That will keep communication open and on track. (See sample below)

Together, you can and will find productive and enjoyable ways to put just the right amount of formality or informality into your mentoring relationship – so that it suits both of you.

Also Read: Does Your Business Mentoring Look Like This?

Discussion questions for your team or staff meeting:

  1. Have you ever had a mentor that was a little too rigid? How did you handle that mentoring relationship?
  2. What are the downsides of too much structure? Too little?
  3. Are you a person who appreciates strong guidelines or do you prefer to “free-form” when performing a task?

* Sample forms for your use

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Lori Bachman created The MentorShift Group to equip mentors and mentees with a practical and powerful mentoring system. The system is designed to equip those who use it to, not only flourish in their own mentoring relationships, but to be able to transfer its success to others as well.