The benefits of mentoring and coaching have never been so widely accepted, but do we recognise and value the skills and knowledge of those who develop and operate our mentoring schemes and coaching programmes, and what do we know about mentoring scheme and coaching programme coordinators’ development needs? Dr Judie Gannon, examines the research and identifies where we need to focus our attention
Growing recognition of coaching and mentoring has been evident across learning and development surveys and research in recent decades (Washington & Cox, 2016; CIPD, 2015).
In terms of mentoring, the evidence points towards increases in formal mentoring across communities and in organisations, with the aim of realising workplace goals, developing interpersonal skills, ensuring positive social action, tackling healthcare issues, and support through various stages of life’s key transitions (Gannon & Maher, 2012).
Coaching has gained prominence through supporting performance and development across organisational and wider societal contexts, from working with executives to those experiencing social change, or challenges with their health and personal relationships (Bachkirova, Spence & Drake, 2017).
There has also been an evolution in the forms of mentoring and coaching offered by organisations, including e-mentoring, reverse mentoring, group and team coaching, ‘popcorn’ (in the moment) coaching and increasing expectations of multiple mentoring and coaching relationships.
The growing demand for different forms of mentoring and coaching, and increasing awareness of the complexity of these developmental relationships in formal organisational settings, highlights the need to better understand and recognise the skills of administrators/coordinators, who step up to launch and lead mentoring schemes and coaching programmes.
In relation to mentoring specifically, a few studies have considered the roles, skills and knowledge of the individuals who operate schemes, or the training and support they receive as they develop and deliver initiatives (Clutterbuck, 2006; Abbott et al, 2010).
Coordinators not only choreograph schemes across organisations, and at times, also across organisational boundaries, but deal with the dilemmas inherent in managing mentoring relationships.
Clutterbuck (2006, p16) depicted coordinators as the “unsung heroes of mentoring programmes” recognising that they normally need to display a wide range of skills and knowledge and devote “a lot of attention to the big picture and to the detail, both at the same time”.
Abbott et al (2010), in their small-scale study of mentoring scheme coordinators in South Africa, pinpointed the minimal level of support and development afforded coordinators and the potential for burnout. Abbott et al (2010, p8) highlighted that: “Coordinators can experience the role as lonely – they tend to operate as one-man bands, struggling to prioritise and multitask.”
These challenges are, however, to some extent ameliorated where coordinators also recognise their roles as fulfilling due to the success of the relationships they facilitate (Abbott et al, 2010; Clutterbuck, 2006).
This paradox of experiencing limited support and development as a coordinator while focusing on the support and development of others offers a rich domain worthy of investigation to appreciate how coordinators see the roles they play in creating successful mentoring schemes.
The stamina network
A current project, the STAMINA Mentoring Network (http://bit.ly/2ouTXFh), led by Oxford Brookes University’s International Centre for Coaching & Mentoring Studies (ICCMS), and funded by the Economic Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration award scheme, seeks to understand more about the role of mentoring scheme coordinators and generate a support network, with case studies and resources.
The project builds on the expertise and research interests of a team across three local Universities specifically, the Programme to Enhance the Student Experience (PESE) project at Oxford Brookes University on sustainable mentoring schemes; the Radcliffe Department of Medicine Mentoring scheme (RDMMS) at the University of Oxford, and the University Mentoring Project at the University of Reading.
Current network partners include charities, such as UNICEF UK and the NCT as well as organisations, such as Women in Film and Television and the Association of Business Mentors.
Part of the project’s work has involved identifying the various forms that mentoring can take as well as the phases of mentoring schemes and mentoring relationships. These stages indicate different priorities and skillsets for mentoring scheme coordinators.
The applied nature of the research project will also involve a free final workshop (27 April 2017) for mentoring scheme coordinators on developing sustainable mentoring administrative systems, and how to identify suitable mentoring IT systems.
The emerging forms of mentoring and the growth in remote schemes across organisational and national boundaries highlights the
need for mentoring systems which are accountable and flexible. Further details on joining the network, accessing the resources and participating in the workshop are available via the STAMINA website.
The increasing importance of mentoring and coaching in contemporary organisations suggests then, there is a real need to better understand mentoring scheme coordinators, their roles, experiences and support needs, and likewise to extend this to undertake research on coaching programme administrators.
Whether as organisational learning and development specialists or as passionate champions of coaching and mentoring who take on such roles, it seems that without further research and relevant interventions it may be that these vital custodians of coaching and mentoring will struggle to sustain the growth and effectiveness of these developmental relationships.
- Dr Judie Gannon is senior lecturer in the Business School at Oxford Brookes University
- P Abbott, X Goosen and J Coetzee, ‘Developing and supporting coordinators of structured mentoring schemes in South Africa’, in SA Journal of Human Resource Management, 8(1), 2010
- T Bachkirova, G Spence and D Drake (eds), The SAGE Handbook of Coaching, London: SAGE, 2016
- CIPD Learning and Development 2015 annual report. http://bit.ly/2nPeyWr
- D Clutterbuck, ‘Organising mentoring programmes: how to be a great programme coordinator’, in Development and Learning in Organizations: An International Journal, 20(3), pp16-17, 2006
- J M Gannon and A Maher, ‘Developing tomorrow’s talent: the case of an undergraduate mentoring programme’, in Education+Training, 54(6), pp440-455, 2012
- R Washington and E Cox, ‘How an evolution view of workplace mentoring relationships helps avoid negative experiences: The developmental relationship mentoring model in action’, in Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, pp1-23, 2016