British Transport Police’s reverse mentoring pilot has brought benefits, including a more inclusive leadership style, reducing barriers between ranks, increased confidence and communication. Sandra Wilson reports


British Transport Police (BTP), we’re proud of our willingness to try out initiatives to develop a collaborative and learning organisation with a strong coaching and mentoring culture, which forms a core part of our people strategy.

This culture underpins our mission to help the six million or so people who use the railways of England, Wales and Scotland get home safely and on time. The railway is a unique policing environment and our people work to meet the needs of the rail industry and passengers, delivering our services to the highest possible standards. We police Britain’s railways, providing a service to rail operators, their staff and passengers across the country. We also police the London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, the Midland Metro tram system, Croydon Tramlink, Tyne and Wear Metro, Glasgow Subway and Emirates Air Line.

Given the importance of the culture and strategy, when commencing employment with BTP in September 2020, I was both excited and a little anxious to learn that my role included leading the reverse mentoring pilot: the first of its kind in the Force.


BTP reverse mentoring pilot

BTP, like most emergency services, operates as a hierarchical structure. And while we have a well-established tradition of mentoring, reverse mentoring was a completely new approach and experience for the Force.

The pilot took place between October 2020 and March 2021 and involved 38 employees. It aimed to:

  • support an inclusive culture where people’s differences are respected and valued, so that everyone can be their true selves at work
  • enable a better understanding of differing views across the organisation
  • increase leaders’ understanding of the impact of policy and strategy on frontline employees
  • foster a learning culture throughout the organisation
  • support junior employees in having a voice within the organisation


For BTP it involved a mixture of officers and staff across a variety of ranks/grades, from constable to the deputy chief constable and directors/head of staff functions, thus providing a wide range of people from differing backgrounds and experience. All participating mentors and mentees volunteered to take part in the pilot.

Reverse mentoring involved pairing a junior employee (mentor) with more senior members of staff (mentee). The pairings were set to develop a professional relationship and meet on a regular basis for a period of six months during which they would exchange skills and knowledge and share experiences.

Prior to the matching, all mentors received face-to-face training. The training covered listening skills, confidence building, how to overcome potential reverse mentoring challenges and essential contracting skills.

On 26 September 2020, we held a ‘speed dating’ event, within a Covid-compliant environment, at our headquarters. The event provided both mentees and mentors with the opportunity to meet and see who they ‘clicked’ with. Having spent a short time with each of the mentors, mentees were asked to elect who they’d like to pair with. This process allowed for a more organic approach to matching. Over the six-month period we held several drop-in sessions to offer support and to check on the pairs’ progress.



Evaluation has been carried out in partnership with colleagues in the BTP Leadership Academy.

This included three focus groups. One was a joint group including both mentors and mentees, the other two groups focused separately on the experiences of the mentors and mentees. In addition, a survey was designed and sent to all participants.

We also interviewed three pairs to gain an in-depth understanding of how the relationships had progressed and to explore what had changed for the individuals.

Key learning points emerged, including around the development of mentors and mentees, the speed dating event and the impact of the pandemic.


Development of the mentors and mentees

The design of the initial training package focused on the mentors. It provided them with the essential skills to become a mentor with emphasis on contracting, self-management and building confidence. The mentees were provided with a short briefing session prior to the networking event.

Our evaluation highlighted the need for everyone involved in this type of project to have a clear understanding of the purpose, expectations and contracting along with some examples of how to be a mentee within a reverse mentoring relationship. This is also to be complemented with a module about raising the awareness of the power dynamic in a reserve mentoring relationship.


Speed-dating: meeting and matching

There was mixed feedback on the speed dating event. It was fun and interactive, and participants enjoyed the approach. Participants did however want longer to get to know each other and to develop a relationship.

Given that the event took place in the pandemic, social distancing meant the duration of the event was limited. However, it did provide the opportunity to establish if there was an initial connection/chemistry, which is critical for a successful relationship.

Moving forwards, it’s likely an amended version of this type of event will form part of the matching process.


Impact of the pandemic on the pilot

Unfortunately, the pandemic had a major impact on the pilot for both mentors and mentees due to increased workloads across the Force and the need for change of pace in policy and procedure, considering government legislation and guidance.


Key ingredients

BTP went on the unknown journey of reverse mentoring in order to support an inclusive working environment, break down barriers and inform our learning. Through this we have learnt the key ingredients required for a successful reverse mentoring programme include:

  • A clear vision endorsed via senior sponsorship
  • Defined expectations on the commitment required to joining the programme
  • A genuine willingness to share and learn from each other
  • The trust to understand, overcome differences and be open to seeing situations from different perspectives
  • A familiarisation/development package to provide participants with the necessary knowledge, skills coupled with CPD events and check-in points
  • The sharing of ‘good news’ stories and the benefits of the programme to both individuals and organisation
  • An embedded and ongoing evaluation process


We’re committed to taking the learning from the pilot to help inform our reverse mentoring programme, which is due to be launched later this year.


  • Sandra Wilson is coaching and mentoring lead at British Transport Police. Along with Jo Channon, professionalism, learning and improvement lead at BTP, and Grant Thornton UK’s Lawrence Parsons (see here), she participated in a panel discussion on reciprocal/reverse mentoring at the EMCC conference in May 2021, facilitated by Dr Lise Lewis.


Key benefits

  • For both parties it provided an opportunity to meet people outside their respective departments
  • Mentees reported an appetite for more collaborative working and gained an insight into how strategy and policy had an impact on operational colleagues
  • The process supports a more inclusive leadership style, eg: “I will be consulting more with operational colleagues when making decisions”
  • It helped remove the barriers that a formal rank structure creates and provides an opportunity for senior leaders to engage with frontline employees, helping improve transparency and breaking down distrust in senior leaders
  • Mentors felt more empowered and confident in voicing their opinions and it provided them with a “better perspective on the decision-making process for BTP”
  • Many participants felt that reverse mentoring was an “amazing idea” because, prior to this project, there was a strong feeling that there was a disconnect between frontline employees and senior leaders
  • This pilot provided the opportunity to open channels of communication across the organisation. One senior leader said, “It provided more insight into the concerns and issues affecting our officers and staff”