How to Build a Mentor/Sponsor Relationship in a Virtual Setting
1 year, 6 months ago Posted in: Blog, Mentoring 0

Mentoring and sponsorship networks are good sources of inspiration and support when seeking a relationship that helps you grow and advance. Virtual sponsorship and mentoring relationships are often provided in companies and organizations. Mentoring programs have become more common as workplaces seek ways to develop employees and keep them connected.

Before you build the kind of mentor or sponsor relationship you want, it’s helpful to know the differences between the two. Sponsors can advance your career in a way that mentors can’t. In a mentorship, a more experienced person usually provides guidance to a more junior person. In a sponsorship, a more senior person proactively invests their network and status-power in helping a more junior person develop and advance. They create opportunities that help you progress more quickly and boost your confidence and courage to take risks. For example, a sponsor can directly recommend you for a promotion or get you placed on an important work project.

Mentors help you by listening, sharing their experiences, and providing advice. Mentoring is a powerful tool that organizations can use to reduce employee turnover and increase engagement. Mentoring programs help you in your professional growth. The added benefit is helping you build a more socially connected workplace if your company provides a well-built program. Mentors can go beyond the obvious. They can help you set goals, communicate more effectively, and fill in the details on succeeding in your virtual setting. Check with your manager or human resources person as to whether there is a mentor program in the organization.

Here are tips for how to build a mentor or sponsor relationship:

Set goals

You’ll need to define the purpose of the relationship. What do you expect to get out of the relationship? Do you hope to prepare for an advancement? Do you seek new skills? Are you interested in working best within the organization culture, especially since most of the connections are through virtual settings? Set clear goals, such as skill development, onboarding, or joining a project.

Create expectations about the relationship

Whether meeting online or in person, setting expectations around the mentoring relationship is a critical step. To ensure success, both the mentor and you as a mentee have to agree on how and when to communicate, the roles each of you will play, how to be a resource for each other, and the desired outcomes.

Set a plan for regular meetings

Set up a structure that sets up the frequency of meetings, time of each session, and the conversations that agree with goal setting so both of you get the most out of the relationship. Set recurring meetings. Add them to your calendar for the foreseeable future, as this will reduce friction in coordinating a meeting down the road. To develop a long-term mentoring relationship, set the meeting monthly for 45 minutes to an hour. This time-frame will allow enough time to dive into deep discussions about pertinent topics.

Use video-conferencing

Without communicating in person, video conferencing is the next best option. Use applications such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or FaceTime to facilitate the conversation. Turn on your camera, and engage with your mentor or sponsor as if you were in person. While it might be tempting to have a phone call while multitasking, setting aside time to connect will benefit the mentoring or sponsor relationship.

Tap external mentors or sponsors

Reaching out for a more senior teammate outside your team helps build a broader network. The relationship you have can also help you to find a sponsor down the road. This helps to develop and broaden your skills and learn more from the outsiders.

Be prepared, honest, be in the moment, and stay consistent

Have questions prepared and topics ready to discuss with your mentor or sponsor. If there is a specific topic that you want to discuss in length, make that known in the beginning or before the meeting, so you can dedicate ample time to it. For your meeting, start with an icebreaker. For instance, ask how is the day is going. Spend the first few minutes building rapport and ensuring that both of you are comfortable. This sets the stage for the remainder of the conversation. Conversations can be based on upcoming projects, challenges, or recent lessons. Be sure to ask for feedback.

With the rapid shift of the workplace, it is normal to have questions and concerns. Address them earnestly during your virtual mentoring sessions. Brainstorm ways to leverage your skills and connections to be a resource for each other. Having open-ended discussions, you are more likely to better understand each other and ultimately deepen your relationship. This helps create the conditions for trust.

Set a goal or action plan to discuss in your next meeting

Before wrapping up each virtual mentoring session, be sure to reinforce when you are meeting, and discuss any actions you need to take before then. If you agree to share resources, set an exact date when your mentor or sponsor can expect those items. Finally, express gratitude for the time given for the relationship.

These steps will help your relationship develop more organically and ensure accountability for both the mentor/sponsor and mentee. Whichever path you choose, working with a mentor or sponsor, you keep the relationship engaging and rewarding for both of you.

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