WHAT IS PEER MENTORING?
Peer mentoring is a relationship between people who are at the same career stage or age, in which one person has more experience than the other in a particular domain and can provide support as well as knowledge and skills transfer. Peer mentoring may be a one-on-one relationship or experienced in a group. The exchange is usually mutual, even if one member of the dyad begins in the traditional role of mentee, or learner, and the other in the role of mentor. For example, a newcomer to an organisation or industry may start off as the learner, but as the relationship develops s/he usually discovers s/he has something to offer the partner in terms of other experience. The relationship then develops into an environment for co-learning.
ADVANTAGES OF PEER MENTORING
Like any form of mentoring, there are advantages and disadvantages.
In conventional mentoring, the mentor is more experienced, may be perceived as substantially more ‘senior’ in the profession or industry. This can create a power differential between mentor and mentee, which can inhibit development of rapport, especially in the early stages. Peer mentoring overcomes the hierarchical gap.
In conventional mentoring relationships the exchange is more one-way (even though mentors benefit), in peer mentoring the balance is more even.
Peer mentoring may be more accessible to potential mentees simply because there are more peers available than experienced mentors.
Kram and Isabella (1985)1 suggest that peer mentoring can offer greater opportunity for empathy, and a sense of equity and expertise. Their study suggests that peer relationships may have more longevity and that whilst traditional mentoring relationships might be most useful at early stages of career, peer relationships may have more to offer at later stages.
An interesting study by Burgstahler and Cronheim (2001)2 found that the content of electronic communications (primarily email in this study) between peers was more likely to be personal in nature than that between traditional mentor pairs. This suggests that relationships in a virtual peer mentoring program may well be more quickly established than in traditional virtual mentoring programs.
HOW TO IMPLEMENT PEER MENTORING
Case studies in the education sector dominate the peer mentoring research literature, from which it is difficult to generalise about how to implement in other contexts. Most of the conclusions about best practice for peer mentoring programs are identical to best practice recommendations for all types of mentoring programs.
Whether you are implementing peer mentoring or other types of mentoring, pay careful attention to the program design, how participants are prepared, trained and supported, make sure you monitor the health of mentoring relationships and evaluate often.
1. Kram, Kathy A. and Isabella, Lynn A. (1985). Mentoring Alternatives: The role of peer relationships in career development. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 28, No. 1, 110-132.
Bryant,S., Moshavi, D., Lande, G., Leary, M., & Doughty, R. (2001). A proposed model for the role of physician peer mentoring in improving physician communication and patient satisfaction. Academy of Healthcare Management Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1, 45-58.