In professional mentoring, we match mentors and mentorees with people they don't know very well (if at all). As a result, meeting for the first time can be a little awkward. This is why I recommend bringing all of the pairs together in a classroom setting for their first meeting. The mentoring program manager can then put everyone at ease and provide direction and tips for a successful mentoring relationship.
That said, sometimes this solution isn't possible due to costs and distances. The good news? You can still diminish the awkwardness of the first meeting, if you put your mind to it.
Here are three mentoring activities to help break the ice.
1. Gather fun facts.
One mentoring activity that generates easy conversation and pleasant surprises is "Fun Facts." Have mentors interview their mentorees and vice versa. If you're in a classroom setting with other pairs, share the fun facts with the other mentors/mentorees.
Here are some "fun fact" questions to get you started:
- What they do in the organization
- Where they were born
- First paying job
- Most daredevil thing they've ever done and why
- Person living or dead they most want to meet and why
- Favorite book or movie or TV show
- Favorite food
- Add your own!
Through these questions, each person will learn interesting things about the other person and discover common areas that can help build a relationship.
2. Do a joint mentoring activity.
For example, if you discover that you share a favorite food, make your next meeting a lunch at that type of restaurant. Or agree on a book you want to read and share your insights after you've read the book.
One of my clients organized an activity where the mentors and mentorees had lunch in darkness to experience what it's like to be visually impaired. Through this experience, the pairs bonded over a common experience and learned some very important lessons about how we take our sight for granted.
3. Visit each other's workplace.
When I meet with pairs, this is one of the most frequently cited activities that has a lasting impact. Particularly if both partners come from different areas within the organization, they most likely will be unfamiliar with the details of what each person does.
By going to the other's workplace, each person gains insight into what the other does, the environment in which they work, and the challenges faced.
I suggest that you have this kind of activity early on in your relationship so that the information gathered can be factored in at the onset.
Remember that mentoring is about building a trustful, safe relationship, so do whatever you can to make that happen.
Here's to your mentoring success!