The Difference Between Formal and Informal Mentoring

August 13, 2019
formal vs informal mentoring

Mentoring programs have proven to provide individuals and organizations with many benefits. Not only are they advantageous, but there are different types of mentoring for organization to choose from. The customization gives personalized benefits to fit different organizations and different individuals.

Types of mentoring typically fall into one of two categories: formal or informal mentoring. These are similar, but they are not the same. Whatís the difference? And when would each type of mentoring be most beneficial?

The Difference Between Formal and Informal Mentoring

Formal mentoring is the most common choice for mentoring in the workplace. It involves mentors and mentees meeting up for frequent face-to-face mentoring sessions over a long period of time. A formal program is well-structured and highly organization by program administrators.

Often, mentees have goals they should achieve within a formal mentorship. To achieve these goals, mentors and mentees matches are often optimized with mentor matching. These strategic matches are more likely to provide an outcome that follows the organizationís business objectives for the program.

Informal mentoring is much more flexible. There may or may not be goals present, and the mentorships are often much shorter. In fact, informal mentoring relationships may only last one or two session. In these instances, the mentee is looking for specific information or help, and reaches out to a short-term mentor.

Choosing Formal or Informal Mentoring

Informal mentoring is mentee-driven at its core, but with an added dimension of being self-directed. Informal mentoring should not be used as a replacement to a formal mentoring program, though.

Informal mentoring enhances formal mentoring, and vice versa. The continuing problem of an exclusively informal mentoring program is that informal mentoring is not measurable or reportable by definition. This creates a problem when measuring the success and ROI of the program.

The best option for formal vs. informal mentoring is to combine them. This will allow measurability while also introducing an element of flexibility. Informal mentoring in this case will simply reinforce the knowledge transfer achievable within formal mentorships. It can even be used by mentees that need to fill knowledge gaps of their mentors.

A combined program gives the benefits of both long-term, formal mentorships with opportunities for short-term, just-in-time knowledge sharing. This knowledge sharing is important for self-driven learning, even if it happens to be under the guidance of a mentor.

Combined programs also include all individuals. This is because not every individual in the organization will have time to commit to a full-time mentorship. Informal mentoring gives the flexibility of limited scheduling. This makes it accessible to the entire organization.

There are many benefits of implementing a combined mentoring programÖ

  • Provides just-in-time skill development
  • Promotes self-driven learning
  • Offers fast and immediate networking
  • Allows everyone to participate
  • Requires minimal maintenance from the organization
  • Gives the option of long-term meeting
  • Simultaneously provides more structure and more flexibility
  • Promotes high-level knowledge transfer accessible to everyone

Implementing Informal Mentoring

Informal mentoring can be implemented with or without an overall formal mentoring program. To implement a stand-alone mentoring program, the organization needs to put together a database of mentors and their qualifications. This database should be accessible by the entire organization, and it should also be marketed to raise awareness.

Once they have access, mentees seeking specific knowledge or skill sets will be able to find an informal mentor. They can look through the database to choose a subject matter expert to act as an informal mentor. Once selected, the mentor and mentee can meet as many times as necessary. The mentorship will end when the menteeís needs have been met.

If informal mentoring is added to a formal mentoring program, the organization would follow the same steps. They would still need to market the available database to the organization, including current participants. Mentees and even mentors can use the list to participate in informal mentoring outside of their formal mentorships. Informal mentorships are a great additional resource to an existing formal mentoring program.

If the organization wishes to make a formal mentoring program less formal, it could make goal deadlines more lenient. It could also encourage informal types of mentoring like group or virtual mentoring. Again, there should still be a list of potential mentors available to all participants.

In all types of mentorships, it is advisable that mentors go through mentor training. This will help them be the best mentor they can be by defining roles and providing tools to use. It will improve the overall program and provide better results.

Mentoring Software

The database for mentees to search through can be compiled by someone within the organization. It can be created with mentoring software. Mentoring software is the easiest way to maintain a database of mentors available for informal mentoring sessions. It allows profiles to be created for each mentor available that the mentee can then peruse easily.

A final step in implementing a combined mentoring program is tracking results to prove the ROI. Mentoring software can track the progress of individual mentorships, making measuring the success of the program simple. These reports will help organizations prove the programís worth and maintain their funding.



Insala has years of experience building all types of mentoring programs with software. For help starting your mentoring program or for more information, request a demo today.

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