Team Management Systems

Managers' Experiences of Being Mentored: Summary of research carried out for an MSc in Change Agent Skills & Strategies

By Suzy Wales
Copyright © Suzy Wales. All rights reserved.

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This paper was presented at the TMS Development International Conference, Making Connections, Changing Perceptions, Bath, 6-7 June 2000.

Background to the Study

This study took place in a major UK clearing bank. In 1995, the bank was restructured into five separate businesses, each of them intended to become an independent profit center. I was invited by a senior executive of one of these new business units to provide a mentoring programme for him and fifteen of his managers.

His vision for this new company was to break away from the monolithic, traditional bank structure, with a move from a 'command and control' hierarchy to one of consultation and empowerment. My brief was to provide support to managers during this transition, encourage the acquisition of a new paradigm of management skills, develop effective teams, and assist the managers in developing behaviors and strategies to deal more effectively with their boss.

The Study Group

The study group consisted of four senior managers and eleven direct reports. The study intended to explore the experiences of individuals who were the recipients of this mentoring programme, and to understand how the programme had been used by the organization.

Individual mentoring sessions took place fortnightly and lasted an hour. All the respondents had been in the programme for over a year when the study took place.

Research Design

This was a piece of qualitative research using a phenomenological approach; I was interested in exploring and understanding peoples' individual views and experiences of the phenomenon of mentoring. The research project was designed to explore the experience of mentoring as a means for personal and management development.

The Questionnaire

The body of the research was carried out through a self-report questionnaire comprising of seventeen 'open' questions. It was based upon Robert Dilts' 'Neurological Levels of Alignment' (Visionary Leadership Skills, 1996). These six levels of learning and change are a way of synthesizing the hierarchical processes which occur naturally within the structures of the brain, social systems, and language. Each level is more abstract than the level below although it has an increased degree of impact and effect on an individual's behavior and experience.

Dilts links the different levels of change with the functions of leadership, which made it an excellent model through which to formulate my research.

The levels can be described as:

Environment the external context, found in Opportunities and Constraints
Behaviors actions, what a person does, located in Action and Reaction
Capabilities states and strategies, manifested in Perception and Direction
Beliefs & Values   values and meta-programmes, manifested in Motivation and Permission
Identity who am I, exemplified in Role and Mission
Spiritual who and what else, described in Vision and Purpose

Data Analysis

The responses from the questionnaires were analyzed by first dividing the material into 'units of meaning' or 'objects'; then forming categories from which the data could be quantified. This meant that the questionnaire responses were sorted for words, phrases or themes which had connections, importance or meaning. These initial units were subsequently sorted and grouped into categories.

In this paper I have selected and summarized specific aspects of the research that I thought would be of particular interest to someone considering initiating a mentoring programme.

What is Mentoring?

In response to the question "What is mentoring?" The main theme that emerged was a 'relationship'; a third of respondents using that word specifically. The mentoring relationship was described as facilitative, to enable 'learning', 'development' and 'self-awareness'.

What Does Being Mentored Mean?

The following list presents what being mentored meant to individual respondents:

  • introspection, facilitated personal change
  • a containing relationship, guidance, learning
  • a relationship
  • personal learning, balance of life
  • a supporting relationship, guidance, personal understanding
  • developing reflective practice
  • breadth of view, internal vs. external, systems thinking
  • personal development
  • a relationship, self-esteem, introspection, learning
  • learning, reflection, competencies, personal responsibility
  • self-esteem, self-learning
  • a containing relationship, feelings

Expectations of a Mentoring Relationship?

The following summary describes the themes that emerged incorporating the respondent's own words:

Mentees expect a 'non-judgmental relationship' of 'mutual respect', which exhibits: 'confidentiality', 'understanding', 'honesty', 'trust' and 'challenge'.

They anticipate a 'coaching' relationship which will 'increase self-awareness', provide the 'support' to explore 'feelings' and encourages 'personal and work development' and 'learning'.

This relates to the 'real world' and comes about through 'openness' and 'feedback' which enables the 'mutual identification of areas for work'. Mentees expect a safe place to examine 'behaviors and capabilities' and 'practice new behaviors' and thereby enhance their 'skills in managing people'.

There was expectation that 'reading material' would be provided and that the sessions would be 'adding value'.

Qualities Expected from a Mentor

Listed below are the qualities that mentees expected from their mentors. The figures in brackets indicate the number of respondents who used that particular word:

good listener (6)
honesty (4)
knowledge (3)
openness (2)
understanding (2)
impartiality (2)
guide (1)
intelligence (1)
interpersonal skills (1)
objectivity (1)
empathy (1)
perception (1)
re-framing (1)
commitment to me (1)
feedback (1)
challenge (4)
trust (3)
a common language (2)
coaching (2)
flexibility (2)
professionalism (2)
ideas (1)
confidentiality (1)
knowledge of management theory (1)
forward looking (1)
sensitivity (1)
anecdotes (1)
non-judgmental (1)
friend (1)
punctuality (1)

Areas Covered in Mentoring

The range of areas which respondents described as being covered during mentoring sessions was extremely broad and wide-ranging. For example: "We cover behaviors, interpersonal skills, management problems. The organization and its individuals. Personal issues - death, illness, lack of confidence/self-doubt, wife, goals. Business issues - communication, leadership style, time management, negotiation and influence, middle managers, decision-making, stress management."

Changes Noticed Through Being Mentored

This initiated a vast amount of data. When the responses had been sorted into groups, nine categories arose: self-awareness, confidence, openness to feelings, communication skills, management, challenge, understanding difference, stress management, and home/work balance.

These categories appeared to fall into meta-groups and create a pattern: the qualities of self-awareness, confidence, and openness to feelings are internal processes essential to ongoing growth and development. These three qualities stimulate, support and enhance the five external categories of: management, challenge, understanding difference, stress management, home/work balance.

The development of the internal qualities provides support for the manifestation of the external competencies. The linking ability of communication is the skill which acts as the bridge between internal development and its external implementation. The use of high quality communication skills facilitates the delivery of ideas, concepts, knowledge and vision into the behaviors and competencies of management. Communication is also an essential element in achieving a satisfactory balance between work and home life, since advocacy and inquiry are essential to negotiating and achieving this equilibrium.

Openness to feelings
Communication Skills Leadership and Management
Understanding difference
Stress management
Home/Work balance

From these meta-groups came the concept of the 'Internal & External Model of Development'. This model provides a way of making sense of, and creating a structure for the data.

Figure 1:  Internal Development
Figure 1: Internal Development
Figure 2:  Communication skills act as the mediator between internal and external development
Figure 2: Communication skills act as the mediator between internal and external development
Figure 3:  External development
Figure 3: External development

An Executive Summary of the findings was circulated to the respondents requesting feedback on both the findings and the inner/outer model. All the respondents who offered feedback confirmed that the model fitted with their own experience of mentoring. One response to the inner/outer model was:

"The model works well for me - mentoring has significantly improved my self-awareness and this has been a significant contributor to my overall external development. I have reviewed my original questionnaire responses and I think this comes through. As the data supports the model, it does fit with my own experience of mentoring."

In comparing my findings with existing academic models and frameworks for self-development, similarities exist particularly with the five domains of emotional intelligence described by Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence, 1996), and the meta-abilities essential to management development identified by a study carried out at Cranfield School of Management (Butcher, Harvey and Atkinson, 1997).


The responses provided significant data to support the concept that personal development gained through mentoring is both translated into, and benefits the organization's development. From my research there is clear evidence that:

  • Individual development has been beneficial to the organization.

  • Changes in 'self' have had significant beneficial impact on individual effectiveness both at work and at home.

  • Increased awareness of how an individual's inner world impacts on personal and professional effectiveness has helped people be more objective and deal with the world in a better way.

  • Mentoring has increased the individual's self-confidence, self-esteem and responsibility towards others.

  • The mentoring programme has provided substantial support for individuals and significantly reduced levels of stress.

Encompassing all these conclusions is probably the most important element of mentoring: the relationship.

My research shows that benefits from mentoring are dependent on the quality and continuity of the relationship that enables them. The relationship that mentor and mentee build together provides the container, stimulus and support for the changes and growth that result from it.

Case Study: The Team Management Profile as a Mentoring Tool

The Scenario

Catherine and Sarah were arguing again. The team kept their heads down and buried themselves in their work whilst their managers aired their differences.

The two managers had been in post now for six months. They had applied for a senior management role as a job share. It was the first job share to be assigned in this major financial services organization. There was a lot riding on it for them, the organization, and the head of department who had appointed them. Cracks were starting to show. There were also complaints from the team that both women were becoming autocratic and authoritarian.

Tensions between the two women were becoming increasingly obvious. Managers in their team were expressing concern over Catherine and Sarah's difference in approach. They would spend half the week with Catherine pushing towards their objectives and the other half with Sarah looking at creative new approaches to projects. They had sold themselves into the joint role on their 'difference', suggesting that this would bring added value, however, now it seemed that it was this 'difference' that was getting in the way.

Their manager had expected both women to be fully-briefed, and responsible for all of the department's projects and initiatives. However, this was not always the case. Catherine and Sarah both worked a 3-day week, enabling them to spend one day working with each other and with their team.

I was invited by the departmental head to provide a mentoring programme for the two women.

The Approach

I proposed that initially Catherine and Sarah should each complete a Team Management Profile Questionnaire, and then feedback would be given to them jointly. This would be followed by a series of one-to-one sessions, culminating in a final session together.

The problems seemed to be arising out of Catherine and Sarah's contrasting preferred styles of working. The results of the Team Management Profile (TMP) confirmed this initial assessment. Catherine preferred to work as a Thruster-Organizer, whilst Sarah's major role was that of Creator-Innovator.

Catherine received her feedback in a matter-of-fact way and accepted that the Profile was a fairly accurate description of her work-style. However, Sarah found it unsettling. Whilst she felt that her Profile represented her well, as an ECBF (Extrovert, Creative, Beliefs-based, Flexible) with very strong preferences in each of the four dimensions, she was working in an organization that was predominantly EPAS (Extrovert, Practical, Analytical, Structured). This explained much of the confusion she had experienced during her career. She was, perhaps for the first time, able to stand back and view her work-style with some objectivity, however this had raised some concerns for her.

The women's team had all completed Team Management Profiles some time prior to the women's appointments. I ran a short refresher workshop for the team which provided a platform for Sarah and Catherine to discuss their different work-styles with their team and explore how these differences were impacting on the effectiveness of the management partnership and the productivity of the team as a whole. Using the Team Management Profile in the workshop provided a safe environment in which the issues could be raised and discussed, and concerns could be examined.

Over the following sessions I worked individually with each of the two women, helping them to understand themselves and each other better in order to find new ways of working together and provide a clearer direction for their team. We also explored ways in which unresolved issues from the past might be playing out at work and impacting on their individual and joint effectiveness.

They decided that the most effective way for them to work was for Sarah (Creator-Innovator) to focus her involvement on the initial, explorative stages of projects, then for both to refine the ideas and then for Catherine (Thruster-Organizer) to put structure, milestones and goals to the various initiatives.

Although they would both still need to keep each other informed as to the current status of any project, each of them would be playing much more towards their strengths. As a result, stress levels would be reduced, and the team members would be clearer as to who was responsible at each stage.

The Outcome

During my final session with Catherine and Sarah, we discussed the learning each of them had gained from the mentoring, the changes they had made, and what they would to work on in the future.

For my part, I had been reminded of how valuable the TMP process can be in the field of one-to-one work. I was pleased to have successfully enabled both individuals and their team to work more constructively and cohesively together. Plus, I had had the pleasure of helping to resolve an issue with two intelligent, open, challenging and committed women managers.

Copyright © Suzy Wales. All rights reserved.

Suzy Wales is an experienced executive coach/mentor who has been working in the field of personal and organizational change since 1990. During that time she has worked successfully with managers at all levels from the boardroom to divisional management, facilitating 'intentional change' to achieve personal and organizational growth. Based in London she has worked across the UK with both individuals and groups providing mentoring, coaching and teambuilding designed to increase performance and develop the qualities and skills required for effective management and team-working. She has carried out research into the benefits of coaching and contributed on the subject to a number of publications. Suzy has a MSc in Change Agent Skills and Strategies from the Human Potential Research Group at the University of Surrey and is a Master Practitioner in Team Management Systems. Suzy can be contacted by email:

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