You’ve likely been there before: paired up with someone who wasn’t a good fit. Maybe they had different goals. Perhaps you used dissimilar communication styles or they didn’t contribute the knowledge and skills you needed. Maybe you just weren’t compatible. It happens.

Of course, I’m referring here not to romance but to mentor-mentee relationships. The fact is, one of the most frequent challenges that training leaders face when facilitating mentoring programs is how to pair participants in a way that will be most rewarding for both.

This was brought home to me recently during the Training Industry Conference and Expo (TICE), where I engaged in a roundtable discussion focused on managing and mentoring others. As I listened to fellow trainers share experiences like my own, it became clear how universally difficult it is to make great mentor-mentee matches. The conversation should also consider the stakes. Mismatching mentors and mentees not only negatively impacts their experiences, it also can also sour their attitude towards making similar connections in the future.

Speed Dating … At the Office?

Taking a page from modern matchmaking, I’ve found that hosting a “speed dating” event can be a fantastic way to successfully pair mentors and mentees. By allowing participants to screen and explore potential matches, this approach can help:

  • Grant participants access to individuals within the organization they may never meet otherwise.
  • Provides an engaging atmosphere and creates excitement around the mentorship program.
  • Invites participants to ask questions about each other and practice discernment skills.
  • Affords participants freedom of choice, thereby fulfilling one of the most important adult learning principles.
  • Challenges and expands participants’ thinking, setting them up for success during the mentoring experience.

Oh, and also worth noting — it’s fun!

So, how do I run a mentor-mentee speed matching event?

You can use the speed matching concept in virtual breakouts or in live, face-to-face settings. You can also apply it to all types of programs, including formal mentoring programs, informal buddy programs and job shadowing-rotation pairings. However, no matter what program you’re conducting, I encourage you to follow the steps below when setting up your speed matching event.

Ahead of the event

First, you need participants. Use internal social media, fliers and memos to create buzz around the fresh, eye-catching nature of the event. Be sure to brief managers and team leaders about the event and encourage them to spread the word. Most importantly, make signing up for the session — whether online or in person — convenient and stress free.

A week before the event, send out a brief survey or data collection tool to your participants. Their responses will set the stage for their speed matches and allow you to conduct the session more efficiently. Along with their name, location and title, ask participants (both potential mentors and mentees) to answer a few short questions. These prompts should be framed to help participants reveal more about their personality as well as their goals for a mentoring partnership.

Make these survey responses available to all participants ahead of the event (online is often best). That way they can review them and begin to create follow-up questions or discussion points for each of their potential matches.

Day of the event

Allow a minimum of 15 minutes for each speed session, with two to three minutes in between for transitional time. To set participants up for success, give them a list of discussion prompts to guide their conversations. Be clear that asking these questions is not required and that participants should select ones they feel are most relevant to their interests and needs.

Some questions you might provide include:

  • Tell me about yourself, such as your interests and hobbies.
  • What are your communication and/or learning preferences?
  • How did you get to where you are in your career today?
  • What are your goals for the mentoring-mentee process and relationship?
  • What are some strengths you feel you could bring to the relationship?
  • What are some areas of opportunity we could work through together?
  • Have you had any prior experiences with a mentor-mentee relationship? If so, what went well? What could have been improved?
  • Is there anything specific you are looking for in a mentor/mentee?

After the event

Once the last speed round has finished, ask each participant to submit their top three choices for a partner. Then, with others on your team, collate the responses and do your best to pair each participant with someone on their list, while recognizing this may not be possible for everyone. If you find that you can’t pair someone with one of their top three choices, you can set up a job shadowing opportunity or learning session for that person.

Final Tips

Consider starting with a small pool of candidates as a beta test. Then, refine the process as needed and deploy it to a larger group. And, after every speed matching session, be sure to take time with your team to assess what went well and what you might improve upon in the future.