Mentoring is very different from coaching. And both are different from knowledge sharing
This is conducted one-on-one. A 'mentee' may have two or three mentors but is unlikely to have more. The purpose of a mentor-mentee relationship is to help the mentee look to the career direction that he/she is following and to help to clarify & sharpen what he/she is seeking to achieve in the medium to longer term. This means looking beyond his/her immediate issues & challenges, to look beyond even his/her current role. A typical horizon for this dialogue is 3+ years.
The content of such a dialogue typically focuses on the mentee’s dreams, vision, aspirations, skills, strengths, behavioural attributes and priorities. To get value from mentoring, the mentee must be willing to be open to challenge and change. The mentor needs to have wide business experience. In the IT context, this will ideally include IT experience, but above all the mentor must be empathetic, an outstanding listener and a challenging questioner. A mentor's role is to keep the dialogue ranging quite widely and to avoid it becoming narrowly focused to the possible exclusion of key areas. This is a key distinction between mentoring and coaching.
A mentor/mentee relationship should have good chemistry (usually quickly determined), clear and shared purpose (down to the mentee to set the agenda in agreement with the mentor), actionable outcomes from meetings and a 'shelf life' (typically 12 to 24 months) beyond which the relationship can get stale. The meetings should be planned, away from the mentee's usual place of work, not too frequent or infrequent (three to six per annum is usually about right), ideally face-to-face (especially the first two) although video conference/Skype/telephone can work, one to two hours long.
The outcomes can be recorded, depending on the degree of formality agreed, although this is not essential as long as actionable outcomes are agreed.
This is best conducted one-on-one, although it is often possible for a coachee to meet with more than one coach simultaneously. The purpose of a coach-coachee relationship in business is to help the coachee achieve a very specific goal, typically in his/her current role. This is likely to represent a key part of his/her current personal objectives and personal agenda. A typical horizon for this dialogue is up to 18 months.
The content of such a dialogue typically focuses on part of the coachee’s current objectives, difficult challenges, skills, strengths and priorities. To get value from coaching, the mentee must be willing to be open to challenge and change. The coach needs to have very specific, often specialised knowledge & experience in the specific area required. In the IT context, this is likely to require detailed technical, process and/or technological IT experience. The coach should also be empathetic, a good listener and a strong driver of the desire to achieve in the coachee. A coach's role is to keep the dialogue very focused on the agreed topic. This is a key distinction between coaching and mentoring.
A coach/coachee relationship should have good chemistry (usually quickly determined), clear and shared purpose (down to the coach to set the agenda in agreement with the coachee), actionable outcomes from meetings and a short 'shelf life' (typically up to 12 months) by which time the coaching goal should typically be achieved. The meetings should be planned, sometimes away from the coachee's usual place of work, can be of quite intensive frequency, usually face-to-face, and can be of varying lengths.
The actionable outcomes should be recorded.
3. KNOWLEDGE SHARING
This can be conducted in many different ways. This is much less focused and purposeful than either mentoring or coaching. It is also much more open to group activity than the other two. Hence various social networking activities (eg LinkedIn discussion groups) can contribute here, as do webcasts, round table discussions, consultant and vendor briefings and many other platforms.
The main focus here is for individuals to build their knowledge on a range of topics and to broaden their personal networks connecting with experts in various areas.
What individuals learn is not necessarily immediately personally actionable.
4. GETTING VALUE
Value is added to mentoring and coaching when it is conducted on a professional and accountable basis. These activities are therefore often best undertaken on a formal, independent, 'paid for' basis with external specialist mentors and coaches, rather than on an informal, constrained, ‘free of charge’ basis by individuals from the same organisation. This should result in the delivery of value as there is a clear accountability for doing so both on the mentee/coachee for making measurable progress and on the mentor/coach for facilitating this. Such a ‘formal’ process is much less appropriate for knowledge sharing (though many vendors and service providers try hard to convince us all otherwise, despite the power of the internet!).