Posted on: 18/10/2023

Structuring a mentoring agreement process, Ideas, Concerns and Expectations

By Dr Kay Guccione, Mentoring Lead, and Head of Research Culture and Researcher Development at the University of Glasgow.


There are many models of structured conversation being used in the coaching and mentoring disciplines – perhaps you have a favourite you like to use? A conversational model offers mentors a handy process to follow that allows us to open up discussion and exploration, and to keep the conversation flowing towards an outcome identified by our mentee. It helps us to frame the stages of the conversation and so to track progress, building progressive momentum towards change. And it allows us to go through a complete and thorough cycle of investigation, reflection and planning, to prevent assumptions or short-circuits in thinking, creeping into our decision making.

If we are following established guidance for mentors, we know it makes for effective practice to begin a new partnership with an expectation setting exercise. We go through a ‘contracting’ process (or an agreement-making stage) so that we create a clear understanding about the purpose, aims, style and boundaries of our mentoring partnership. This has the dual purpose of setting us off with shared expectations, and of creating openness and trust between mentor and mentee. But how we manage this conversation can often be less well designed than the mentoring conversations that follow.

A good Mentoring Agreement form or template can help to structure the conversation, making sure that the new partners work through a checklist of points for discussion and agreement. Such a document can also provide a handy way of externalising or ‘de-personalising’ the contract between you. What I mean by this is that, if, down the line, we find the partnership is not working optimally, we can re-visit what is written, and change the agreement. It is the agreement that isn’t working well, not the mentor or the mentee.

However, for some people and partnerships, a mentoring contract form or template document might not be the right approach. In more informal partnerships, or one-off mentoring or mentoring-style conversations, completing paperwork together may feel like overkill. In this case, how can we quickly and effectively make sure that we make the best use of the time we have together?

The ‘Ideas, Concerns and Expectations’ (ICE) model (derived from healthcare approaches designed to elicit the patient’s agenda) outlines a simple structured conversational model to explore how a person currently perceives their situation, what they are worried about, and what they are expecting from the consultation. A 2009 study, showed how going through this process in a General Practice setting, changed the course of action to follow. More recent studies in the clinical setting have documented how increased satisfaction can be associated with the ICE model. Borrowing from this we can quickly reach an understanding of what our mentee most needs from us. Asking about a mentee’s Ideas, Concerns and Expectations at the earliest stages of mentoring, allows exploration and management of the mentee’s agenda, and importantly helps the mentor acknowledge their own ICE for the conversation.

Key to all good conversations that use a structured model, is tailoring the language to your own preferences and speaking patterns so that the discussions flow naturally. For example, I myself might ask:

  • Ideas: What’s on your mind today? Or, how would you like to use this mentoring conversation?
  • Concerns: Is there any topic you want to keep out of our conversation? Or, is there anything I could do or say that would make this less useful to you?
  • Expectations: What would make this conversation of value to you? Or, what would you like to walk away having achieved today?

Using this as a guide to develop your own questions, even during a brief mentoring or coaching conversation, allows for time for you to ask about the mentee’s context and objectives. I hope this will be useful to you in your practice.

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