Formal and informal schemes

Section subject: The advantages and disadvantages of informal and formal mentoring schemes.


Mentoring in organisations may be taking place already on an informal basis. Whilst there are many benefits of such schemes the main focus here is on the development and operation of formal schemes.

This section examines the value of formal and informal schemes for organisations.

Learning objectives

This section will help you to:

Informal mentoring schemes

Informal schemes can also have distinct advantages and be very successful. It often depends on the nature of the organisation and the mentors and mentees involved. However, because they are not monitored and set up in an organised way there can also be problems.

Informal mentoring occurs when one colleague helps, supports and advises another on a regular basis, without being asked by a manager or team leader.

It occurs because:

Some informal schemes can be more successful than formal ones because:

However, there are drawbacks to an informal scheme and these might include:

A mentoring scheme should be inclusive and all staff that require a mentor should be able to have access to one. It is also very difficult to evaluate informal mentoring schemes and to determine their success.

Informal mentoring schemes – advantages and disadvantages

Can you think of any advantages or more disadvantages of informal schemes?

Formal mentoring schemes

Most successful mentoring schemes are formal. This means that they are deliberately and thoughtfully set up by the organisation and recognised and known by all members of the organisation.

Mentees can gain from the professional structure that a formal scheme brings. It can clarify expectations and boundaries and help the mentee understand what to expect from the sessions.

Formal mentoring schemes – your organisation

Which type of formal scheme would be most useful in your organisation? Which types of scheme relate to the developmental needs in your workplace? What resources are available?

Final word

While there is much to admire in an informal scheme in terms of professional practice and collaboration, the formal scheme often has more advantages for the organisation.

In formal schemes, mentoring is part and parcel of both personal development and achieving the goals of the organisation. It is an essential part of managing change and developing people’s skills in relation to their job roles.

You might like to reflect on the issues arising from this section and make some notes for the future.

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