Flash Mentoring

What is Flash Mentoring?

Flash Mentoring is defined as a one-time meeting or discussion that enables an individual to learn and seek guidance from a more experienced person who can pass on relevant knowledge and experience. The purpose of flash mentoring is to provide a valuable learning opportunity for less experienced individuals while requiring a limited commitment of time and resources for more experienced individuals serving as mentors. While mentors and mentees can mutually decide to meet again after their flash mentoring session, the commitment is to participate only in the initial meeting.

What is the origin of flash mentoring?

The term flash mentoring was coined by K. Scott Derrick in his work with 13L, a group of mid-career federal employees passionate about leadership and leadership development. In recent years, some training professionals have used short-term mentoring approaches to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and experience, but there has not been a common language to distinguish short-term mentoring arrangements from traditional, long-term mentoring schemes. Flash mentoring was highlighted in an engaging article in Government Executive magazine.

How does flash mentoring actually work?

The standard flash mentoring session involves a one-time meeting or discussion--in person or using telecommunications technologies--between a more experienced individual (i.e., mentor) and a less experienced individual (i.e., mentee). A flash mentoring session could be held for only a few minutes to a couple of hours. The pairing of the mentor and mentee is usually done informally, without any commitment on the part of the mentor or mentee to stay in contact or meet again, although they sometimes do as an outgrowth of their discussion. There are numerous variations of flash mentoring approaches, including the following.

Sequential Flash Mentoring:  The mentee is paired with more than one mentor for a series of one-time meetings or discussions with each mentor.  For example, a mentee could participate in one-time flash mentoring sessions with four different mentors, once per month over a four-month period.  A variation of sequential flash mentoring is speed mentoring, where mentors and mentees meet for only a few minutes and then rotate to another mentor/mentee immediately afterwards, and so on.

Group Flash Mentoring:  A mentor is paired with a small group of mentees for a one-time meeting or discussion. A variation of this flash mentoring technique is group speed mentoring, where a mentor meets with a small group of mentees for, say, 20 minutes and then rotates to another group of mentees immediately afterwards, and so on.

What's the difference between informational interviewing and flash mentoring?

Informational interviewing is a one-time meeting or discussion with another individual who can provide insight and information about an occupation, a profession, an organization, or an industry. The discussion is generally not directed around the specific circumstances of the interviewee. For example, questions that might be asked at an informational interview include

- What academic training is needed for a job in the field?
- What skills and abilities do you find are most important in your job?

- How long does it usually take to move from one step to the next in this field?
- What companies or organizations are currently hiring people in this field?

Flash mentoring is a more personal and direct discussion about the specific circumstances of the interviewee (i.e., mentee). While informational interview-type questions can and are often asked at flash mentoring sessions, other more personal issues are typically discussed. Generally speaking, questions with the words "I," "me," and "my" should be avoided during informational interviews; however, a personal and direct discussion is permissible and expected during a flash mentoring session. For example, questions that might be asked during a flash mentoring session include

- What additional academic training should I consider for a job in the field?
- What additional skills and abilities do I need to acquire because of their importance in the job?

- How long should I expect it to take me to move to the next step given my experience in this field?
- What companies or organizations should I target to hire me given my background and experience?

What's the difference between situational mentoring and flash mentoring?

Situational mentoring is short term and happens for an express purpose. This type of mentoring is often project-based and involves giving advice for a specific circumstance, such as preparing a project plan or deploying a new computer system. Situational mentoring is short-lived and is often limited to the time the individuals are brought together to work on a particular project. Unlike flash mentoring, situational mentoring is not necessarily limited to a one-time meeting or discussion between the mentor and the mentee.

Flash mentoring is a one-time meeting and the range of possible discussion topics can be quite broad. The discussion could involve providing tips for resume improvements, strategies for achieving long-term career goals, advice in managing a poor performing employee, suggestions for dealing with stress and work-life balance, or referrals to other individuals who could provide guidance on personal growth and career development.

What are some examples of where flash mentoring has been used?

Flash mentoring has been implemented by different types of organizations in varying forms. Below are some excellent examples of recent flash mentoring initiatives.

Single-Session Flash Mentoring

13L / National Academy of Public Administration Flash Mentoring Program
:  In the fall of 2007, 13L recruited 30 early- and mid-career federal employees to serve as mentees; NAPA recruited 30 Academy Fellows to serve as mentors. Pairs were matched for one-hour flash mentoring sessions.

Senior Executives Association:  In the fall of 2008, 32 members of this professional association volunteered to participate in a flash mentoring program that matched senior federal executives with managers and supervisors throughout the federal government.

Metropolitan Library System Flash Mentoring:  New librarians in the Chicago metropolitan area were paired with seasoned librarians for a 2-hour mentoring session.

Federal Asian Pacific American Council's National Leadership Training Conference 2008:  Dozens of senior federal managers met individually with conference attendees for engaging flash mentoring sessions.

Sequential Flash Mentoring

Women in Technology's Mentor-Protege Program:  Mentees are matched with a different mentor during each session of the 5-month program. Each session consists of one hour of one-on-one mentoring.

Speed Mentoring

York University Speed Mentoring:  Students were given the opportunity to meet with various York alumni in concurrent 10-minute mentoring sessions.

Group Flash Mentoring

Executive Women in Government Flash Mentoring:  About a dozen senior-level women were each grouped with 3 or more mentees at separate tables during this late-afternoon event. A designated question was first asked of the mentors to discuss at their respective tables and then ad hoc questions were asked by the mentees at their tables. After about 25 minutes, the mentees rotated to a different mentor for another 25-minute mentoring session, and so on.


Kudos to members of 13L's Flash Mentoring Project Team:  Kitty Wooley, Mike O'Leary, Chris Osborne, Patricia Armstrong, and Don Jacobson. And a special thanks to the National Academy of Public Administration for assisting 13L in implementing a successful flash mentoring program.

-- K. Scott Derrick

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