Agenda Setting – The Rule of Three

a woman thinking and writing in her notebook

In a perfect world, in every mentoring meeting, the mentee would open with “I’ve got three things to talk to you about today.” It sets a scene, it’s bound with a foreseeable end, it opens up the opportunity for mentoring magic present in every human interaction. 

When the mentee starts it like this – “I’ve got three things to talk to you about today” – the mentor visibly relaxes.

The mentee has thought about this upfront – they’re committed to the process. The pressure’s off the mentor to blindly dig around for the mentee’s challenges. And there are only three things!

In general, we see mentoring catch-ups – whether a meeting, a coffee or a walk – last for 45 minutes to an hour. Three discrete agenda items fit this time perfectly – there may be, say, a 10-minute discussion for each, and also time for positive tangents that result out of them.

Three agenda items work for the mentee too.

It’s easy to come up with three things – even if it’s just while on the way to the meeting – and it’s easy to remember three things. They might correspond to three aspects of your professional life e.g:

  1. Progression,
  2. Upskilling,
  3. Building profile or network.

Or they might cast the net a bit wider:

  1. Longer-term career goals,
  2. Balancing work and personal life,
  3. A tricky working relationship they need advice on.

Ideally, this agenda would be set and shared before the meeting, so the mentor has time to think through the challenges or opportunities presented, but at the very least it can be introduced in the first few minutes. 

This agenda-setting trick taps into The Rule of Three, which dictates that a set of three things is complete – a perfect balance of brevity, pattern and rhythm. It’s satisfying, and it makes perfect sense for a mentoring meeting – which you’re often fitting in around your usual day, but which needs its own sense of occasion, and is best when it’s easy to remember. 

So try it out in your next catch-up, make it a habit to formulate and share the three things in advance. It’s a deceptively simple and flexible framework to create perfect conditions for mentoring magic.

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Lucy is the Co-founder and CEO of Mentorloop.

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