Agenda Setting – The Rule of Three

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In a perfect world, in every mentoring meeting, the mentee would begin with “I’ve got three things to talk to you about today.” It sets a scene, it’s bound with a foreseeable end, and 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 is off the mentor to blindly dig around for the mentee’s challenges. And there are only three things!

a woman thinking and writing in her notebook

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 resulting from 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. 

Agenda-Setting for Mentoring

Mentoring is a powerful tool for personal and professional growth, allowing individuals to gain valuable insight and guidance from experienced mentors. One of the keys to a successful mentoring relationship is to have a well-structured agenda in place. We’ll dive deeper into this and discuss how to utilize the Rule of Three—a simple, yet highly effective principle—in agenda-setting for mentoring, ensuring that both mentor and mentee make the most of their valuable time together.

The Rule of Three

When setting an agenda for a mentoring session, it’s essential to have clear and concise objectives to guide the conversation. The Rule of Three suggests focusing on a maximum of three main points or objectives, which allows for more in-depth exploration and discussion around each. By concentrating on three key topics, mentors and mentees can maintain an engaging and productive conversation without feeling overwhelmed by too many ideas.

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 often fit in around your usual day, but which needs its own sense of occasion, and is best when it’s easy to remember. 

The Rule of Three has long been regarded as an effective strategy in communication, as it allows for better retention and understanding of information. By applying this principle to mentoring agendas, mentors and mentees can ensure a more focused and meaningful dialogue throughout their sessions.

Harnessing the Power of Three in Your Mentoring Program

Implementing the Rule of Three in your mentoring program is a relatively simple process. Start by asking your mentee to identify three key areas of focus or development that they would like to address in their sessions. These should be specific and actionable topics that can be addressed during the course of the mentoring relationship.

Once the mentee has established their three main focus areas, the mentor can assist in developing detailed objectives and action plans around these topics. Additionally, refining and revisiting these three areas throughout the mentoring program will help track progress and ensure the continued alignment of goals.

The Benefits of Utilizing the Rule of Three for Mentoring

There are numerous benefits to applying the Rule of Three in your mentoring agenda, including:

  • Increased focus and depth in discussions relating to the mentee’s development
  • Better retention of information and ideas for both mentor and mentee
  • Enhanced goal-setting and action planning around specific areas of growth
  • More efficient use of both mentor and mentee’s time, with a streamlined and manageable agenda

Structuring Mentoring Sessions with the Rule of Three

When structuring a mentoring session, it’s crucial to start and end each meeting purposefully. Begin with introductions and updates, making sure that both parties are ready to embark on a productive conversation. Following the Rule of Three, divide the session into three distinct segments dedicated to each focus area.

Make sure to allocate time for self-reflection, questions, and feedback within each segment. Finally, conclude the meeting by summarizing the discussions and outlining any follow-up actions required. This will ensure that mentoring sessions remain focused, effective, and consistent with the objectives of the mentorship.

How Self-Reflection Can Maximise Your Mentoring Agenda

Self-reflection is a crucial component of any successful mentoring relationship, as it allows both mentor and mentee to evaluate their progress and identify areas of improvement. Encourage your mentee to engage in regular self-reflection exercises, both during and outside of mentoring sessions.

By incorporating self-reflection into setting the mentoring agenda, the mentee can gain deeper insights into their progress, adapt their goals and objectives as needed, and make the most of their mentoring relationship.

Tip: Spend 15-20 mins reflecting on your recent successes, failures, goals, aspirations etc. Here are 10 questions to help you reflect on the past 12 months. If that’s not enough, we’ve got over 70+ questions you can ask your mentor or mentee to help enrich your next agenda.

Respecting Our Mentoring Partner’s Time and Effort

Mentoring is a mutually beneficial relationship, with both mentor and mentee investing time and effort to support one another’s growth. By adhering to the Rule of Three and consistently maintaining a focused mentoring agenda, both parties can ensure maximum value from the time and energy they invest.

Respecting and valuing each other’s contributions is key to fostering a successful, enduring mentoring partnership. By implementing the Rule of Three in your mentoring agenda, you’ll promote clear communication, focused objectives, and a mutually beneficial mentoring experience – and have better conversations overall.

So try it out in your next catch-up, and 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 Lloyd
Lucy Lloyd
Lucy believes the right connection can change your life, and she's CEO and Cofounder of Mentorloop. She also loves bushwalking, family & friends, and great food & wine.

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