Workplace Mentoring and Coaching: Which to Choose?

May 11 2023
5 min read
Workplace Mentoring and Coaching: Which to Choose?

Workplace mentoring and coaching are so often used interchangeably, and yet, they are vastly different in many ways. It really all comes down to what you’re hoping to achieve, and what resources you have available. To help you make the best decision for your organization’s needs, we’ve broken down the key differences and the best choices out there.

First Things First: Mentoring vs. Coaching

Not to be confused, these terms have their own distinct functions. Knowing the difference is essential because it determines the kinds of courses that each can provide.  

A mentor is an expert in a particular business field who advises employees on how they can increase their productivity. Mentors might be internal, in that they work in the same company as the employee. Or, they can be external, so that they are hired for a specific engagement. 

In comparison, a coach is a professional in coaching. They do not have expertise in a certain business area (although some ex-business people become coaches). Instead, they guide an employee to discover the best way forward through a certain challenge. 

Here’s an example: Let’s say that an executive’s department is underperforming. In a mentoring engagement, the mentor would advise the employee according to the mentor’s experience. But a coach would ask the employee what they think the problem is, and help them find their way to the answer. 

Mentoring and Coaching: Mixing and Matching

So there’s a clear contrast between mentors and coaches. But which one do you pick? What’s better for a group setting or for developing certain skills between mentoring and coaching? Here are some important elements to consider:

1:1 External Mentoring 

This setup is ideal for training high-value employees in a range of skills and practices. Common L&D areas in this case include:

Because it deals with multiple areas, a 1:1 mentoring engagement lasts a relatively long time. However, if schedules do not allow for regular meetings, then the engagement can be split up according to subject. 

1:1 Internal Mentoring 

Direct internal mentoring is a good pick for a long-term commitment that builds in-depth skills. This form of mentoring can also be used for:

  • Succession planning and preparing an employee for a complex role
  • Targeted skill development that addresses critical organizational needs
  • Tending to underrepresented populations as part of a DEI initiative

A major advantage of internal mentoring is that, in some ways, the engagement can extend beyond its official dates. Since both the mentor and the employee are essentially coworkers, then it’s possible for the mentor to occasionally check up on their progress. This is made easier by a good interpersonal connection between the two, and if the mentor accepts this kind of commitment. During the initial phase of arranging the engagement, both of these issues should be covered. 

1:1 Coaching 

Personal coaching is suited for executive and executive-track employees up to and including VPs. Also, it is common for this setting to be provided to employees who are:

  • Identified as future managers
  • Newly promoted to senior positions
  • Part of an individual development plan
  • Acting on the recommendations of an assessment

Organizations tend not to provide L&D beyond VPs because, in many companies, C-level executives have been promoted from VPs and have already gone through extensive training. 

Coaching is more suitable for the “big picture” issues that senior people often face. To this end, many experts include executive coaching as a specialty. Popular L&D areas for one on one coaching are communications, internal and client management, leadership, and productivity.

Group Coaching

When teams are having difficulty being productive, it’s often because of a common weakness. Group coaching engagements can involve anywhere from 2-6 employees who all have the same learning objective. It’s a great tool for organic, cross-functional, and project-based teams. The group setting is often more efficient than individual training, and has the added benefits of peer support, accountability, and feedback.  


Workshops are more suited to larger groups of up to 15 employees. They are usually held in sessions that address a single topic that is relevant to the whole group. Workshops last between one and two hours, and so are usually hosted by mentors because there isn’t sufficient time for a typical coaching process. Like group coaching, workshops enable interactive and experiential learning. Typical subjects for workshops include:

Put Theory into Action with Growthspace    

Deciding on the best L&D setting is only the first step. Next up is figuring out what skills your teams need, finding top-rated experts, running the program, and grading the results. 

Thankfully, there’s one technology on the market today that does all of this and more. Even better, it’s highly scalable, so that you can build personalized L&D programs no matter how many employees are involved. If you want to benefit from world-class mentors and coaches in action, all managed through an intuitive platform, be sure to check out what Growthspace has to offer.

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