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From Accidentally Intentional to Intentionally Intentional

This article comes from Kafi Joseph, a former Army officer who currently works for Accenture and has wide experiences in sports, military, manufacturing, and strategy teams across multiple countries; crafted logistics plans to optimize operations, providing timely support to customers in austere locations; and brainstormed with and learned how to create value for clients with some of the best consulting minds. Listen her ideas on the importance of using frameworks when mentoring.

If you've ever spent some time working with me professionally, you'd know – and maybe even attest to it – that I'm all about frameworks. Honestly, they are my JAM! Frameworks help us ‘sense make’. That is, they offer a systematic approach to dissecting, understanding, and addressing complex tasks. They don't just simplify complex theories into digestible bits, but also serve as a north star, offering guidance, consistency, and efficiency. But let's be clear: I don't believe in blindly adhering to a framework. What truly excites me is how frameworks provide a starting point, a shared language, a common ground. From there, we can and should innovate, adapt and even reshape these structures to fit our unique circumstances. To me, frameworks are all about being able to reach back to tried-and-tested (often well-researched) wisdom, and then chart our own course from there based on our experience.

I can think back to walking into the classroom and spotting that SWBAT* statement in the upper left corner of the chalkboard which instantly set my agenda for the day. From being introduced to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Johari’s Window in high school JROTC to grad school encounters with Kotter’s 8-Step Model, the trusty SWOT Analysis, and the intricate “V” of the systems development lifecycle, I've danced with many a framework. But if I were to pick a favorite? Hands down, it’s Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development from my plebe year leadership course – it’s the Swiss Army knife of teams and groups for me and you’ll see why later!

Enter the Military Mentors eMMissary Fellowship. To me, this program is a game-changer for mentors. It takes us from being "accidentally intentional" mentors—where we apply what we’ve observed and experienced (and maybe even wanted to change) about our mentors—to becoming "intentionally intentional" mentors. By this, I mean mentors who are rooted in the fundamentals of mentorship, backed by science, research and a substantial body of work coupled with our observances and experiences. Our mentees deserve more than just a mentor; they deserve mentors who are purposefully excellent. So, you can bet I was beyond thrilled as we learned about mentorship frameworks!

In discussing mentorship frameworks, I'd like to zero in on specific models that outline the stages or evolution of a mentor-mentee relationship. For added depth, I'll draw parallels with that personal favorite: Tuckman's Stages of Small Group Development. After all, a mentor and mentee essentially form a small, dynamic group, don't they? 

Framework #1: Kathy Kram – Four Stages of a Mentoring Relationship. Kram expanded the understanding of mentoring, illustrating that it serves not only as a career development tool but also as a critical factor in personal development. Given her emphasis that mentors provide more than just career guidance, Kram outlines two major functions of mentoring: career-related support and psychosocial support, the latter of which addresses emotional and interpersonal aspects of the mentee's development. Kram also acknowledges that the mentoring relationship is not static and can move back and forth between stages.

Key Themes

Stages Summarized

  • Sequential development of the mentoring relationship.

  • Emotional and career-related support throughout the stages.

  • Transformation of the relationship over time.

  • Initiation – involves the establishment of the mentor-mentee relationship, often characterized by enthusiasm and high expectations.

  • Cultivation – the relationship deepens as both parties invest time and emotional energy, leading to significant learning and growth.

  • Separation – is when the mentor and mentee prepare to part ways, often due to career changes or other life events.

  • Redefinition  – the relationship evolves into a more equal, possibly peer-like, connection.

Framework #2: Baylor University's Community Mentoring for Adolescent Development – Stages of a Mentoring Relationship. Baylor University's Handbook on Community Mentoring for Adolescent Development is widely cited and leveraged by organizations developing mentorship programs, including in our own Military Mentors program. It focuses on holistic growth in adolescents by pairing them with community mentors. Alongside academic guidance, the program emphasizes emotional and social well-being. The mentoring relationship generally goes through several stages: initiation, growth, maturity, and sometimes closure, each with its unique dynamics and challenges.

Key Themes

Stages Summarized

  • Importance of Mentor-Mentee Compatibility

  • Goal Setting and Problem-Solving Approaches

  • Communication Strategies and Importance of Communication

  • Closure Techniques

  • Acquaintance – mentor and mentee get acquainted, focusing on shared interests and goals. Building trust is crucial at this stage, which may last one to six meetings.

  • Initial Expectations – mentor and mentee agree upon procedures, expectations, and initial goals. Communication becomes deeper, and this stage usually lasts one to three months.

  • Accomplishing Goals – the focus turns to achieving objectives and fostering intrinsic growth. New challenges are presented, and the mentee starts to exercise self-discipline.

  • Closure & Redefinition – the relationship comes to a close with redefinition and follow-up.

Framework #3 – Tuckman's Stages of Small Group Development. Bruce Tuckman's theory outlines the phases of group development as Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. These stages describe how groups form, confront conflicts, establish norms, work efficiently, and eventually disband. 

Key Themes

Stages Summarized

  • Sequential development of group dynamics.

  • Conflict resolution and norm establishment.

  • Group performance and eventual disbandment.

  • Forming – stage where group members get to know each other.

  • Storming – stage characterized by conflicts and struggles for dominance.

  • Norming – stage where the group establishes its rules and norms.

  • Performing – stage where the group functions efficiently toward its goals.

  • Adjourning – where the group disbands after achieving its objectives.

I introduced Tuckman’s model to highlight the similarities between the dynamics of small groups and mentorship relationships. Consider it an anchor point to remember that mentorship stages coexist with group development stages. What's often missing from mentorship frameworks is the "storming" stage, a crucial phase in group development that prepares teams for inevitable conflict. If you're not expecting some discord, it can be unsettling, but foreknowledge helps you navigate it smoothly.

Comparison of Tuckman’s Group Development Stages to Mentorship Stages












Initial Expectations



Accomplishing Goals




Closure and Redefinition

The only other mentorship work that even hints at "storming," thus far in my formal mentorship journey, is Dym's "On Mentoring," which outlines common pitfalls in mentoring, such as imposing – where mentors impose their views on mentees, vicious cycles – the risk of evolving negative patterns that leave both parties discouraged, and emotional transference—stages like honeymoon (idealizing the mentor), disillusionment (realizing the mentor’s limitations), and reality (recognizing both positive & negative traits in the mentor).

Which all leads me back to why I value frameworks so highly. Armed with an understanding of the stages and the potential pitfalls, a mentor can be intentional and artful in managing the relationship. Now, as mentors in addition to the actual mentoring, we must take the time to coach and share what typically happens in the mentorship relationship and why it happens. In doing so, both we and our mentees are more likely to be on the same page about these stages, we can communicate more effectively, strategize together, and maintain a productive relationship while both learning and growing, thus avoiding unnecessary hurdles.

In conclusion, embracing frameworks in mentorship, or any leadership role, is not about boxing yourself into rigid structures. It's more about having a roadmap, foreseeing the journey, and being ready to adapt as needed. As we venture through the world of mentorship, let's arm both ourselves and those we mentor with the insights and structure that frameworks offer to ensure that each mentorship experience is not only fulfilling but also transformative.



  1. Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384–399. 

  2. Kram, K. E. (1985). Mentoring at work: Developmental relationships in organizational life. University Press of America.

  3. Townsend, R., & Watson, C. (2004). Baylor University’s community mentoring for adolescent development trainer’s manual.

  4. Dym, C - On Mentoring

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