MENTORING BUILDS BRIDGES:
Even Intra-Organisationally in Remote Indigenous Communities
‘Group think’, also known as ‘concurrence seeking tendencies’, is a dynamic which occurs where cohesiveness and unanimity in a group overrules all other motivations or alternative courses of actions (Shirey, 2012). It occurs when “cohesiveness is high and when individuals in a group automatically apply the “preserve group harmony” test to decision making (Shirey, 2012). Even in groups that band together for positive reasons it may sometimes be seen that the same superglue of solidarity that bonds people together often cause mental processes to get stuck (Shirey, 2012).
Perhaps you have seen it intra-organisationally in the remote Indigenous community setting, between those based on the front line ‘out-bush’ and those in administration ‘in-town’, where a divide can sometimes be seen. This is often due to what Littlechild & Smith (2012) describe as what can be a problematic use of the term ‘professionalism’ in fields where people in caring roles; who also come to belong as a part of the community; have relatively high expectations put on them to remove any personal or emotional aspects of their work and community lives.
This can be compounding when the employees are in very isolated remote locations, have limited support, and/or form very strong community relationships. However, it is also likewise highly important for administration management to be professional and comprehensive, as ultimately most of the funding for remote Indigenous community programs comes from government bodies and tax payer dollars. Mentoring essentially supports the mentee to build bridges between different frameworks and perspectives; like these; where necessary.
The most successful teams, groups and organisations are those that promote heterogeneity and diversity, in order to push the boundaries. When everyone is ‘averagely the same’, the outcomes are also ‘average and the same’.
When an individual is bullied, outcasted or objectified in a group they belong to that has strong ‘us and them’ definitions; for challenging the ‘norm’; it can be experienced as highly distressing and can produce ‘symbolic annihilation’ amongst other forms of distress or injury. Unfortunately, both qualitatively and also anecdotally, we have seen a rise in court proceedings between employees and employers in the west over the past 15 years (Simms, 2010).
At the heart of mentoring is the breaking down of the ‘us and them’ mentality, purely because whilst the mentor may foster and instruct at the same time, there is always the gift of knowledge and that the mentee will always have something to teach the mentor about different situations; and with less role-related limitations that can sometimes occur due to basic workload and everyday work responsibilities (Causon, 2008). The purpose of Mentoring is also to ‘build up’ and promote growth for individuals, organisations and communities.
The core difference to internal supervision versus external mentoring/supervision is the frame of professional communication, which can be described as vertical or horizontal (pp 201-202, Beddoe, 2011). Vertical discourses of communication play out internally in the hierarchical structure of an organisaiton, and are often controlled by firm distributive rules which regulate power relations and the dynamics of workplaces. Horizontal lines of professional communication on the other hand, are those shared in the ‘everyday’ service practice, are more likely to be ‘practical’, and described as “oral, local, context dependent and specific, tacit, multi-laytered” (Beddoe, 2011, p 202).
The reason mentoring and external supervision; or ‘horizontal’ professional discourse; is so effective, is due to accessing ‘exclusive confidentiality’ involved in the professional relationship, and because the inherent power dynamics of an organisation are not present – allowing the mentees or staff to remove barriers to honest and robust, structured reflected learning processes (pp 200 -202, Beddoe, 2011; Davys & Beddoe, 2010; Fook & Gardner, 2007).
In other words, when a staff member is conscious that their KPI’s are being measured by the same supervisor whom may additionally mentor them, there is often decreased levels of transparency to reflecting on areas in need of development with the supervisor. It makes sense and is very normal to want to be seen in a positive light by your peers, colleagues and supervisors at work. But this can cause many people to hide ‘things that don’t understand’, or areas you could develop in.
In the setting of living and working in remote Indigenous communities in Australia, just how disparate many factors are from mainstream areas of employment are overlooked and under-studied. On one hand the employer often has the power to decide whether the employee can continue living in a community, as their role, housing and position in the community are all linked back to the organisational control. On the other hand, the risk, costs and liability for employers is also far greater, due to expansive distances, isolated locations and a difficulty in retaining staff in remote locations for long periods of time.
“When anxiety overwhelms other more positive approaches to practice, innovation may become too risky”(Beddoe, 2012, p. 201).
Outsourcing supervision and mentoring are not always appealing to organisaitons because the ‘discourse of risk and vulnerability” dominates the broader context (Beddoe, 2012). In large organisations or government programs, there has become a greater degree of anxiety around controlling the ‘identificaiton and deployment of risks’ (Beddoe, 2012). This translates as supervision and mentoring being sometimes seen as ‘risk minimisation and monitoring’ rather than more traditional forms of supervision of targeting the ‘development of practitioners’ (Beddoe, 2011 p199 – 200, Ming-Sum, 2008).
Ultimately, friction between various stakeholder approaches to similar work is born from the different epistemologies they are based on (O’Leary, Young, Wilde & Tsantefski, 2017, p. 176). The barriers between internal supervision, and the perceived risks, are most often removed with external Mentors and supervisors (Beddoe, 2012).
We are all susceptible to potentially falling into ‘group think’ or the ‘us and them mentality’, both as the perpetrator or as the victim. Group cohesiveness is very important, a positive force for good, and the most rewarding and ancient aspects of human beings. The key to avoiding falling into perpetuating the divisive and alienating part of groups, is reflective practice, support and good mentors who’ve been in similar positions that you are now. If you are in a leadership position, it is also about continual self-development in ensuring you aren’t only leading from a place of risk-aversion and/or anxiety, and accepting and promoting environments that allow the culture; or the ‘norms’; of the group you are in to be questioned in respectful ways.
Madden, S. 2018
Beddoe, L. (2012). External Supervision in Social Work: Power, Space, Risk, and the Search for Safety. Australian Social Work, 65(2), 197-213. Accessed by https://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/doi/full/10.1080/0312407X.2011.591187?scroll=top&needAccess=true
Causon, J. (2008). Burning career issues: Overcoming the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.Personnel Today, , 35. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/docview/229890574?accountid=12528
Hollander, R. D., & Steneck, N. H. (1990). Science and engineering related ethics and values studies: Characteristics of an emerging field of research. Science, Technology & Human Values, 15(1), 84-104.
O’Leary, P., Young, A., Wilde, T., & Tsantefski, M. (2017). Interagency Working in Child Protection and Domestic Violence. Australian Social Work: The Journal of the Australian Association of Social Worker’s, 71(2), 175-188.
Littlechild, B. & Smith, R. (2012). A Handbook for Interpersonal Practice in the Human Services: Learning to Work Together. London; Routledge.
Report 4, The Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors, Counselling Skills Series, Retrieved from:http://www.counsellingconnection.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/report-4-reflective-practice-supervision-self-care.pdf, March 2018
Shirey, M. R. (2012). Strategic Leadership for Organizational Change. Jona: The Journal of Nursing Administration, 42(2), 67-71. Doi: 10.1097/NNA.0b013e3182433510.
Simms J. Breaking through the us and them barrier. Director. 2010;63(7):23. http://ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=48729409&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed October 15, 2018.
Tsui, Ming-Sum. (1997). The Roots of Supervision. The Clinical Supervisor, 15(2), 191-198. https://doi.org/10.1300/J001v15n02_14