Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mentoring & knitting

I like it when the different bits of my world collide and the ideas I'm dealing with in one part of my life help me to think about things that are happening in other parts.

If you live in NSW and are interested in knitting, it's highly likely you will have been caught up, however marginally, in the brouhaha around the NSW Knitters' Guild and its current elections. A number of people have written about what's happening, from various points of view. I'm marginal to the central issues and have little of worth to add to the specific issue under debate, but I have been thinking more generally about craft guilds and what they might achieve.

On Monday at work I attended a presentation from someone I admire who has been doing research on what constitutes good mentoring. I was struck by the similarities between the objectives of the Knitters' Guild and the reasons organisations use mentoring programs. Notions such as 'encourage and promote the craft of hand knitting, crochet and associated crafts', 'provide a forum for the exchange and and provision of information' and 'provide an opportunity for education in the craft'* could, with some changes of object, be the goals of most mentoring programs.

The presentation outlined a number of models of mentoring. Mostly, mentoring is rather instrumental and is characterised by a transfer of information, techniques and skills from someone considered more expert to someone who is less expert. It's a useful model if you are absolutely sure of the information, if the mentors don't want to learn and change, and if the context in which the transmission of knowledge occurs is static and unchanging. In short, it reinforces the values and practices of an unchanging organisation and produces clones of the mentors.

What most organisations strive for with mentoring is a more developmental model. This takes account of the differences among the people to be mentored and tries to build upon their skills and abilities. In acknowledging this range of diverse abilities the mentors often have to be flexible and empathic, and the learning becomes a mutual experience. Most participants - both mentors and those who are mentored, are more satisfied with this experience and say they learn from it.

But the person giving the presentation commented that even this developmental model often was geared to reproducing the current dominant values and practices of the organisation. She argued that if the organisation was wishing to change, or to adapt itself to new ways of working (eg new technologies; a more diverse group of participants) then it had to build further on the developmental model of mentoring. She argued the need for 'tempered radicals' - people who are expert, experienced, dedicated and resilient, but also have enough critical distance from their organisation to identify the need for change.

So that's what I want in my ideal world - not only for my workplace but for the NSW Knitters' Guild. I want people who are 'tempered radicals'. People who are wise, aware of the need to change and open to it, able to withstand challenge, and ultimately dedicated to the long-term good of the organisation.

* Objects from the Constitution of the Knitters Guild NSW Inc


Sel and Poivre said...

This post summarizes a dozen or so years of volunteer work I undertook with several community organizations. What an elegant description of what it takes to nurture and grow an organization with mentoring not only on the pages of its bylaws but in the hearts and minds of its members.

I hope you get your wish!

jp said...

Such a fascinating post and the presentation sounds wonderful and also relevent to my every day work not just the guild.

Interestingly my role has been to be a change agent for the last few years opening my team up to behaving and working together differently than they have in the past.

That natural ability for reflection in context, for facilitating conflicting ideas, for understanding that all things must change is hard to find and also to unlock.

Thanks for sharing the experience.

M-H said...

What a wise and thoughtful post. Thanks Lyn.

Lynne said...

I share your desire for an ideal world.

Rose Red said...

I think you probably should have been giving the presentation, rather than attending it.

Let's hope, with perseverance, things change in the ways we'd like.

DrK said...

the world is in need of a great many more tempered radicals i think. i hope someone from the guild read this post lyn and has the courage for honest self reflection. thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

This is a very insightful post Lyn.

I think sadly the Guild may well have lost two tempered radicals over the past twelve months, and more's the pity.

Ruby Girl said...

How nicely said. If only the powers that be in the Guild would read this, then hopefully they may change their thoughts for the better of everyone.