'Beyond the Face before you: considering the internal dynamics of your organisation

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'Beyond the Face before you: considering the internal dynamics of your organisation
  16 Counselling at Work Spring 2010  T  he workplace counsellor has the tricky jobof trying to work out what seems to begoing on while working with the client andfactoring in the dynamics of the wider workplaceof the client. This type of counselling is similar to –but significantly different from –the work of thecounsellor in independent private practice. In private practice, which is complicated enoughin the first place, the core dynamics triggered bythe client’s material revolve around the client andthe counsellor (discounting for the moment anytransferential ‘guests’ who may have flitted intothe consulting room of course!). But in workplacesettings significant additional frames of reference –I have called them ‘world views’ –intrude tocomplicate the dynamics involved and it is thiswider array of perspectives and dynamics whichthis article seeks to highlight.Four such world views are briefly considered: (i) that of the workplace counsellor  , (ii) that of the client  , (iii) the ‘world’ of the organisation and (iv) the‘world’ of the  sponsors of the workplace counsellingprovision (ie the managers, the organisation’s leaders,the ‘administration’ of that organisation). Figure 1 depicts each of these as parts of a systemof dynamics that will be active during workplacecounselling. While it will be the interactions betweenthe client and their counsellor that are at theforefront of discussions about workplace counselling,the other two factors may often be paidinsufficient attention, even though they exert aninfluence on the counselling provided, and set thecontext for counselling within the organisation.It should be noted that each of these perspectiveswill apply differing sets of criteria to assess theeffectiveness and utility of the workplace counsellingprovided. It follows that what will be looked for askey ‘deliverables’ will differ depending on which ofthese four perspectives is highlighted. Furthermoreeach of these perspectives will be biased in whatthey look for and see as important and significant.Invariably, each of the four perspectives will havefiltered out – and thus ‘missed’ or have downplayed– data which one of the other perspectives wouldconsider to be significant about the workplacecounselling being provided. What may be less obvious though is how thesedifferent worlds may crash and collide as theyinterface with each other, resulting in dynamicsand types of counselling issues which may be verydifferent from those experienced in privatecounselling engagements. Collisions of meaning,of vested interests, of career vulnerability and ofexpectations about what the workplace counsellorwill ‘do’ or ‘deliver’ for the client. The main point ofall this is a reminder of just how complex, ‘confused’,fuzzy and incomplete workplace counselling will,invariably and necessarily, be 1,2 . It’s tricky!So … what about each of these four worldviews, perspectives, frames of reference? The four world views outlined 1 World view of ‘the client’ The focus here will be pretty much as with manyclients: What do they want? Why might they haveelected to want to meet a counsellor in the firstplace? And what are their expectations about sucha venture? However, in workplace counsellingother dimensions come into play. Have they beensent, perhaps? And could they be attending underduress? In addition, colleagues may know thatthey are seeing the staff counsellor or that theyhave visited the medical department, occupationalhealth or perhaps that they have been sent to theEAP. The client may also wonder if they will bequizzed by their boss on their return and whatthey should say, if asked. Finally, attending thecounsellor may have implications for their jobsecurity, promotion prospects and maintainingtheir sense of identity and reputation within the www.bacpworkplace.org.uk Beyond the face before you: considering the internal dynamics of your organisation Dr Michael Walton introduces four ‘world views’ Dr Michael Walton is a director of Peoplein Organisations Ltd anda visiting fellow at theCentre for LeadershipStudies, University of Exeter Business School.Google ‘Dr MichaelWalton’ for more details. Figure 1: Four ‘world views’ impacting onworkplace counselling The workplace counsellor The client The organisation as a systemThe management and ‘administration’of the organisation  Counselling at Work Spring 2010 17 organisational dynamics organisation at large. While it will usually have beenemphasised that making use of staff counsellingwill have no effect on such matters, the threat, realor imagined, that it will do so, may neverthelessremain in the mind of the client. 2 World view of ‘the workplace counsellor’ The workplace counsellor’s primary orientation islikely to be that of engaging appropriately withthe issues presented by the client: ie What do theissues seem to represent and be about? How isthe client presenting (and how is that changing,session by session)? What are the emergent dynamicsetc as the counselling proceeds? Working with theclient, the counsellor’s personal orientation may wellemphasise humanistic, existential, psychodynamicora more integrative approach. In turn this will beinfluenced by the orientation of their supervisorand their continuing professional training anddevelopment. Interestingly Grey has cautioned that ‘spending allone’s time with individual clients can lead to a lackof awareness of the processes of the organisationwhich provide the opportunities for the clients’particular neurotic, existential or psychotic imperativesto emerge’. The organisational context exerts asignificant influence, not just on the administrativeside of counselling, but on the interpersonaldimension as well. He goes on to propose thatworkplace counsellors need to be aware of, andmanage, such influence effectively, otherwise‘pathology can be chased around the system and organisations may never be aware that thecounselling they have set up is part of the problemand not part of the solution’ 3,4 .Thus the workplace counsellor has a significantadditional responsibility to integrate the contextualorganisational influences with the personal client-oriented material presented by their clients. To dothis the counsellor needs to have acquired a bodyof knowledge and experiences about organisationallife, internal politics, business practices andprocedures, the deployment of positional powerand corporate decision-making. In other words,they have to become ‘savvy’ about working withina corporate setting as well as retaining their role asa counsellor. While many workplace counsellorshave previously worked in other roles withinorganisations –and thus may be ‘organisationallysavvy’ –this is not the universal situation and thuswe may need to do more to enable otherwiseexcellent counsellors to become readily equippedfor the application of their skills in workplacesettings. Readers are invited to suggest the waysand means through which this could best beaccomplished in addition to existing initiatives. 3 World view of ‘managers and leaders’(of the ‘administration’) The sponsors of the workplace counselling have avested interest in what goes on, or else they wouldnot have supported and funded this service in thefirst place. What can be unclear is how they willassess its value to the business as a whole anddetermine its cost effectiveness. So the workplacecounsellor should expect that, in some way oranother, information about usage, types of issuesraised, performance improvement and suchlike will be of interest to those sponsoring the service.This is where organisational politics may exert aninfluence and power plays between executivesmay become apparent and influence the shape of the service provided.How any information can ethically andappropriately be elicited needs to be examinedand disclosed. One simple approach is to set outup-front what and how any information will beshared so that sponsors, potential clients, counsellorset al all know what and how any information willbe fed back to the organisation. Ideally, clarityabout such matters can best be done during thediscussions about introducing workplace counsellingin the first place. Transparency about what, if, andhow information about the workplace counsellingservice is to be provided enables managers –andthe ‘administration’ at large –to position and placethe function of workplace counselling within theirorganisation. 4 World view of ‘the organisation’ (as anentity in its own right) The focus here is on the unique culture and toneof the organisation and its constituent departmentsand sections and so is quite different to the third‘world view’ outlined above. These cultural ‘tones’will be influenced by the primary work theorganisation was established to accomplish, themix of personnel doing the work and the history www.bacpworkplace.org.uk The workplace counsellor has a significant responsibility to integrate the contextualorganisational influenceswith the personal client-oriented materialpresented by their clients     ‘ ‘  18 Counselling at Work Spring 2010 and heritage of the organisation. For instance anorganisation’s culture and traditions may haveinstitutionalised particular ways of working andhave defined how certain topics are addressed.Embedded too within an organisation’s culture willbe unique patterns of behaviour that may havelittle to do with work accomplishment but a greatdeal to do with maintaining the ethos of thatparticular organisation or the power profile of a particular function.Some of the ways of working may be maintainedas defences against anxiety 5 and some becausethose in positions of power do so to maintain theirauthority 6-12 . In factoring-in such matters theworkplace counsellor needs to be able to makeuse of frameworks that can help him or her relateclient material to the organisation’s internal dynamics.Frameworks such as the Galbraith Model 13 , theMcKinsey 7S Framework 14 and Harrison’s model 15 are very helpful in this respect. For example, the Galbraith Model sees anorganisation as a system in which each of his fiveconstituent parts ie (i) the work to be accomplished,(ii) the personnel needed to complete the tasksrequired, (iii) the reward and payment arrangements,(iv) the information and decision-making proceduresand (v) the organisational structure itself all needto ‘fit’ so that the organisation as a whole is able tofunction effectively in an integrated and mutuallysupportive manner. A mismatch between any ofthese elements is likely to generate issues, problemsand tensions, which could result in organisationaldistress and a basis for consequent workplacecounselling. The 7S Framework similarly suggeststhat an effective organisation is one where theStrategy, Structure, Systems, Staff, Style and Skillsare all integrated with that organisation’s core Sharedvalues and where each of these seven dimensionsis mutually congruent.Harrison’s model, on the other hand, looks atorganisations in terms of their predominant culturalorientation and in this respect is quite differentfrom the two outlined above. Is the organisationfor instance primarily oriented towards (a) taskachievement and competence, or (b) displays of power and decisiveness, or perhaps (c) roles,structure, order and control or maybe it is essentially(d) relationships focused? Again, mismatchesbetween a staff member and the predominantcultural tone of an organisation in these terms can give rise to profound distress –and visits to a work-based counsellor! So, a knowledge of frameworks such as thesecan be immensely helpful in enabling the workplacecounsellor to get a better grip of what might be‘going on’ in the organisations in which they areworking. The interested reader may want to reviewtheir organisation in these terms and see whatemerges. The results could be quite interesting and revealing! Questions and challenges posedof the workplace counsellor Given these different world views, the counsellorworking in an organisation has some interestingquestions to resolve, among them, the followingthree key considerations: 1 Who is the client? Is it the person before them? Is it the organisation,their senior counselling colleagues, the EAP orindeed the departmental manager responsible forcounselling provision? To whom do/should theyrespond, and in which ways? 2 What constitutes success? In an organisation setting how is the success andutility of workplace counselling to be assessed?Will it be from client satisfaction feedback – likethe ‘happy sheets’ you are given on trainingcourses. Will it be from the numbers of clientsseen, ie the more, the merrier? Could it relate toincreased levels of attendence and thus a reductionin the number of days ‘lost’ each year? Or could itbe, as posed by one of the reviewers, a reductionin ‘presenteeism’ and an increase in heightenedlevels of positive engagement while at work? Inaddition, perhaps the success of the service could bebased on prescient summaries of ‘what needs tochange’, which have been distilled from client work. 3 Clarifying the role of the workplacecounsellor In private practice the counsellor is solely acounsellor, but in the workplace the role is lessclearly defined. For instance, is the workplacecounsellor also a type of internal consultant, aworkplace mentor to their clients, a ‘change agent’and –possibly –a management spy!?Questionssuch as security of employment, pay levels, careerprogression, reporting relationships, internalmanagement etc arise when considering the roleand internal status of the workplace counsellor –questions that do not feature in the work of anindependent private counsellor. Collisions of meaning,vulnerability and expectations The emergent picture is one of complexity and onethat the workplace counsellor needs to be able tonavigate for the benefit of their client, themselfand the employing organisation. It may be worth organisational dynamics www.bacpworkplace.org.uk  Counselling at Work Spring 2010 19 organisational dynamics noting that the counsellor in the workplace isvulnerable to being manipulated by the client, (i) through the disclosure, by the client, of falseperspectives about the organisation, mischievouslyattributed to the counsellor, and (ii) throughpersonally being organisationally naïve. Thus it isnecessary –in my view –that the workplacecounsellor acquires a sound appreciation of thedynamics of organisational behaviour, has specificknowledge –and understandings –of the history,traditions and structure of the organisation inwhich they are working, that they have modelsand frameworks about business life to use to helpthem make sense of presented client material –and all of this in addition to their core counsellingskills and experience.The potential for a collision between the four‘worlds’ illustrated in figure 1 is increased unlessthe counsellor is aware of the differing bases andperspectives about workplace counselling eachmay hold. Thus it is advantageous for theworkplace counsellor to proactively reflect abouthow their work relates to the needs, sensitivitiesand expectations not only of the client but also ofthe sponsors of the counselling services and withregard to the cultural heritage and history of theorganisation. There is also considerable potentialfor confusion, mishaps, unexpected and unwantedoutcomes from the counselling should thecomplexity already noted not be recognised andworked with appropriately by the counsellor. A keyto maintaining a sufficient grasp of, and on, thesecomplexities is managing the expectations of thoseinvolved and maintaining clear boundaries aboutwhat is and is not appropriate, acceptable, ethicaletc from a workplace counsellor. This can befacilitated though repositioning the position andfunction of the workplace counsellor utilising thefour ‘world views’ outlined. Keeping safe and focused as aworkplace counsellor –some waysthrough the mist In summary, working through such a complex webof inter-relationships and dynamics can be easedthrough defining clear boundaries about the role,position and political neutrality of the workplacecounsellor in the organisation. Establishing –andpublicising –clear expectations helps clients to seehow and where workplace counselling fits withinthe power structure of the organisation. Suchtransparency about what is on offer, and itslimitations, also reminds sponsors and managers of the role and place of workplace counselling intheir business. In working with the complex mix of matterssurrounding your work as a workplace counsellortherefore, you may wish to look beyond ‘the facebefore you’, beyond what you are initiallypresented with, and beyond what you initially mayview as the key client issues, because of the widerorganisational dynamics influencing your workwhich have been briefly noted in this article.  References 1 Carroll M. Workplace counselling. London: SagePublications Ltd; 1996.2 Carroll M, Walton M. Handbook of counselling inorganisations. London: Sage Publications Ltd; 1997.3 Gitterman A, Miller I. The influence of theorganization on clinical practice. Clinical Social WorkJournal. 1989; 17(2).4 Kahn J, Langlieb A. Mental health and productivityin the workplace. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass; 2003.5 Menzies I. The functioning of social systems as adefence against anxiety. London: Tavistock Institute ofHuman Relations; 1977.6 Hogan R. Personality and the fate of organisations.London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; 2007.7 Owen D. The hubris syndrome: Bush, Blair and theintoxification of power. London: Politico’s Publishing;2007.8 Schwartz H. Narcissistic process and corporatedecay. New York: New York University Press; 1990.9 Walton M. Leadership toxicity – an inevitableaffliction of organisations? Organisations and People.February 2007; 19-27.10 Walton M. In consideration of a toxic workplace.In: Kinder A, Hughes R, Cooper C. (eds) Employeewell-being support. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons;2008.11 Walton M. Monitoring and managing success:avoiding the CEO ‘self-destruct’ option. Global CEO.August 2009; 9-13.12 Wright L, Smye M. Corporate abuse. New York:Macmillan; 1996.13 Galbraith J. Organizational design. Reading, Mass:Addison-Wesley; 1977.14 Peters T, Waterman R. In search of excellence.New York: Harper and Row; 1982.15 Harrison R. Understanding your organization’scharacter. Harvard Business Review. 1972. www.bacpworkplace.org.uk Establishing –andpublicising –clearexpectations helps clients to see how and where workplacecounselling fits in within the powerstructure of theorganisation     ‘ ‘       P      H      O      T      O      D      I      S      C       /       G      E      T      T      Y
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