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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM23-QC-PP17: Transmogrification; resurfacing the soul of the organisation

Parallel Papers Session 4
Saturday 1 July 14.00pm-15.15 SAST - VENUE 2
This presentation is STREAMED: a live broadcast from the venue with no online interaction. Moderators may announce zoom 'chat' questions can be submitted. Please 'mute' your microphone in consideration of other online participants and the audio recording.

Transmogrification; resurfacing the soul of the organisation

Presenter: Dr. Louise Tonelli (main presenter) & Prof. Michelle S May


Nephesh, the soul, that which breathes, the man himself, seat of the appetites, seat of emotions, seat of passions according to Bible study tools (2023). In other words, the soul is the deep ingrained human nature we carry with ourselves in all spheres of life including organisations. The soul of business is its identity, emotion, feelings, and relationships. The place of expressiveness and essence (Auron, 2023). Disassociating from the soul (de Vries, 2014) or essence of the organisation, in a rush towards an outcome without considering the meaning of thinking and actions, individuals and organisations keep themselves in the familiar, and risk thoughtlessness (Bion, 1961/2004).

Losing the soul means, depression a feeling of incompleteness, the inability to move forward on some issues, lost memories, not being in control of our life, or feeling only half-alive according to de Vries (2014). Keeping the organisations half alive by attending to half of its nature may mean that change or transformation could be more about maintaining the status quo (Finn, 1999 Petriglieri, 2020) and unsustainable. Organisations lose an opportunity to identify old assumptions, reframe, reform, and integrate different perspectives to act upon (Willerman, 2014). In addition to defending against the chance to challenge leadership (Petriglieri, 2020).

Research purpose: The literature and practice are rife with the concept of transformation however what transformation looks like in a system is unclear. The purpose of this research was to gain an understanding about what transformation may look like in a system.

Motivation for the study: Understanding unconscious dynamics manifesting in individuals and organisations could enable dynamic leaders and managers to be aware of the importance of working with the conscious processes and the soul of the organisation. Shedding some light on why some change may be unsustainable and how sustainability could be achieved.

Research approach, design, and method: An emerging qualitative approach was applied within an interpretive framework in the meta theoretical post-positivistic paradigm of Critical Realism aligned to Hermeneutic Phenomenology. A non-probability sampling strategy, of eight individuals enabled a multi-method research strategy of face-to-face interviews and a focus group applying Interactive Qualitative analysis. Data were analysed by means of Braun and Clarke six-step thematic data analysis method, applying a Systems Psychodynamic lens.

Main findings: How individuals transform in a system would be dependent on how risk averse they are. The more risk averse individuals plan for transformation focusing on surface phenomenon to avoid conscious confrontation with real anxieties and terrors that arise in group settings. Individuals who were less risk averse were able to consider meaning of their thinking and actions, move beyond the surface level of transformation and transmogrify. Transmogrification occurs when individuals challenge the status quo, risk transmogrifying internal objects while maintaining an integrated form. These individuals were able to work with complexity and uncertainty, work with own helplessness, delay gratification and work with loss using normally developed defences.

Practical/managerial implications: Understanding these dynamics could be leveraged towards sustainability of own and organisational transformation/transmogrification. Leaders could be coached on why some change may be unsustainable.

Contributions/value added: The blanket concept of transformation is challenged. A new concept of transmogrification linked to transformational process, yet distinct from these is presented.

Keywords: Transformation, Transmogrification, Systems Psychodynamics, Organisational change, Soul of Organisations

Learning Objectives

Participants will be able to:

  1. Distinguish between Transformation and Transmogrification
  2. Recognize unconscious dynamics manifesting in individuals and organisations
  3. Critique why change may be unsustainable when transforming and how sustainability may be achieved.

Biographical Summary

Louise is a lecturer in the department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology. She has served on the departmental ethics committee since 2015. She supervises Internships, Master's and Doctoral students. Her field of interest is in Systems Psychodynamics in which she completed her PhD and runs research projects. Currently she is chair of the Interest Group of Systems Psychodynamics of Organisations (IGSPO) in SIOPSA.