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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Applications of the Tavistock Group Relations Model in Community Mental Health and Protective Service Systems

In this paper I explore a case study of a large professional services firm employing over 50,000 staff across the globe. My focus is on those staff who live in the Australia-New Zealand region of the firm and their emotional connectedness at work. The multi-matrix structure of the organisation is aimed at connecting people through group membership, but the reality is that few staff experience these groups as real. Additionally, these groups are designed to provide containment for work aspects, such as professional development, service delivery and sales. Staff experience these aspects as being contained by personal relationships with individuals, rather than in the relatedness within or between groups. I consider the importance of emotional connectedness to work, the importance of groups as a container for emotional connectedness, and the role of management. The research has surfaced a dynamic of disconnection, manifest in experiences of isolation, nominal groups and starkly different mental maps between management and staff. I conclude that the health and vitality of the organisation is affected by an unconscious fear of not surviving which generates a dynamic of disconnectedness from the emotional experiences of others. The capacity to engage with others experiences of working in the organisation is not fully available and therefore cannot be worked with in the service of the organisation'