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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

From Group to Organisation: Engaging in Organisational Life, Redrawing Boundaries and Relationships

As a consultant to small organisations I have become increasingly aware of the difficulties and often, reluctance of managers, teams, staff to engage in organisational tasks and roles. Change such as restructuring, the loss of a leader or manager, moving premises, the death of a client, political change or having to work in a new context is often experienced as a 'traumatic' event. The resulting anxiety leads to regressive behaviour, inhibiting the organisation from meeting new demands. There appears to be a far greater expression of vulnerability and a tendency to personalise such events. Members may be put in touch with earlier traumas in their own lives - such as rejection, abandonment and abuse, leaving them feeling like a group of individuals more concerned with managing their own anxiety, relationships and self interest than the organisation, its task and purpose. This reluctance to engage has been explained in terms of the increased complexity of organisational life, the destructive nature of organisations as well as a preoccupation with the self or 'me-ness'. The paper suggests that organisations can get stuck into defensive pathological behaviour which unless worked through, can be repeated and replayed leaving the organisation in an impasse and unable to engage with the work. Case material will be presented to illustrate the above suggesting that there is a need not only to work through these defensive processes but also to review and question existing assumptions about ways of thinking, acting and organising .