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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Hopes, Fears and Reality in a Merger of two Charities

The decision to merge two organisations - however much determined by economic factors - contains the hope that the new organisation will combine the strengths and overcome the weaknesses of the old ones. Those involved in making the decision often feel undermined and disstressed by the resistance and antagonism they encounter when the plan is made known. The author suggests that managers, preoccupied with planning the shape of the new organisation, fail to take sufficiently into account the anxieties that are aroused. These are concerned with threats to identity at various levels: actual job loss, old relationships, and the implications of changing organisational identity and values. Senior managers are prey to the same anxieties and may well focus their energies on omnipotent fantasies of 'getting it right' - as if thus all pain could be avoided - rather than on containing anxiety and working through the inevitable difficulties. The case-material of this paper comes from the merger of two charities working with elderly and disabled people, but the issues discussed - especially the need to attend to the human factors - apply to many other kinds of organisational change.