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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Management Training Without Social Defenses: A Case Study of Case Studies

There is currently widespread agreement about the importance of appropriate education and training for those who both aspire to and hold posts of managerial responsibility within the educational system. Precisely specifying what constitutes a valid and appropriate educational or training experience is not so easy. The policies and proposals of the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) in the UK do not always seem to recognise the complexities of the processes involved in organising courses and learning experiences but are embedded within a rationalistic discourse where objectives, standards and outcomes only need to be stated clearly and all will be well. 'Clear' is an overused word in TTA documents.Using an alternative discourse within the psychoanalytic tradition, Hirschhorn (1990) offers a more reality based analysis. He examines management training as a ritual,an organised system of behavior whose manifest and covert functions contradict each other. Ostensibly organizations support management training so that their managers can become more effective as supervisors, planners, and decision makers. Yet learning about management can itself promote significant anxiety. Behind the problems of management there frequently lie difficult interpersonal problems as managers find it hard to evaluate employees, confront peers, or correct superiors. Paradoxically management training frequently conceals and disguises this interpersonal dimension by offering managers a set of techniques and methods with which they can in fact bypass the interpersonal domain. The trainers promise the managers that they will be in control when they master the methods for evaluating subordinates or negotiating with peers. But this promise of control is nothing but the promise that the manager will not be surprised by anxiety, by feelings of danger and uncertainty. (106) Through a case study on insubordination he defends and elaborates upon this claim and demonstrates the powerful collusive dynamics at work for those engaged with management training and education. Schein (1987), from a very different starting point, describes his experiences of a 'shocking revelation' that he and other colleagues in academia placed little credibility upon professional journals as a source of research results for informing their own classroom teaching about management. Schein and his colleagues were relying instead upon their first hand experience as consultants or practitioners. Schein goes on to describe the setting up and running of a 'clinical seminar'. Our goal was to bring live case material into the seminar and to discuss together how our 'on-line' experience could be converted into credible, reliable research data. How did we each manage this transition in our own head, and how could we communicate our insights to colleagues? (14) In this paper I want to describe and reflect upon a 'clinical seminar' which is modelled upon the insights of both Schein and Hirschhorn. Live case study material is presented by the participants as a means to helping them solve their own management problems. The challenge was to run management training which did not reinforce those same defences which lie at the very heart of the problems the participants were most anxious to solve. The course, Clinical Approaches to Management, is attended by mid-career professionals in various branches of education and is part of the masters programme in the Research and Graduate School of Education, University of Southampton.The term clinical deliberately evokes associations with a medical consultation: diagnosis of (organisational) symptoms prognosis of likely outcomes if no action is taken prescriptions of more effective courses of action. The initial diagnosis and prognosis is made by the presenter through a briefing paper given to the participants in advance of the case study presentation. Through the process of presenting their particular case study, described in more detail below, each participant acquires deeper insight into their own situation from which they can construct for themselves more effective courses of action. The focus of the course, therefore, is on current understandings about organisations and how individuals locate themselves and make sense of their lives within them.Most of us spend much of our lives within a variety of organisational contexts; life in organisations is often experienced as complex and baffling, particularly as the pace of change endlessly quickens. Insight into both inter and intra-psychic processes, stimulated largely by psychodynamic theories, can be helpful to those in management roles who need to be aware of the different perspectives and psychological contracts that those in other roles construct for themselves. Making sense of what happens involves making sense of the behaviour of others.