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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Managing Self and Relatedness to Others in a Global Organisation

Large scale organisations with workforces spanning the globe present particular problems of relatedness for individuals and groups. In this paper I explore the experience of emotional connectedness in a region of a global organisation. Individuals work across boundaries of geography, culture, industry sectors, service lines, clients, projects and social networks. To what or whom do staff feel connected? Research on these issues and questions has revealed experiences of profound isolation and a dynamic of disconnection. The primary task of the organisation is to provide consulting services to other large organisations around the work. Consultants are primarily rewarded for their utilisation and sales. They work on client sites in project teams whose members are constantly changing and the projects are typically short-term. Survival of the organisation becomes the direct responsibility of every staff. Management are aware of the remote contact they have with staff working on clients sites and in response have constructed an elaborate structure of groups. A multi-matrix structure identifies streams of services, client accounts, and professions. Any individual may be a member of up to eight groups simultaneously. Research into individuals experience of these groups revealed that few ever met in person, nor did any group realise management's intention of connecting staff with each other. Staff experienced quite opposite effects.I present three working hypotheses: 1) that the organisational structure is a fantasy of groups and their relatedness which conceals that the real connections are between individuals engaged in securing their own survival; 2) that formal groups are nominal and not real because they would connect people consciously with the anxieties associated with feeling isolated in the pressure to survive; and, 3) that individualism is supported and rewarded by management in order to keep themselves at arms length from the day-to-day emotional reality of the work their own role in containing the emotional experiences of the work is displaced upon individuals.The health and vitality of the organisation is affected by an unconscious fear of not surviving which generates a dynamic of disconnectedness. The capacity to engage with others experiences of working in the organisation is not fully available because of the absence of the group as container for emotional connectedness.