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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Myth Busters - who you gonna call? Consulting to group myth and the risks associated with exploring the illusions'

Some client work more than others serves to reaffirm and highlight the unique and differentiating advantages of having at our disposal a substantive body of thinking and theory to help make sense and meaning of what might otherwise be crazy-making in organisations and organisational consulting. In our undertaking to consult to a medium sized, privately-owned company, some core concepts like 'projective identification', 'parallel process', 'psychotic defences against anxiety' and 'group myth' came manifestly to life. However, surfacing and naming what proved to be a collusive illusion about the nature and structure of the organisation may have spelt the end of the consulting project. This presentation of a consulting case example seeks to engage in an exploration of the risks and adventure associated with 'myth busting'. In particular, our presentation seeks to explore one of the symposium's sub-themes of: When in consulting to organizations do we find that we are calling into question a group myth and therefore undermining how people make meaning? What makes an interpretation, whether expressed in a diagnostic report, a working note or a verbal statement, meaningful?Deeper exploration of the case reveals a theme of ambivalent motivations amongst the owners of the organisation as to their roles as 'owners' and 'workers' within the company. The feelings of ambivalence were defended against, and manifest in dynamics of splitting and intense inter-personal conflicts amongst many of the staff, including some of the owners. The initiation by the consultants of bringing together the leadership roles that most evinced the splits, resulted in an act of aggression by the owners that we came to understand as an act of retribution towards a former CEO. Thus the meaning of the ambivalent motivations for the role of organisational leader became clear.