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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The Internal Team A discussion of the socio-emotional dynamics of team(work)

This paper will consider the nature of identificatory dynamics and their accompanying emotional experiences for members within a team. I will argue that, compared with other 'looser' forms of a psychological group, a team relies more heavily on identifications between members to achieve a task. But this is most specifically a partial identification where members retain their own specific role identities whilst understanding and relating to the roles and tasks of other team members. This is done through a capacity to a) be in the presence of the other team members (Long, Newton & Dalgleish, forthcoming), b) internalise the other members, and c) refer to and negotiate with the internalised team members when forming judgements. I will suggest that when teamwork is most successful, members are able to internalise the 'other' members, particularly, although not excusively, in terms of their work roles. In addition, members internalise the 'team' itself. These internalised others and team-as-a-whole act as continuous reference points for teamwork judgements and actions. The accompanying emotions will be quite complex because the internalisation of the other is not a simple 'idea' of the other. It involves an internalisation of many of the emotional experiences of the other. Work with the 'internal team' requires reference not only to how one might think 'as if' in other team members' roles, but also how one feels and may be impelled to act. During successful teamwork, there are many occasions when reference to others in person is not possible. Communication takes on subtle forms and members rely heavily on their 'internalised team'. At other times, members are able to verify, challenge, re-shape and renew their internalised team. Successful teamwork requires attention to team dynamics so that the members' internal teams are reality based. Teamwork becomes less successful when members are unable to engage partial identifications based on realistic internalisation processes. Sometimes a kind of 'full and immediate' identification with others may occur, so that one's own role identity is lost and the team cannot operate with complex and sophisticated role divisions. This happens in basic assumption experience (Bion, 1961) and is driven by angers, fears and anxieties. Also, often linked to this, members may internalise phantasy others based on projective identifications poorly mediated by reality. Such dynamics may be due to intense emotional experiences, the incapacity of members to realistically internalise the team, or the inability of the team members to renew their 'internal teams' in light of changed circumstances.The paper will develop an argument around these ideas. Reference will be made to case material from working teams.