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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The System Psychodynamics of E-Mail: A Case Study

This thesis reports on a case study of e-mail related organisation dynamics in a medium sized, Australian consulting services organisation. The research explored the extent to which e-mail supported or inhibited the organisations work, e-mails application to management of the business and e-mails use for purposes that were not obviously related to the business. The case is rendered particularly interesting because, for the nine-month duration of the fieldwork, the founder of this privately owned organisation was in the process of selling it to a much larger, publicly listed corporation and because, just after the fieldwork started, a restructure that related to the sale of the business was announced. The approach taken in the study was to regard the organisation as a complex system of interrelated parts, some human and some non-human and to consider e-mail as an integral component of its various sub-systems, as a means by which sub-systems were linked to each other and as a system in its own right. Understanding about e-mails involvement in organisation dynamics was obtained through the experience of a group of eleven members of staff, who agreed to participate in the study and via my own experience of the organisation. The study was informed by the prior work of others in the fields of socio-technical systems, system psychodynamics and psychoanalytic concepts applied to organisations. Data was generated and analysed using psychoanalytically informed, action research based methods, involving individual and group interviews, field observations and access to e-mail messages, and through a cyclical process of hypothesis generation and testing, reflection, interpretation and feedback processes. The study revealed that the case study organisation, which had survived and grown successfully for many years, was being undermined by degenerative processes resulting from the changing ownership. As a result of the research process, which explored beneath the surface of observable behaviour and rational explanations to probe the effect of unconscious organisational processes, e-mail was found to have supported the sustaining dynamics associated with the organisations success as an entrepreneurial endeavour, and to have fuelled the disintegration associated with the sale.