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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Work Related Fantasies: Corporate Downsizing and Team Building

Two interesting phenomena occurred in the 1980's. A rash of management/organization books suggesting a healthy corporation was one that is innovative and team oriented (Ouchi,1981; Peters and Waterman,1982; Deal and Kennedy, 1982; Peters and Austin,1985; Burgelman and Sayles,1982; Kilman and Covin,1988). At the same time, a surge in employment terminations, referred to as downsizing, restructuring, re-engineering, or streamlining. This trend continues into the 1990's where corporate leaders demand a greater emotional commitment from their employees while they tear up the economic contract between the corporation and employee (Nolan & Croson, 1995).While employees are beset by the real and threatened terminations, management has embraced ideas and practices that have been proposed by humanist theorists and those identified with the political left of the 1960's. We see today's management using terms like empowerment, taking more responsibility, autonomous functioning, team work, project management, and a considerable emphasis on culture: a culture for innovation, quality, commitment, and so forth. In their zeal to shake up the stable, secure, plodding corporate bureaucracy, leaders embrace the concept of team development. A survey of ten CEO's who have either engaged in the practice of downsizing, or agree with the idea, maintain that terminating a significant portion of the corporations workforce not only has the immediate response of increasing corporate profits, but the longer range purposes of creating a leaner, entrepreneurial climate, where employees work with a greater degree of commitment, collaboration, effort and responsibility. These corporate executives were asked about the utilization of teams, they responded that teams hold the greatest promise in reaching this desired state. Corporate leaders, like several writers about teams (Wetlaufer, 1994; Katzenbach and Smith, 1993; and Drucker, 1974) maintain that if the teams do not work, it is because people do not know how to work in teams, this has spurned volatile consulting activity, training employees to work in teams [1]. What is absent in the logic of these team advocates is the lack of a rudimentary understanding of what constitutes team formation, and perhaps more important, the lack of insight into the consequences of downsizing. To fully understand the psychodynamics that spring forth when an organization downsizes leads to an assumption that team in a genuine sense can not occur in this type of climate. What results however, is an unintended consequence of merging teams formation and downsizing. The motivation to form teams is reactive, and a function of the psychodynamics that evolve when downsizing is apparent. Under conditions of downsizing the psychic function of the team is restorative. Behaviors which appear to be cooperative and committed have less to do with trust, a critical factor in team success, and more to do individualistic aims such as defending against the underlying anxiety and perhaps terror associated with job loss.