Working Below the Surface: The Emotional Life of Contemporary Organizations

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The chapters contributed to this book have been written by the staff and associates of The Tavistock Consultancy Service, whose distinctive competence is in the human dimension of enterprise and the dynamics of the workplace. The intention is to identify and explore some of the key themes that have emerged, such as the emotional world of the organisation and the dynamics of resistance to change, and how these affect and influence the understanding of leadership and management in contemporary organizations. No attempt is made to reach a consensus, but rather to raise and map out a territory of continuing question and debate. Contributors:David Armstrong; Andrew Cooper; Tim Dartington; William Halton; Sharon Horowitz; Linda Hoyle; Clare Huffington; Kim James; Sarah Miller; Anton Obholzer; Jane Pooley; and Nick Temple.Part of the Tavistock Clinic Series.

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CHAPTER ONE. Emotions in organizations: disturbance or intelligence?

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David Armstrong

This chapter offers a provisional account of the significance of emotions, the flow of feeling in thought and action, within organizational settings. This account seeks to build on but also in some respects to reframe earlier work within the ‘Tavistock tradition”. It views emotions as a function of the organization-in-context, rather than simply of the individual and his or her relationships, or of the group. Correspondingly, it is suggested, alertness to the emotional undertow of organizational life can be a powerful source of information for managers and leaders in enlarging understanding, reviewing performance, foreseeing challenges and opportunities^ and guiding decision and action.

Stating the obvious

Every organization is an emotional place. It is an emotional place because it is a human invention, serving human purposes and dependent on human beings to function. And human beings are emotional animals; subject to anger, fear, surprise, disgust, happiness, or joy, ease, and unease.

 

CHAPTER TWO. Leadership, followership, and facilitating the creative workplace

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Anton Obholzer with Sarah Miller

Introduction

Leadership would be easy to achieve and manage if it weren’t for the uncomfortable reality that without followership there could be no leadership except, perhaps, of a delusional sort. What is more, for the organization to be creative it requires followership to be an active process of participation in the life of the common venture, and this, in itself, may carry with it some discomfort.

By definition there is thus an inherent tension between leadership and followership. This chapter is an attempt to address the complexity of this interface, to place the relationship in the context of the overall containing organization, and to investigate some of the factors that make for, and facilitate, a creative versus a stuck workforce and workplace. It is worth noting that in many other models of leadership and of management, working at understanding one’s experience and the experience of others in connection with management do not necessarily go together. Further, that the sort of personal work and institutional introspection that goes with the approach to be described here is seen as unnecessary, gratuitous navel-gazing. The chapter postulates this latter view to be profoundly shortsighted.

 

CHAPTER THREE. What women leaders can tell us

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Clare Huffington

This chapter focuses on the implications of findings from a research study into women’s leadership (Coffey, Huffington, & Thomson, 1999). The study revealed a vivid picture of changing cultures in organizations, the new demands on and for leadership and how women are meeting them. The women leaders tended to speak from what they felt to be a marginal position, partly because they are so few in number and partly because of their particular sensitivity to organizational change and the evolving psychological contract between leaders and followers. In this respect, they can be seen as offering a vision of the future for leaders, whether these are men or women. This chapter focuses on what the women leaders told us and the implications of their stories for our conceptual framework around leadership and organizations, particularly the concepts of role and primary task and the containing function of leadership.

The changing world of life and work

The world has changed and is going to go on changing at a dizzying rate. It is now impossible to predict future developments accurately, even a few years away. At the same time, a social revolution is going on, hand-in-hand with business changes. Family life is no longer static over the period of children growing up and children themselves are viewed as consumers whose views are sought. Both men and women work and their expectations of how they wish to work, how they view careers, and what they want out of life as a whole is changing just as rapidly and just as unpredictably (Doyle, 2000). All this puts a premium on businesses identifying what is happening in the environment around them and being able to deploy resources rapidly to follow these changes and transform themselves so as to be ready to meet them (Taffinder, 1998).

 

CHAPTER FOUR. What is the emotional cost of distributed leadership?

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Clare Huffington, Kim James, and David Armstrong

I am paid for being able to think more clearly than anyone else but I don’t know any training that can help me do this in relation to my industry”

CEO, Pharmaceutical Company

‘These leadership development programmes have nothing to do with what I have to do every day—which is basically to fight my corner with other directors”

Director, NHS Trust

“People here are used to leadership meaning being top of a hierarchy and your authority coming from your experience and expertise. It is quite a new thought to them that leadership means inspiring loyalty and influencing people externally. They thought they got that automatically with the role and did not realize you have to earn it”

CEO, Local Authority

What is distributed leadership?

While there may be various styles of leadership (facilitative, charismatic, authoritarian, etc.), there are also different leadership concepts held by organizations; for example, hierarchical, distributed, matrix. The leadership concept encompasses more than a set of competences or an idea of a style of leadership that is considered desirable. It touches upon the assumptions in the organization that are held about the role of leader, the way leaders should use their authority, the way followers should relate to leaders and the way the leaders relate to each other and the outside world. The leadership concept that is widely subscribed to in the organization, whether consciously or unconsciously, will impact on the emotional relations in the organization. Thus, the patterning of emotional relations may change when a new leadership concept is espoused or when leadership development activity enables people to reflect on the leadership concept informing their behaviour. New organizational dynamics will then emerge.

 

CHAPTER FIVE. From sycophant to saboteur—responses to organizational change

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Linda Hoyle

Introduction

During any period of organizational change, there is the potential for heightened creativity. When the purpose of the change is to develop new ideas about improving services or to create innovative products, this opens up the opportunity to review the current organizational structures and put in place more appropriate working practices. However, as people connect with their creativity to bring about change, they will also be taking risks, generating uncertainty, and facing the possibility of failure, which can evoke anxiety in themselves and others around them. There may be other potentially negative consequences of organizational change that evoke understandable anxiety, such as threat of job loss, and the loss of known ways of working.

The anxiety evoked by the process of change can be a major barrier to implementing successful change and it is, indeed, the central tenet of the psychoanalytic theory of the sources of resistance to change. The aim of this chapter is to explore how people respond during a period of organizational change and to examine the contribution of psychoanalytic theory to understanding such responses. It begins with an outline of the seminal work conducted in the 1950s by Jaques and Menzies on the unconscious sources of resistance to change. Findings from two case studies are presented to explore two new working hypotheses to understanding responses to organizational change.

 

CHAPTER SIX. By what authority? Psychoanalytical reflections on creativity and change in relation to organizational life

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William Halton

A glance along the bookshelves of organizational literature reveals a strong orientation towards the new and a preoccupation with creativity as a means of bringing the new into existence. Psychoanalysis also has its preoccupations with creativity, but usually more in relation to the arts. This chapter takes a theoretical look at some possible points of contact between organizational life and psychoanalytic ideas about creativity.

Drawing on psychoanalytic authors from a variety of sources, three different strands of thinking about creativity can be identified that are related to three different stages of childhood development. These three strands could be gathered together under the headings initiatory reparative, and evolutionary creativity. Although devel-opmentally and conceptually distinct, in any concrete situation they may all be present to different degrees, if only because earlier stages of development are always residually present in later ones.

Initiatory creativity

 

CHAPTER SEVEN. The vanishing organization: organizational containment in a networked world

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Andrew Cooper and Tim Darlington

There are worldwide networks that cut through geographical, political, and cultural frontiers; art, science, or technological discoveries and, increasingly, the internet and communications in general. But there is also trafficking—in drugs, arms, currency, power, women, children, organs—and the malignant implementation of globalization. It seems that where there was a border, now there is a network. In its luminous aspect, it is a symbol-generating and containing fabric that modulates, diversifies, and expands. In its ominous aspect, it spells dislocation, disintegration, and degradation (Abadi, 2003, p. 223).

Introduction

In recent decades organizations have changed in important ways, and, as part of these changes, the experience of working and managing in organizations is also significantly different. Because it is grounded in experience, the practice of organizational consultancy has necessarily also absorbed awareness of these changes. New concepts and theories of organizations as social and cultural entities have emerged to make sense of change at the level of social process, and psychoanalytic thinking about organizational experience is also addressing new questions about autonomy and dependency and the management of personal, professional, and systemic boundaries. None of us fails to register the differences in our experience, but we all struggle to understand fully their meaning. How local or global is the significance of any particular trend we encounter? Which is fashion, jargon, or spin and which is of more enduring and substantive moment? Are our theories and methods still pertinent, or do they stand in need of revision? In the end what is surface and what is depth in the world of modern organizational life? In this chapter we try to understand the meaning of some of the new features of modern organizational experience from the consultant’s point of view, and articulate some of the practical and theoretical tensions and dilemmas inherent in the world now encountered by the consultant as part of his or her daily engagement. Thus, we address four inter-related questions:

 

CHAPTER EIGHT. The discovery and loss of a “compelling space”. A case study in adapting to a new organizational order

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Sharon A Horowitz

Setting the scene

Dr Johnson, in his famous eighteenth-century dictionary, defined “job” as: “petty, piddling work; a piece of chance work.” In the late nineteenth-century Garment District of New York City, “job work” meant “piecework.” (Fox, 1994) While much has changed over the centuries, it appears that this earlier “piecework” description of jobs resembles emerging features of contemporary organizations, which, in their adaptation to changing technological and global competitive forces in the marketplace, have had to reinvent many aspects of their business models.

This adaptation process has shortened the length of most business time frames and changed the length of today’s employee contracts. These structural and procedural shifts have, by extension, required a parallel adaptive function in the workforce in that people have had to alter how they take up their authority as well as their relatedness and attitudes towards their place of work. One unintended consequence of the new employment contracts has been the untethering of the psychological contracts that contain the multitude of unconscious themes around individual attachment to the organization. Previously, employment contractual relationships had helped foster and maintain an organizational containment function that offered a certain level of psychological safety to individuals, enabling them to take professional challenges and creative risks that, in turn, helped nurture innovation. With the advent of ubiquitous short-term employment contracts, existing structures in which it is psychologically safe enough to take the challenges and risks of learning and creativity are vanishing. Yet, there remains a pressing need to tap into and release learning and creativity in order adequately to respond to external challenges and still achieve goals, targets, and performance criteria. This then presents a dilemma; how do organizations remain competitive and innovative when they can no longer provide their employees with the creative space in which to produce the innovations so vital to their survival? How do they resolve the dilemma of both needing to be creative in order to adapt and innovate while, simultaneously, meeting productivity needs within a short business cycle?

 

CHAPTER NINE. Layers of meaning: a coaching journey

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Jane Pooley

Individuals at different levels within both public and private sector organizations are increasingly employing coaches who work outside their organizations. This chapter explores the author’s way of developing a coaching relationship, viewing it through different lenses. First, the lens of experience is used to explore how coaching relationships unfold to offer insight into the client’s situation. Second, the theoretical lenses of systemic, psychoanalytic, and attachment theories are used to examine the dynamics at work during this development. The life cycle of a coaching relationship is offered as a framework to demonstrate how the relationship can release leadership potential and resources.

Setting the scene

There are many different approaches to coaching. This chapter focuses on a coaching style that has grown out of systemic and psychoanalytic traditions. The elements that are primarily examined with this style of coaching are the client in role and the client in his/her organizational context. An understanding of the presenting issues comes about through examination of the client’s personal and work history, organizational dynamics, task and role clarification, and the primary task of the organization, together with its history and context. The experience and feelings that are generated between client and coach, together with dreams and free associations, are used to enhance understanding. The insights gained and the connections made between these layers of meaning are used to design actions and strategies that link the person, role and organization together towards productive outcomes.

 

CHAPTER TEN. Clash of the Titans—conflict resolution using a contextualized mediation process

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Linda Hoyle

Introduction

Earlier chapters (One, Three, Four, Seven, and Eight) described how changes in organizations and leadership have created uncertainty and ambiguity around everyone’s roles and, in particular, around the power and authority that can be exercised by those in leadership roles. This can be heightened during change processes and creative potential can be lost (cf. Chapter Five). External forces create the need for more relatedness between people in organizations through requirement for more corporate working, involvement of staff in decision-making, and greater skills in collaboration. At the same time, pressure on individual performance and the experience of personal vulnerability can militate against the negotiation of adequate relatedness between individuals to cope with and contain the tensions associated with continually changing roles, accountabilities and contexts.

One of the central challenges in organizations today appears to be the degree to which it is possible to acknowledge and manage some of these uncertainties without the explosion of more personal dynamics between colleagues or between leaders and their followers “in which the tensions around the location of leadership get played out in accusation, hostility, and recrimination” (Chapter Four). The evidence of this lies in the increasing requests for mediation and conflict resolution received by TCS in recent years.

 

APPENDIX I: Notes on consultancy approach and techniques

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We have described the contextual shifts that have challenged both our conceptual framework and consultancy practice over the past ten years. We have found ourselves working on particular themes, some of which we have described in this book. The challenges and opportunities offered to us by our clients in the changed environment have forced us to change some of our thinking and to develop new ideas. It has been important for us to hold our conceptual framework quite loosely so as to be open and receptive to new experiences that might challenge them, but might also be an opportunity for creativity and learning. In this respect, we feel we are in the same uncertain but receptive state of mind as our clients are and need to be. The tensions that flow from this position need not be resolved but continually explored and worked with, or the risk is of decoupling from the changing environment, becoming too fixed in our thinking and potentially stagnating.

In parallel and in relation to the themes we have been addressing with clients, we have also found ourselves engaging with them in quite different ways. This has led us to evolve new methods and techniques in working with them. An example would be the way we now think of containment as less about finding ways to manage conflict and disturbance and more about stimulating exploration and curiosity. This is more likely to lead to organizational refraining and creativity and we have called this “pro-tainment” This is described in the chapters on women’s leadership and on distributed leadership (Chapters Three and Four). This has led to the development of some specific methods of working with clients that allow them to explore this theme; for example, “Organization-in-the-mind” workshops (see below).

 

APPENDIX II: Glossary

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Action research: research model derived from the work of Lewin where insight into a process is gained by creating a change and then observing the variable effects and new dynamics.

Attachment Theory: theory pioneered by John Bowlby (1907-1990) studying infants’ instinctive responses to separation from their primary care-giver and the nature of their tie to them.

Authority and power: power is an attribute of persons or of groups. It refers to the ability and readiness to act upon others to achieve a given result. Authority is an attribute of systems. It refers to the right of persons or groups to make and accept accountability for decisions which are binding on others, without reference back. Power without authority raises questions of legitimacy; authority without power raises questions of effectiveness.

Basic assumption: term introduced by Bion (1961) to refer to one of two omnipresent modes of mental functioning in groups, in which members behave as if they shared unspoken and unconscious assumptions about the group, its task, and leadership. Bion identifies three variants of basic assumption functioning:

 



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