The Unconscious life of organisations 1

I’ve already discussed this idea, springing from Isobel Menzies’ work on hospitals and nursing. It’s an idea that is often articulated outside any psychodynamic framework. Rather as individuals have ‘masks’ that they wear for public consumption – often different for different audiences – and more private masks, say for family, partner, children as well as for themselves , so organisations can be viewed in the same way.

 

An organisation will have a public relations strategy, explicit or instinctive, which takes different forms for different audiences. The Probation Service for example, would have material about or presentations of itself designed for the general public, the Courts, partner agencies, offenders and so on, each forming a ‘mask’ that seemed appropriate to the target audience.

Then it would have a formal and explicit set of presentations to itself – policies, HR procedures, performance reporting formats, management and meeting structures.

It also had an unacknowledged existence, known about and often tolerated but not discussed in the formal organisational life. This would include gossip about bosses and staff, evasions of bureaucratic expectations and so on. One of my colleagues for example, who in the formal organisation was firm in her advocacy of the need for regular supervision and appraisal as an essential component of good management, was also known as someone who often cancelled supervision sessions in the face of other demands, and when supervision did take place would take up large parts of the meetings by talking about herself. This was widely known but never discussed in the formal organisation.

 

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