The Unconscious Life of Organisations 2

Menzies of course was referring to aspects of an organisation that were outside the formal life of the organisation , and not subject to widespread acknowledgement in the informal ‘private’ organisation. Indeed, these were aspects that were not even recognised at all as part of organisational life. These were ‘assumptive worlds’ , the taken for granted and the ‘irrational’ aspects of organisations, such as the fear of death in a hospital, the fear of loss of control in a probation service, the desire for revenge in a police service or court etc. The unconscious life of groups revealed by Bion – the fight /flight mechanism, the pairing and the dependence – could also be seen in organisational life.

A colleague of mine told me of an illustration of the way in which assumptive worlds become adopted by members of organisations. He attended a group dynamic training course in which the course members were divided into small groups and each member of the group was assigned a particular role. One such role was that of ‘gatekeeper’ to manage the boundary – the points of contact – between the group and the rest of the course members. In my colleague’s group, this role was allocated to a prison governor, who immediately got up and locked the door to the room in which they were meeting.


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