Rational thinking organizations
Particular organizations such as science, financial services, engineering, information technology manufacturing and so on demand emphasis on binary thinking. It is not surprising that despite the best efforts and processes of Human Resources to apply appropriate competency, the mental processes necessary for success become the subcultural criteria for advancement. As the individual develops, to the extent that safe space is in place, the integration of opposite functions might occur and it is this integration which is necessary for leadership through the different levels of an organization. Maturity brings the potential to lead and manage the whole organization with the diverse parts fully respected and supported. Harmony is not achieved through a one-sided imposition of functions, but through the containment of the inherent tension between opposites. This supports dynamic evolution.
Where the containment is not adequate, then splits are acted out. At the individual level this can take the form of the bipolarity', typically of mood issues such elation or depression at career and life cycle transition points. Reflected in performance, this can appear as over and underachievement, or sustained over achievement at an unsustainable personal cost resulting in symptoms characteristic of depression, burnout and chronic fatigue syndrome. At the organizational level, this can appear as cyclical waves of over and underperformance within broader waves of which the organization is unaware. In this case interference from the broader waves is experienced as game changing and can be highly disruptive. An example of bipolar activity at societal level is the economic cycle, which can be partly described in terms of long (Kondratiev) and short (Elliot) waves, but which in all cases is characterised by general moods of elation or depression. On the upswing, the experience of ‘being spilt asunder’ can be somewhat alluring and lead to incautious risk management. On the downswing it can lead to underinvestment and starvation of key activities incorrectly identified as unnecessary for survival. Amplitude (intensity) and frequency are affected by a number of factors including the individual and personal complexes at play.
Here are some key tensions of opposites which can be occasions for the split to be acted out:
Hierarchical structure versus market structure
With increased size and complexity, for efficient resource allocation organizations develop hierarchy. Cross functional working grows more complex and is impeded by the vertical hierarchical lines. The tension often gives rise to tribalism. The group to which one belongs blames the other group for inefficiencies and attempts to solve the problem through tribal dominance, imposing values and mindset on the other. Exertion of control can give rise to fear which exacerbates the issue and destroys concern for anything outside the tribe which sub- optimally contributes to return on investment.
Individual versus collective interest
As fear increases, individual interest predominates. A collective resistance to change sets in. At the same time, early in the corporate career journey, personal achievement orientation usually dominates. As advancement occurs either through specialisation or hierarchical promotion, this must give way to team achievement. Specialisation requires communication with other disciplines and promotion requires team leadership. At the most senior levels, the long term well-being of the corporation becomes the paramount concern and institutional leadership is needed. This naturally leads to a concern for the environmental context.
Tribal versus corporate interest
People at all levels in the organization are usually able to explain the real power structure which affect them in tenus of tribal dynamics and in great details. The structures differ from those on the organizational chart and the behaviours and values differ from those on the corporate website. They might both add value and destroy value, but they are highly resistant to change.
Results versus process
There is a common conflict between results and process orientations. Results focus, regardless of the means, can lead to bullying, sub optimisation of resources, lack of root cause problem solving and stifling of innovation. Process focus without results can lead to lack of purpose and productivity. For the sake of brevity, an example is given which incorporates all of the above themes, which affect individuals, teams and organizations.
Case example: individual
A senior executive in his 50s, who was responsible for a global function in a large corporation, had made several culture and process improvements to his critical part of the organization. He had reached a ceiling barrier as a result of lack of cross functional working between silos. Several internal and external consulting attempts had been made to promote collaboration across divisional and regional boundaries to no avail. His personal life had become troubled and there was risk of his family fragmenting. He could not see a productive way forward and beginning to experience depression and a sense of meaninglessness, he became increasingly disengaged from the executive team.
His early life and career had been characterised by a strong and vital sense of mission as a medical professional. This vitality was being consumed in an inner conflict between being creative and productive and fitting into a team which he felt was driving only numbers. Considered more deeply, it became apparent that a family theme was constellated. His childhood had presented him with some dilemmas, and in fact these had been repeated in family crises through the generations. The survival dilemmas of ancestors trying to protect deeply held human and religious values in the face of the brutal realities of warfare and economic oppression had to some extent inspired his career motivation to become a doctor. He described himself as now working without feeling, without soul. One can imagine the effects on his personal life.
Oppression, fear and economic necessity can stimulate striving for justice, harmony and financial stability-. But when the hidden price of success is the loss of soul, the same demons reappear albeit in different guises. Externally, they come as work colleagues, as uncooperative other divisions and the unreasonable boss. Internally, complex and archetypal images appear in dreams. Without one’s innate sense of morality, a collective corporate complex can take over and the person finds themselves back on the personal ancestral battlefield or in the concentration camp. There is real risk of fragmentation, of no recover)'.
At this stage of the individuation journey, heroism is needed. This is the heroism of facing one’s own shadow, and no longer being a reformer or healer but connection with Self. Then the tension of opposites is held, and creative energy is once again at one’s disposal and external problems can be resolved with the leader as a new model of change agency. Transformational leadership requires leaders committed to the natural process of transformation.
In this typical case, the leader enjoyed many years of reintegrated family life, contributed to the successful global development of his function and his firm, and went on to pursue his mission in both discovery and development with most agreeable private equity backing delivering to those world populations most in need.
Case example: organization
Organizational culture change is sometimes identified as critical to the success of an industry. This can be one of the ‘below the surface’ drivers for acquisitions and mergers. The added value of acquisitions and mergers is somewhat debatable, and the costs thereof are extremely high. The main beneficiaries are the senior managers (not the shareholders) of the acquiring company. If less disruptive and low cost alternatives of achieving cultural renewal are available, it is sensible to consider them.
A common strategy is for a firm to ask for the help of an investment bank to provide an analysis of its vulnerability to takeover, to target its own weak areas and then to address them as though they were fighting a hostile takeover attempt. If organizational culture is identified as one of these areas, then facilitated transformation provides a low cost/high impact solution which empowers and revitalises incumbent management and brings new vitality to the organizational hard systems via the human activity.