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Working Below the Surface

November 11, 2005

This book was written by consultants at the Tavistock Consultancy Service and is based on the Tavistock approach of exploring issues "just below the surface" of individual and organisational consciousness. Their "working hypothesis" is "that bringing the emotional experiences of organisations into view sheds light on the... challenges facing the organisation and provides a source of understanding and insight into the forces that determine... its fate".

The Tavistock tradition stems from decades of "action research", theory-building and consultancy. At the centre of its work lies exploration of "non-rational, unconscious and systemic processes". This approach to human, group and organisational behaviour is psychoanalytic in orientation, looking at the conscious, the unconscious, the dynamics of the group, intergroup relations and the values of organisational culture. The first chapter suggests that "every organisation is an emotional place" and that understanding individual, interpersonal and group emotions is fundamental to diagnosing problems.

The next three chapters explore leadership - the relationship between leaders and followers, female leaders and the emotional cost of distributed leadership. These themes are reinforced by case studies. For example, the balance between being a Theory X (tough) versus a Theory Y (caring) manager is highlighted by a college principal. "There is a North American Indian saying: 'He who is tough inside and soft outside is a healer. He who is hard on the outside and soft on the inside is useless!' A tough, hard macho style is no good... And if you are soft or weak on the inside, you can't do it either."

The next two chapters are about "change and creativity"; sycophants versus saboteurs and psychoanalytic reflections on creativity and change. They explore the roots to resistance to change. Although the authors might agree with Churchill's dictum "to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often", they try to explore the psychological stumbling blocks in the change process.

"Working relations in a new organisational order" are explored in the next two chapters. The first examines how we maintain relationships in a "networked" world and how we develop and nurture relationships. The second uses a client case study in an information technology division of a bank to highlight the changing nature of work.

The last two chapters provide some answers on how we help "the vulnerable"

in the process of change, through coaching and a contextualised mediation process. These support systems will become more important in the new world of work, with intrinsic job insecurity, more virtual organisations and balancing work and life commitments.

This book is a must for those in the field who want to truly understand social anthropologist Studs Terkel when he wrote: "Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying."

Cary L. Cooper is professor of organisational psychology and health, Lancaster University Management School.

Working Below the Surface: The Emotional Life of Contemporary Organizations

Editor - C. Huffington, D. Armstrong, W. Halton, L. Hoyle and J. Pooley
Publisher - Karnac Books
Pages - 245
Price - £18.99
ISBN - 1 85575 294 8

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