Psychology and Management: Dealing with Dysfunction and Cross Purposes

Stowe Boyd’s recent post reminds me that management is a social, psychological and indeed, a human endeavor.  Part of this endeavor concerns dealing with unavoidable dysfunction that will arise.

The Problem:

Far too often organization members operate at cross-purposes. This is particularly true with organizational structures enabling division of labor: members are grouped into divisions, functions, and departments, and then further split into groups and teams, in order to create specialized functioning on behalf of the larger system . . . members too often come to identify with the parts rather than the whole to which they belong. . . . with predictable misalignments in purpose, activities and relationships. (Kahn, 2012, p.225)


a particular person or leader may be carrying all kinds of unconscious anxieties, aggressions, and energies of those being led; bloody mergers, acquisitions, downsizing or combative relations with competitors or the world at large may veil all kinds of individual and group fears and inadequacies; a corporate group’s understanding of its external environment may be dominated by the unconscious projections of a few key managers; a strong corporate subculture may be mobilizing neglected aspects of a corporate “shadow’ that are worthy of attention and of being brought to light. (Ross)

A Solution:

In understanding these hidden dimension of everyday reality, managers and change agents can open the way to modes of practice that respect and cope with organizational challenges in a new way. . . . They can begin to untangle sources of scapegoating, victimization, and blame and find ways of addressing the deeper anxieties to which they are giving form. They can approach the “resistance” and “defensive routines” that tend to sabotage and block change with a new sensitivity, and find constructive ways of dealing with them. (Ross, Ibid)


William A. Kahn, The Functions of Dysfunction: Implications for Organization Diagnosis and Change, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 2012, Vol. 64, No. 3, 225–241.

Gordon Ross’s blog;