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The Twelve Faces of an Organisation Design Practitioner

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

Which one do you bring to your practice of org design?

First of all, I would like to thank the European Organisation Design Forum (EODF) for the opportunity to take up the role of Activist-in-Residence. I think the title is a perfect fit for my personality! I’m often the type who will challenge the status quo, traditional ways of thinking or established ways of working, so I’m very comfortable with my new role.

EODF have set high ambitions for me. The role is for 6 months from April to September 2021. It is a unique role, created by EODF in recognition that it is difficult for their Curatorial Board to expand on diversity of content because the makeup of the board itself is not sufficiently diverse "We go to the same well too often". The role, Activist-in-Residence, is a six-month rotating Curatorial Board position established with the intention to include on the board diversity of race, area of expertise, geography, age, etc.

My aim is to bring you a new awareness or understanding of organisation design from a different and unique perspective, but I also intend to highlight authors/contributors who are not well known in our community, connect frameworks from other disciplines with org design, explore how org design contributes to the problem of, or solution to, systemic racism and where possible share case studies, practical tools, or frameworks in the field of diversity, equality and inclusion. It is a challenging “to do” list but I am really excited to explore these topics with you. For my first contribution to our collective knowledge, I thought I would explore a discipline that is very close to my heart and forms the basis of my work in organisation effectiveness.

I have worked as freelance organisation effectiveness consultant for some time now, however, I recently started training as a Jungian Analyst. An analyst offers psychotherapy and analysis to help people who are in distress or have emotional problems, and to help people develop their individuality. Jungian Analysis is based on a psychological approach by Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. It is also known as ‘analytical psychology’, a psychological science of the human mind or ‘psyche’, consisting mostly of the unconscious and its interactions with the conscious mind. Make sense? Probably not! The unconscious is a difficult thing to describe to others, not because of any ignorance or lack of knowledge on their part, but because the unconscious isn’t a concrete or visible thing. You may already have an awareness of it, perhaps some of you already engage with it and for others, it isn’t a recognisable aspect or feature of themselves. Having said that, the unconscious does exist. The discovery of the unconscious in the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries by psychologists like Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud has led to the professions of coaching, mentoring, counselling, psychotherapy, psychiatry and psychoanalysis. Each of the professional fields explores the unconscious to a certain extent. Have you ever taken a Myers Briggs Type Indication (MBTI) personality assessment? Well, the MBTI is based on a theory of personality developed by Carl Jung.

I explore how the unconscious manifests in the workplace and its dynamics between individuals. The unconscious is an untapped source of personal transformation, it can help you to improve resilience, better understand yourself and others, develop more effective personal and work based relationships, find creative solutions to long standing problems, and a source of inspiration, knowledge and wisdom. The unseen and unknown unconscious dynamics can also have unintended and less constructive, even damaging, consequences for you, the people around you and the workplace.

I am interested in applying analytical psychology, not just to the therapeutic process, but also to explore the workplace and organisations-in depth. Given my background in organisation design, I am also interested in finding ways to combine theories of organisational design with Jungian analytical psychology. I think this combination creates a unique understanding of organisational design and dynamics which can help organisations to transform their workplaces.

So how does our unconscious impact us in our day-to-day jobs? One way the unconscious seeks expression is through our personality. This idea is explored in Mapping the Organizational Psyche, A Jungian Theory of Organizational Dynamics by John G Corlett and Carol S Pearson. Like me, the authors believe there is a hunger in organisations for ideas about creating more effective workplaces, ideas that go deeper than the usual organisation effectiveness theories. I think a lot of this hunger has grown exponentially because of the pandemic. Organisations were forced to adapt to new ways of working as a result of the lockdown. The impact of the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of their people is also a driving factor. There are social reasons too, many organisations want to address the underlying causes of the lack of equality, diversity and inclusion in their workplaces. I think there is a lot of value in analytical psychology thinking that could fundamentally change organisations for the better, especially when it is combined with theories of organisation design.

Jungian organisational theory explores the question of meaning, specifically, why people in organisations are willing to invest their creativity and agency in organisations. The authors argue that it is because individuals like to align themselves with the collectively held values at the heart of an organisation's culture. I think we are seeing a lot of evidence that indicates people are increasingly valuing work with organisations in which there are shared values, a common purpose, a shared belonging, flexible working and a focus on health and wellbeing. The authors argue that meaning is connected to unconscious dynamics in organisations, the unknown and unseen psychic forces that bind people to each other and to their work. These unconscious dynamics are animated and enabled by unconscious energies deep within the collective unconscious, the unconscious DNA of humans. Within the context of the workplace, this would be the collective unconscious of the individuals working in the organisation.

The book also provides a theoretical framework for analysing the unconscious or psychodynamic underpinnings of organisational culture. At the heart of this framework is the concept of the organisational psyche, which encompasses all of an organisation’s psychological processes, conscious and unconscious of its people. Having an understanding of the organisational psyche brings vital insights into the unconscious dynamics underneath day-to-day workplace events. The framework is useful for labelling and tracking these insights so that we can connect the dots and begin to see the outlines of the larger picture, the organisational psyche and perhaps, see the origin of that psyche within yourself.

The expression of the unconscious is sometimes motivated by an ‘archetype’. These are universal patterns ways of behaviour, an innate psychological structure shared by each and every human being, a kind of psychological DNA. The archetypes wait to be realised in the Personality. They are capable of infinite variation, are dependent upon individual expression and exercise a fascination reinforced by traditional or cultural expectation; and so carry a strong, potentially overpowering charge of energy, which is difficult to resist. Therefore, archetypes in the unconscious can motivate our behaviour, whether we are aware of it (conscious) or not (unconscious).

The authors argue that the human inclination to create organisations is the expression of an archetype. Isn’t that an interesting idea? This statement suggests that organisation design practitioners are, consciously or unconsciously, trying to bring an archetype into existence through the design of an organisation, creating a living and breathing archetype animated and enabled via the organisation’s structure, processes, and outcomes. The existence of an archetype means that all organisations share deep meaning and intentionality that lie beyond the sway of the ego of individual organisational members. The authors point out that the organisational archetype lives at the psychological heart of all organisations, making each organisation and at the same time, the specific culture, structure, processes, goals and environment of any particular organisation, combine to make it unique. They call this underlying archetype the ‘Archetype of Organisation’. The members of an organisation collectively and unconsciously carry the archetype of organisation into the psychodynamic life of organisation and it becomes imperfectly manifest through them and their actions, both individual and collective, both conscious and unconscious. The Archetype of Organisation comes together with four great life forces in two sets of polar opposites; People v Results and Learning v Stabilising.

The Archetype of Organisation [courtesy of Cortlett and Pearson]

The first pair consists of the tendency to nurture and develop People, in tension with the tendency to achieve Results. The second pair consists of the tendency toward Learning, innovating and transforming, in tension with the tendency toward Stabilising processes and maintaining tradition. The dynamic tension between the pairs is a central feature of analytical psychology. As humans we tend to think in opposites, binary thinking, good or bad, happy or sad, masculine or feminine, tall or short, small or big, and this even goes on to a group level, democrat or republican, communism or capitalism, state or federal, left or right. Individual or group dynamics emerge from the “tension” that arises from the pairs of opposites, for example, a Learning organisation constantly seeking to adapt to disruptive forces will look very different to a Stabilising organisation seeking to remain stable during disruptive times.

Each of the four life forces has three human faces, by which we can recognise or encounter them in the Personality of the individual. People energy is carried and channelled by the archetypal images of the Everyperson, the Lover and the Jester. Results energy by the Hero, the Revolutionary, and the Magician. Learning energy by the Innocent, the Explorer, and the Sage; and Stabilising energy by the Caregiver, the Creator and the Ruler.

An effective organisation will express one or more of the human faces in each quadrant. An individual or organisation that expresses just one or more human faces in one quadrant, or perhaps just one human face in a couple of quadrants leaves the rest of the human faces in the unconscious; unused, undeveloped, untrained, repressed etc, those ‘unconscious’ human faces are, in Jungian terms, reside in the individual or organisational shadow, where they form resistance to the organisation’s conscious human faces i.e. its purpose, aims and goals. The resistance may be represented by an individual organisational member, a group of individuals who share different human faces to the organisational one, or even sub organisations within the organisation itself. This resistance can manifest as resistance to change, impedes business success, workplace conflict, or lack of compliance with organisational processes etc.

I would like to invite you to put one or more of the Twelve Human Faces of an Organisation Design Practitioner to your Personality. Are you more inclined towards designing an organisation that develops People, achieves Results, or do you tend towards Learning or Stabilisation? Perhaps you are inclined towards to one or more of the human faces? There is no right or wrong answer and your personality is far more complex, however, it is a useful way to reflect on what motivates your organisation design principles, or those of your clients. Are you aware of these dynamics within yourself? What impact has your ‘archetypal’ human face had on the organisations you have designed? Are you aware of these unconscious archetypes within your personality? Does this awareness help you to design effective organisations? Does your human face impede, or enable organisational effectiveness? Can you think of any organisations which fit the descriptions of the human faces? Perhaps you recognise the dark side of the human faces, in yourself or in organisations? Remember, it is an exercise for reflection, to think of your work as an org design specialist, in psychological terms.

What does my Org Design 'Face' look like?

I certainly see more than one human face in my organisation design practice; these are the hero, explorer, jester and to some extent, the ruler. The ruler-explorer dynamic within myself is a continuous challenge. I seek to bring order to chaos in organisations (ruler) but at the same time, I also seek spontaneity in my personal life and I absolutely hate bureaucracy (explorer). This dynamic is a tension, however, finding a balance between the two faces is exactly what I need to do in order to transform myself, personally and professionally, and to become an even more effective organisation design practitioner. When I am working with a client organisation which is in total chaos in terms of its people, structure, processes and technology, I have to be mindful of the explorer face because it may seek to maintain the status quo and usurp the ruler face which is what is needed by the client organisation to bring effectiveness to its organisation structure. I’m very much in the team that delivers results and I tend to have less interest in stabilising organisations.

There is a self-assessment questionnaire to help you identify your human faces for more accurate results (Archetype of Family Cultures in Organisations Survey™), however you can also self-assess yourself by reading, and reflecting upon, the behavioural attributes associated with each archetypal human face. The behavioural attributes can also be associated with an organisation so you might see your own organisation or client organisation’s face in the list.

For further reading on the organisational psyche and organisation design, check out Mapping the Organizational Psyche: A Jungian Theory of Organisational Dynamics and Change by John G Cortlett and Carol S Pearson.

The PEOPLE Faces: Three Styles of Relating and Belonging

Everyperson demonstrates the virtues of simply being an ordinary person, just like everybody else. It links us to the Everyperson figure in the mediaeval morality plays, the ideas of the common person in political theory, and the emotional impact of the Tomb of the Unknowns. The dark side of the Everyperson includes scapegoating, going along to get along, and vulnerability to faddishness [intensely fashionable for a short time]. Everyperson organisations tend to treat everyone the same, but no one very well, and dresses often blue-collar in style. Generally, these organisations share a strong belief in the importance of each individual and are disinclined to engage in heroine or hero worship to single out anyone as particularly special or worthy.

The Lover helps us connect, form relationships, and be intimate with others. It helps us let go of narrow self interest and to act in concert to be more than we could be alone. The dark side of the lover includes emotional drama, overemphasis on consensus, and cliquishness. Lover organisations are likely to operate in a democratic, consensual manner, and to like co-operative and worker own structures. Feelings, emotional honesty, beauty, and closeness with co-workers and customers are valued.

The Jester to foster a spirit of lightness and play. If others are combative, the Jester can play at war. If people are being hurt, the Jester moves on to something more enjoyable. The Jester lightens people up so they can have a good time. The dark side of the Jester includes black humour, con artistry, and disregard for norms. Jester organisations value spontaneity, newness, fun, and innovation. They have little tolerance for forms, policies, formal structure, or bureaucratic procedures.

The RESULTS Faces: Three Paradigms for Maximising Results

The Hero/Heroine make the world a better place. The Hero’s underlying fear is failing to have what it takes to persevere and prevail. This energy helps develop vitality, discipline, focus, and determination. The dark side of the Hero includes arrogance, the need for an enemy, ruthlessness, and obsessive need to win. Hero organisations often are either committed to a worthwhile cause or devoted to helping their customers and employees to be all that they can be. Standards are high, and employees expected to do whatever it takes to succeed.

The Revolutionary holds values of the counterculture - past, present, or future. The goal of the revolutionary is to forment change, to destroy what is not working, or to even the playing field by radically changing or breaking the rules. The dark side of the revolutionary includes criminal or evil behaviour. In Revolutionary organisations everything is up for grabs. Nothing and no one has privilege based on position or on the past.

The Magician channels inspiration and intuition into concrete reality. The Magician strives to transform lesser realities into better realities, often by introducing a third element into a situation, thus moving beyond dualistic thinking. The dark side of the Magician includes manipulative behaviour, lack of continuity, and being too far ahead of one’s time. Magician organisations are highly energised, focused, flexible, innovative, and quick to respond to change. They are extraordinarily adaptive in the face of changing circumstances.

The LEARNING Faces: Three Approaches to Change and Growth

The Innocent is simple, trusting, and good - often seeking guidance and insight from others or expecting an authority figure to be the teacher. The innocent expresses itself in an optimism that transcends the apparent facts of the situation and manifests itself in activities related to reinvention, reframing, and renewal. The dark side of the innocent includes the potential for victimisation, masochistic behaviour, and denial. Innocent organisations are benevolent, highly hierarchical, and centralised. Managers function like caring parents, and employees deport themselves like well-behaved children.

The Explorer goes out seeking a better world. The Explorer pursues new experiences and things as a means of determining self-identity in the context of new possibilities and options. The Explorer may also be known as the seeker, iconoclast, wanderer, or individualist. The dark side of the Explorer includes aimless wandering or becoming a misfit. Explorer organisations value individuality, de-emphasize rules and hierarchical decision-making, and tend to allow employees to control their time and workload. They tend to be flat and democratic, rewarding the achievement of goals, however, flexibly achieved.

The Sage seeks wisdom, striving to identify universal truths and to live in keeping with their mandates. The Sage creates clarity from chaos and claims some degree of mastery of the learning process. The dark side of the Sage includes pedantry, dogmatism, censoriousness, ivory tower syndrome, and lack of feeling for people. Sage organisations personify the concept of the learning organisations, continually seeking feedback from all sources and using it for greater internal integration and greater external adaptation. They value excellence, competence, planning, analysis, and clear logical thinking.

The STABILISING Faces: Three Stances on Structure

The Caregiver tends to nurture others, tends the home fires, cares for the natural world, and focuses on structure in order to keep people safe. The Caregiver may be expressed in the pursuit of a healing profession, in the joy of developing a protege, or in maintaining an orderly or attractive environment. The dark side of the Caregiver includes codependency, conflict avoidance, and martyrdom. Caregiver organisations are characterised by selflessness and service. Harmony, cooperation, and care are held to be basic institutional values.

The Creator converts imagination into creative application - art, inventions, developing innovative ideas or products. The Creator ennobles the human condition by contributing to the development of culture and focusing on structure to form new realities. The dark side of the Creator includes creativity without application, finding that nothing is good enough, and inattention to routine. Creator organisations provide members with great latitude to express their creativity. The value of the work takes precedence over the bottom line.

The Ruler governs the physical world, taking control of and responsibility for the creation of forms, systems, and policies in order to maintain a just, orderly and prosperous world. The ruler expresses itself through management and leadership focusing on structure to exert power or control. The dark side of the ruler includes oppressive behaviour, sacrificing people for power, and cutting ethical corners. Ruler organisations are stable, productive, orderly, and quite bureaucratic. They function smoothly, with timely procedures and policies.

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