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Extending the Tavistock model: bringing desire, danger, dread, and excitement into a theory of organisational process

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This article develops some novel extensions of the classical Tavistock model of organisational psychodynamics. The classical model privileges the emotion of anxiety as the primary trigger for psychosocial experiences in organisations. While this approach has been very generative, it has also been limiting, since there are several other important emotions that shape how people take up their work and their roles in organisations. The article shows how open systems theory and sociotechnical thinking emerge logically from the anxiety model by highlighting how organisations become functional, and work becomes satisfying. The article goes on to explore how desire as a feeling for the future, stimulates such feelings as danger, dread, and excitement. When these feelings become dispositive, they generate experiences associated with anxiety, and the primary risk, as well as the potential for developmental politics. Politics can be developmental rather than defensive when executives create settings where conflict is seen as transaction and rationality as an achievement. This article explores these issues through the use of case vignettes in the public domain, including a skunk works project in Data General, and leadership struggles and strategy dilemmas in Apple, IBM, and Polaroid.

Keywords: ORGANISATIONS; PRIMARY RISK; PSYCHOANALYSIS; SOCIOTECHNICAL; TAVISTOCK

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2021

More about this publication?
  • Organisational and Social Dynamics is a forum for the publication of theoretical and applied papers that are relevant and accessible to an international readership; and, one where writers from psychoanalytic, group relations, and systems perspectives can address emerging issues in organisations and societies throughout the world.

    It aims to sustain a creative tension between scientific rigour and popular appeal, both developing conversations with the professional and social scientific world and opening up these conversations to practitioners and reflective citizens everywhere. We wish to attract manuscripts from contributors who are aware of their own values, suppositions and assumptions, the influence of counter-transference in their work, whatever form it takes, and the ability to connect the internal world of individuals and groups with societal and global processes.
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