Archive for Learning

The Evolution of Organizations

Hi Carman,

My apologies for my delay in responding! I appreciate your willingness to remain in dialogue with me during this period where I’m not able to respond as quickly as I would like. 

 Your post raises such insightful and powerful questions about organizations. First, you notice the parallel between Patterson’s description of the thrall or slave, “a body with natural movements, but without its own reason, -an existence entirely absorbed in another” [the Master] and Morgan’s description of employee in a bureaucratic organization (organization as machine). Both scenarios share the ethic of controlling others to achieve one’s ends. This ethic is common and even considered part of normal human condition in much of Western philosophy, psychology, management literature, etc.

 Your openness and willingness to dig – to notice the residue of the dominator paradigm in even the brain metaphor and learning organization demonstrate intellectual courage. I agree that we need to be willing to explore beyond even such valuable contributions as these — using them as stepping stones on the road to personal and organizational self-actualization.

 Thank you for introducing Dr. Tara Fenwick’s analysis that:

*  “Even within the Learning Organization – ample evidence of thralldom (disposition to dominate; propensity to submit).”

 * The learning organization while being “ostensibly egalitarian” remains “essentially authoritarian” in that all serves the organization “learning is technical, instrumental” 

 * “Critical scrutiny is deflected away from the power structures and the learning organization ideology itself, and focused on the individual”

 * “The voice of the learning organization sculptors is not self-critical. The agenda and vision of the leader or educational agent is bracketed out, obscuring the partiality and positionality of the voices calling for continuous learning and learning organizations.”

 This seems true on its face. Organizations are not self-existent, but exist within a larger social and economic framework. A colleague of mine has recommended business journalist Marjorie Kelly’s book, The Divine Right of Capital. Kelly’s work contrasts economic democracy with economic aristocracy, which is comparable to feudalism. (The feudal analogy is commonplace in organizations). We are all shaped, to a substantial degree by our inheritances. Therefore, many (most?) learning organizations are the convergence of these two streams. Further, leadership and organizational coaches, consultants and trainers usually serve larger organizations whose roots are in Theory X soil, and so we may emphasize how these approaches help organizational leaders serve their ends, which include the achievement of career success by delivering results to shareholders.

 Based on my own experience in organizations and conversations with corporate managers and leaders, I think many contemporary leaders also share a need for meaning, purpose, self-actualization, personal growth, contribution, and despite their privileges, and also often experience themselves as constrained by the system in which they operate.

 It comes back, I think, to this sense of self-searching and transformation. As Fenwick implies, this is particularly important at level of organizational leadership precisely because of the impact that the “beingness” of leaders has on the quality … and effectiveness of the organization.

 The topic of organizations, effectiveness, and the self-searching and self-actualization of organizations and their members is such a large topic, that I will postpone it to another post. But, I do want to acknowledge your question about structure and the implied consideration of the nature of power (is it unilateral or co-creative?) This question is also timely as we are increasingly seeing the realities that Tom Peters described in Thriving on Chaos 20 years ago, in which the employer-employee “contract” has been substantially dissolved and the boundaries between career and entrepreneurship have become increasingly blurred… What new structures are arising? 

 Thank you for bringing such an interesting discussion!


Creating healthy organizations

In re-reading your post, I continue to notice new levels of richness and meaning.

Freire describes some of the core insights of Partnership: “Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p.66).

Yes, as Freire describes, domination is system of relations, including our relation to self. We are divided beings in as much as we internalize the voice(s) of dominant, controlling others. As young children, we tend to absorb parental and cultural moods, attitudes, and perspectives. It is, therefore, so often true that children of dominating parents (or of a hostile culture) struggle with self-criticism and self-doubt. In the Dominator paradigm, this is the position of feeling “less than” others. In this psychological literature, this is sometimes called “shame.”

Psychology also describes “projection” as a psychological defense mechanism. One way of copying with our “disowned […] feeling, wishes, needs and drives […] is to attribute them to others” (Bradsahw, 109). We may also gain some temporary relief from the pain of internalized oppression through identification with the oppressor (Bradshaw 106). When we identify with dominator (our externalized notions of power, prestige), we may experience ourselves as feeling “better than.” In this state, we may project undesireable characteristics onto others and “do unto others as has been done unto us.” It is, therefore, a truism that, in the absence of healing, people who have been abused, often become abusers themselves.

In a dominator system (such as is predominant in our culture), there is a tendency to either feel less than or greater than others, and whether one feels inferior or inferior can vary depending on time and circumstance.

Judgement appears to be the mechanism by which this occurs. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is common to fear the judgement of others — particularly those we perceive to have some level of power over our lives.

One dynamic for maintaining the “upper hand” in a dominator relationship is silencing, in which one does not permit others the privilege of speaking their truths. This dynamic may be internalized as self-silencing.

Codependency has been defined in a variety of ways. One pertinent definition is, “A pattern of coping which develops because of prolonged exposure to and practice of dysfunctional family rules that make difficult the open expression of thought” (

This same dynamic has been described in organizations. In the 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Stephen R. Covey describes the dynamics of codependency in organizations and how its negative effect on organizational effectiveness (17). For an excerpt, see:

Author John Gardner writes, “Most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they cannot resolve their problems, but because they cannot see their problems.” The perspective of each individuals and organization (which is ultimately shaped by its members) seems natural and normal; therefore, real alternatives may not be readily seen, or when seen, may seem counter-intuitive. Seeing alternatives, including personal and organizational health, is an imaginative act.

If we can label a core problem of contemporary organizations to be co-dependence, then, what might the literature of psychology and recovery have to teach us with respect to creating healthier, more flexible, collaborative, and creative environments?

Also, what is the relationship between a Partnership relationship and perspective (based on mutual thriving), coaching and the psychological-social paradigm of recovery?