In the 2003 book Mapping the Organizational Psyche: A Jungian Theory of Organizational Dynamics and Change, authors John G. Corlett and Carol S. Pearson model the organizational psyche in two layers: conscious and unconscious. The authors assert that the ego-driven actions and behaviors of those leading the organization manifest activity and shape organizational culture. The unconscious layer—the heart of psychologist Carl Jung’s analytical psychology—provides the psychic energy necessary for conscious actions.
Conscious Organization. The conscious portion of the organization consists of the “center of consciousness” and the “public face.” The “center of consciousness” is analogous to Jung’s concept of the ego. It comprises all of the conscious activities performed in an organization, such as planning, managing, coordinating, developing, marketing, testing, implementing and reflecting. The center of consciousness is composed of the collective egos in the organization arranged and empowered by the structures instituted by its leadership.
The “public face” of the organizational psyche corresponds to Jung’s concept of the persona. The persona is how individuals present themselves to the world and is driven by two sources: the expectations and demands of society and the social aims and aspirations of individuals. The organizational analog provides a filter through which energy flows in and out of the organizational psyche in its connection with the outside world. It is where the brand identity of the organization lives. It transmits the ideal images of itself to the outside world hiding aspects which are deemed “internal” by the organization’s leadership.
Organizational Unconscious. The collective unconscious serves as the foundation for the entire psyche of the organization. It is the container for the neurology that defines us as human beings. It resides in the inherited structure of the brain. It contains two types of structures: instincts and archetypes. Instincts are the consistent modes of action common to all humans that do not require cognitive engagement. Archetypes are psychic patterns that shape human behavior. They can be understood as the controlling patterns in the mind that regulate how we experience life. Archetypes represent our basic responses to organizational life.
The organizational unconscious is the unique array of “energies, contents and truths” that operate beyond the conscious control of the organization. It is the bridge between the conscious organization and the collective unconscious. It provides the psychodynamic environment for these two forces to interplay. It is composed of the shadow, the participation mystique, the complexes and the organizational archetype.
Jung’s shadow theory consists of the collection of what has been repressed because the organization does not allow it buy its rules, procedures or values. The shadow of an organization, like its individual counterpart, is its alter ego. It contains both positive and negative energies and subtly affects how the conscious organization goes about its business. The shadow contains features that are contrary to customs and group moral conventions.
The participation mystique is the part of the organizational unconscious that links individual egos to the organization. It provides the attractor that makes an individual want to be part of a given organization. It is the conduit for the organizational archetypes to be expressed by each person in the organization.
Organizational complexes are containers of memories, thoughts, and feelings experienced as work progresses through the activation of a given archetype. They are, in essence, the underlying assumptions that form at the unconscious level in the act of doing business. Over time, these complexes uniquely identify an organization and provide the basis for its culture. Values and believes are built upon complexes and change over time as the environment provide opportunities to solve new problems.
The organizational archetype roughly corresponds to the archetypal self in individuals. It serves as a significant source of energy for the organization and provides the pattern for how it operates. Individual aspects of the organizational archetype connect to the universal collective unconscious archetypes from which they draw their patterns. Corlett and Pearson define the organizational archetype as having four dimensions, or life forces. Each life force contains elemental archetypal energies aligned with a particular aspect of work life. The life forces are arranged in two pairs of complementary forces that seek balance with one another. The first pair is focused on people and results. The people-focused life force addresses how an organization relates to its employees and how employees relate to each other. The results reflect how the organization gets things done. The second pair of the life forces is learning and stabilizing. Learning is how an organization gains knowledge, takes risks and moves through the creative process. In turn, stabilizing is concerned on how an organization manages itself in terms of what it provides to its employees and the processes and controls it has in place. For a healthy organization, both life force pairs should be balanced.
Corlett and Pearson provide us with a unique and useful map of the organizational psyche. They extend the concepts delineated by Jung in his research of the human psyche in his analytical, or depth, psychology. This map orients us into the mysteries of organizational life that go beyond conscious activities. It gives us understanding and appreciation of the structures in the unconscious responsible for the psychodynamics that regulate much of the success and happiness (or the opposite) inside our organizations.
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