Blame My Dad; More Execs Are Studying Their Family Pasts To Root Out Workplace Dysfunction

There’s a new strain of organizational therapy percolating through the inner sanctums of corporations. The basic concept, according to this article, is that people tend to recreate their family dynamics at the office. The logic seems straight forward enough – families are the first organizations people belong to, with parents as their first bosses and siblings as first colleagues. It is even supported by brain research over the past decade that shows that brains are hardwired to default to “defensive family scripts” during times of conflict and stress.

As a new frontier of productivity, “emotional inefficiency” includes “all that bickering, back-stabbing and ridiculous playing for approval” that occurs in the modern workplace. A two year study by a Seattle psychologist finds that such dramas routinely waste 20 percent to 50 percent of workers’ time. Corporations realize that the most talented employees quit bosses, not companies and that CEOs are often hired for their skills and fired for their personalities.

Buttressed by this and new research in workplace dynamics, high profile coaches are now applying family-systems therapy to business organizations. Although seen by some as “so much EST-era drivel,” these “psychological x-rays on clients’ pasts” have helped executives at companies as diverse as American Express, State Farm Insurance and the Los Angeles Times. Clients learn to understand their own and others’ dysfunctional behavior and how to recognize the emotional subtext that drives many encounters. They then use this information to deconstruct how they sabotage themselves.

The author discusses the reasons this corporate headshrinking is gaining ground, particularly in an era when teamwork is vital and new hires have families “more likely to resemble The Osbournes than Ozzie and Harriet.” The article ends with a charting of common “family dynamics” [e.g. “Child’s achievements were never good enough”] and their “workplace reenactment” [e.g. “Perfectionist. Approval seeker. Fear of being a fraud.”].

Source: Michelle Conlin, Business Week; May 10, 2004

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