Is Organisational Culture Primitive?

The study of Organisation Dynamics refers to the behaviour and culture of organisations as a ‘whole’ rather than that of the individual.  The focus of the ‘group’ or ‘system’ dynamic is commonly referred to as the ‘culture’. When asked to describe the culture – it is often hard to do so.  How do you describe the social fibre of an organisation when most of it is actually hidden under the surface.  Culture is best described as the things each of us do unconsciously.  For example – when a new person joins your organisation they are mostly in a state of confusion – why? – because they are trying to understand the ‘under the surface’ dynamics of the organisation.  They must learn this before they can perform their job in the most socially appropriate way.  What is acceptable behaviour in one organisation is totally unacceptable in another – I have seen this in many organisations.
The study of Organisation Dynamics seeks to understand some of the unconscious drivers and socially constructed systems that make up the system and subsequent sub systems of an organisation.
Bion (1967) laid a foundation to better understand organisations as social systems when he analysed and documented group behaviour.  Bion was clear in his description of a group in that it must be formed to serve a purpose.  Organisations too have a purpose and each division within an organisation has its own purpose or set of tasks that are linked to the overall purpose of the organisation (sometimes!).
I don’t want to get academic on you (because I’m definitely not!) , however anyone who has studied organisations might be familiar with Bion’s theory.  This underpins the framework for organisational observation today.  Bion’s central theory was that there are two parts to every group.  These two parts formed the ‘work group’ and the ‘basic assumption group’.  The ‘work group’ serves the purpose or task of the group and the ‘basic assumption group’ holds the unconscious fantasies or ‘assumptions’ of the group.  Bion describes this group as the ‘invisible people sitting in two separate circles and talking’ .Margaret J Rioch  1970 p. 20).  Inherently as individuals we hold both the ‘task’ and the ‘invisible’.  Think about who you gravitate to or gossip with (yes you do).  Sometimes the invisible side of us can be used in awful ways towards others – like colluding, alienating others and more.   I’ve certainly seen this happen but people aren’t aware that they are doing it – it is unconscious (or sometimes unfortunately conscious).
There are three main groups that Bion (1961) uses to analyse the ‘Basic Assumption Group’ and these are Basic Assumption Dependency (Bad), Basic Assumption Fight/Flight (Baf) and Basic Assumption Pairing (Bap).  The fundamental idea regarding ‘basic assumption groups’ is that they operate (unconsciously) ‘as if’ or assuming that something was true.  For example, the Bad group operates as if they were a depending on another (in most cases the omnipotent leader) as their saviour – again, this is not a conscious choice.
All Basic Assumption groups operate at the most primitive level of humanity and it is this that is culture.  So describe the culture of your organisation now?  What is the real culture?

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