Organizational blind spots: Splitting, blame and idealization in the National Health Service

From Human Relations

When decision makers commit to failing strategies, the impact is far reaching, affecting customers, employees, taxpayers and/or citizens. Unrealistic strategic aims mobilize and reinforce blind spots through processes of splitting, blame and idealization, thus enabling organizations to persist with unsuccessful courses of action. The contribution in this article is threefold. First, authors indicate the potential for a psychoanalytic lens to deepen understanding of commitment to failing strategies in organizations by highlighting the dynamic interplay between affect, cognition and unconscious motivation. The second contribution builds on work on social defences to describe the evolution and maintenance of organizational blind spots through interactions of individual defences with organizational and social contexts. Finally the third and final contribution is the extension of the literature by linking escalation of commitment phenomena to individual and organizational dynamics and systemic policy.

Abstract

The article examines the escalation of commitment to failing strategies from a psychodynamic perspective as an affective process connecting organizational, systemic and individual levels. We propose a theory of organizational blind spots to explain how such escalation of commitment occurs. Blind spots develop as an organizational defence mechanism for coping with problems resulting from attempts to implement unrealistic strategy or policy goals. Unrealistic strategic aims mobilize and reinforce blind spots through processes of splitting, blame and idealization, thus enabling organizations to persist with unsuccessful courses of action. Organizational blind spots arise when leadership and/or operational members in organizations are unable to acknowledge unworkable strategies. Vignettes from the National Health Service in England (the NHS) are used to illustrate how blind spots sustain an illusory possibility of success while commitment to a failing strategy escalates. The theory of blind spots offers a novel social-psychological approach to understanding how these dysfunctions of strategy develop and become institutionalized, putting organizations in jeopardy and threatening their survival.

 

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Article details
Marianna Fotaki and Paula Hyde
Organizational blind spots: Splitting, blame and idealization in the National Health ServiceOrganizational blind spots: Splitting, blame and idealization in the National Health Service Human Relations 0018726714530012, first published on June 19, 2014 doi:10.1177/0018726714530012

 

 

     
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