Monday, 23 November 2009

Is your firm “mental”? Probably.

Have you ever noticed how dysfunctional relationships between the people in organisations commonly are?

Have you noticed the apparently endemic scheming, manipulating, back-biting, bullying, blaming and shaming, personality clashes and communication breakdowns? Have you ever felt angry or depressed about that? No? Then maybe you work in an exceptional organisation, or in splendid isolation, or you are on “happy pills”.

After “quite a few” years in corporate, institutional and business life I’ve come to the view that the average firm is “mental”; meaning it is dysfunctional: a psychologically unhealthy place to be.

Dysfunctionality isn’t OK but it is normal, so it’s what’s expected and tolerated. We can effectively deny it’s an issue until the competition pays attention to it and begins to overcome it. Then, if we are to survive, we too must seek to become a “high functioning organisation”.

Several years ago I got to work with academics and practitioners in the mental health sector and became acquainted with the Recovery Approach to individual and community mental health. Out of that interaction I co-wrote chapter 7 in Clinical Management in Mental Health Services. December 2008. Blackwell: London.

There Samson Tse and I outlined for clip_image002mental health practitioners how they could relate and apply their clinical knowledge and methodology, the Recovery Approach, to their dysfunctional mental health service organisations.

When I recently began working with an NGO in the mental health sector this piece of work once again became prominent for me. So much so perhaps that when I was recently asked “What is your profession?” I replied, “Organisational Therapist”! The ensuing conversation inspired my previous blog post “What to do about bullying.”

Check out the Recovery Approach. You may find, as I have, that although it’s designed as a treatment for people who are ill, it’s broadly speaking an interpersonal-relationship and community-based way to keep people well and foster creativity, collaboration and engagement in shared purpose. That’s what contemporary organisations need to compete by continuous innovation in the world today.


  1. Good insight. Perhaps it's due to people giving abusive people power over them, which encourages abusive people and it snowballs? I agree with your thought that organizational ethos are top-down, largely because an employee has very limited power in vertically-organized companies. Abusive people also have no problems taking advantage of nice folks, so many times, they gain ascendency in organizations that value greed over all else. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts and following your blog.
    - Jerr

  2. Good article. I don't have the technical background in this like you but from my experience some work places are pretty septic.