When a Shadow covers Agile

In my previous posts I described how the Personal Shadow of a manager can inhibit an Agile transformation process in organizations (though I didnt use the word Shadow). Here I would like to discuss the idea of the Shadow in organizational context and explore how it influences the outcomes of an Agile transformation process. In one of my next posts, I will also focus on the particular tools and techniques you can use to work with the Shadow and assimilate it.

In my previous posts I described how the Personal Shadow of a manager can inhibit an Agile transformation process in organizations (though I didnt use the word Shadow). Here I would like to discuss the idea of the Shadow in organizational context and explore how it influences the outcomes of an Agile transformation process. In one of my next posts, I will also focus on the particular tools and techniques you can use to work with the Shadow and assimilate it.

Introduced by C.G. Jung, the idea of the Shadow includes a constellation of personal traits repressed and superseded into the unconscious as undesirable or unacceptable to ones conscientiousness. Shadow is a hidden energy that has a great influence on a persons behavior. On the one hand, the repression of emotions, feelings or aspirations requires a huge amount of energy, thus, as Jolande Jacobi writes in The psychology of C. J. Jung: spiritual and moral tower [person] live in is not a natural growth but an artificial scaffolding erected and sustained by force, hence in danger of collapsing under the slightest weight. This can take the form of a sudden and inexplicable rage of someone who considers herself reasonable and calm. On the other hand, the Shadow expresses itself in projections of our unconscious images on others; by doing this we morally whitewash ourselves, but this affects our relationship with others.

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The Shadow exists not only on an individual level, but also on a collective level, so we not only have a personal Shadow, but also a Collective Shadow, that plays a role in interpersonal and inter-group relationships. R. B. Denhardt in his book In the Shadow of Organization used the Shadow concept to describe problems of the same kind as described above, that we can see at an organizational level. As a result of the fact that management shows preferences toward particular values, managerial practices and attitudes, the Organizations Shadow emerges, manifesting itself in the way the organization perceives others and itself.

The emergence of a Shadow itself is an inevitable byproduct of the formation of an individual or organization. In order to act, one has to decide on the course of actions, so some actions become preferable and others are not; we do this under influence our goals, values and the constraints set up by others (family, friends, and society). In an organization, managers create a Shadow by preferring specific values, practices and energies. That Shadow manifests itself in how the work is organized, how the business strategy is defined, and in the structure of the organization itself.

For example, an organization that supersedes its desire to suppress dissent creates an Organization Shadow that will manifest itself in two ways. First, by projecting this desire on other organizations and individuals (with or without any evidence supporting this).

Secondly, by unreasonable and unpredictable outbreaks of dictatorship within an organization. We can see such example in the story of the ITT corporation described by Antony Sampson in The sovereign state: the secret history of International Telephone and Telegraph. A company, that was a conglomerate of omnipotent control, where everyone was obsessed with creating profits, used freedom is dying everywhere rhetoric to justify its unethical behavior, from bribery to undermining the democratically elected government in Chile (in tandem with the CIA). A company that suppressed freedom both inside itself and in countries where it worked positioned itself as a freedom fighter.

The Organizations Shadow is created in the entangled interplay of all its members. To see how it can work lets take an example of a manager relationships with those on his team. Imagine a manager that craves power, but suppresses this desire as unethical, superseding it in his Personal Shadow. Then he can project weakness and immaturity on his subordinates, and by doing so, he justifies his authoritarian actions. Subordinates, carrying this projection, can become dependent and passive (Pygmalion effect), superseding their desire for autonomy in their personal Shadow. In this manner, the Organizational Shadow emerges, nourished by all its members.

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Sergey Makarkin
Chief Program Manager

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