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THE SYMBOLIC IMPACT OF DOUBLE BIND LEADERSHIP: DOUBLE BIND AND THE DYNAMICS OF ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE

Bjørn W. Hennestad

Journal of Management Studies, 1990, vol. 27, issue 3, 265-280

Abstract: They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game (Laing, 1971). Members of an organization are supposedly led, but very often they do not see the way. On the contrary, they are exposed to conflicting management signals and caught in double bind situations. Double bind connotes a situation where conflicting messages occur, but where it is vitally important to discern what message is being communicated, and where the individual is unable to comment upon the ambiguity. The result is that the individual is not capable of meta communication and thus incapable of learning about the situation. We presume that the double bind phenomenon can often be found in organizations. In extreme cases this creates ‘double bind organizations’ in which the members are continuously confronted with double bind situations. The members become incapable of exploring the existing models of organizational behaviour. Organizational dynamics emerge ‘behind the back’ of people in the organization. The organization's meaning horizon is narrowed due to a lack of authentic dialogue. Attempted changes of organizational direction are experienced as just another double bind, and attempted changes of the double bind patterns become victims of the logic they attempt to alter. In such cases, the organization could be said to be characterized by a form of institutionalized learning incompetence. Understanding the double bind phenomenon should be seen as being important for managing organizations in general, and for the change and the management of change in particular.

Date: 1990
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