When Shadow covers Agile

In my previous post I described how personal Shadow of a manager can inhibit Agile transformation in organization (though I didn’t use the word “Shadow”). Here I would like to discuss Shadow in organizational context and explore how it influences outcomes of Agile transformation. In one of my next posts, I will focus on particular tools and techniques to work with Shadow and assimilate it.
Introduced by C.G. Jung, the idea of Shadow includes a constellation of personal traits repressed and superseded into unconscious as undesirable or unacceptable to one’s conscientiousness. Shadow is a hidden energy that have a great influence on person’s behavior. On the one hand, repression of emotion, feeling or aspiration 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 a form of a sudden and inexplicable rage of someone who consider herself reasonable and calm. On the other hand, Shadow express itself in projections of our unconscious images on others; by doing this we morally whitewash ourselves, but this affects our relationship with others.
Shadow exists not only on individual level, but also on collective level, so we have not only personal Shadow, but also Collective Shadow, that plays 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 on organizational level. As a result of the fact that management shows preferences toward particular values, managerial practices and attitudes, the Organization Shadow emerges, manifesting itself on the way organization perceives others and itself.
Emergence of a Shadow itself is inevitable byproduct of the formation of an individual or organization. In order to act one have 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 structure of an organization itself.
For example, an organization that supersedes its desire to suppress dissent creates Organization Shadow that will manifest itself in two ways. First, by projection of this desire on other organizations and individuals (with or without any evidence supporting this). Second, by unreasonable and unpredictable outbreaks of dictatorship within organization. We can see such example in a story of 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 by creating profits, used “freedom is dying everywhere” rhetoric to justify its unethical behavior, from bribery to undermining of 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.
Organization Shadow is created in entangled interplay of all its members. To see how it can work let’s take an example of manager – subordinate relationships. 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 unenterprising (Pygmalion effect), superseding their desire for autonomy in their personal Shadow. In this manner, Organization Shadow emerges, nourished by all its members.
Shadow cannot be removed without destruction of personality (or organization), but it can be explored and assimilated. Assimilation of the Shadow makes an individual more psychologically balanced. It allows a person to control assimilated aspects of his or her Shadow (or prepare countermeasures in case this aspects will go out of control). One can also deliberately chose to reveal such Shadow aspects in situations that require this kind of behavior. Shadow assimilation requires hard work, and often is a painful process. It is complicated by the fact that Shadow is a part of unconscious, so person is unaware of it by definition. One can focus on manifestations of a Shadow (e.g. projections), but it is often not clear what part of the Shadow creates this manifestations.
Assimilation of Organization Shadow is even more complicated, because it can be done only on individual level; an individual have to take responsibility for both Personal Shadow and Collective Shadow. This requires a lot of reflection, and that can be especially difficult in an organization that is focused on action. It also requires courage, because assimilation of shadow solves problems, but create new problems of a different kind. C. G. Jung in “The structure and dynamics of the psyche” writes: “If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all these projections then you get an individual who is conscious of a considerable Shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is unable to say that they do this, or that they are wrong and they must be fought against…. Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself and if he only learns to deal with his own Shadow, he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.”
As assimilation of a Personal Shadow requires restructuring of one’s personality, assimilation of Organization Shadow will require restructuring of an organization; that can lead to resistance from those who are influenced by these changes. It’s also the case that members of organization that are not ready to assimilate Organization Shadow (and their Personal Shadow) will resist and suffer from this new view on themselves and their organization.
However, this assimilation is beneficial to organization. First, we can be sure that any organizational changes will work to rectify real inadequacies rather than are focused on projections. Second, as with Personal Shadow, as soon as we are aware of all aspects of organization “personality” we can control of plan countermeasures for those aspects that are destructive or impede organization from reaching its goals. Alternatively, we can use those aspects in situations that demand such behavior. Third, it will create uncontroversial (or at least less controversial) culture, so members of organization will less suffer from stress caused by inconsistency between what is stated and what is acted out.
So what all of these has to do with Agile? Agile transformations (as any organizational change) are aimed to solve some problems. But if organization and its managers are blind to themselves, any attempt to solve those problems is neither valid nor carries any possibility so solve this problem. If you are aiming to change an illusion, you will get an illusion of change. In best case, it could change some parts of a problem, but create a dozen of new ones. (I am not talking about rare cases in which organization already is “almost Agile”. In such cases Agile transformation obviously work perfectly well.) This puts a responsibility to confront Shadow on managers as people who define organizational actions. (This puts even higher responsibility to confront and assimilate Personal Shadow on people who will lead such transformation, e.g. Agile Coaches.)
To inform organization of its Shadow side one could employ metaphors, rituals and stories. A number of researchers point to metaphorical analysis as an important tool for revealing the social reality of organizational life, allowing to see organization form different perspectives. This however has some limitations; M. Bowles in his paper “Recognizing deep structures in organizations” states that “… metaphorical analysis, whilst a potentially powerful tool for assisting managers in explaining deep structures, requires a maturity often not realized.” To overcome such limitations managers can refer for help to Agile Coach (assuming that someone claiming to be an Agile Coach is mature enough and successfully worked to assimilate his or her Personal Shadow).
Confronting a Shadow is a first step towards self-knowledge both on individual and organizational levels. Next step is accepting the Shadow, and this step is even more demanding. Even on an individual level, facing the Shadow can be painful enough to force individual to retreat back to the shelter of illusions. Integration of an Organization Shadow can be infinitely more difficult job. But without doing so any organizational change is focused on illusions rather than reality, so it will not reach its goals. Therefore moving towards assimilation of Organization Shadow becomes crucial part on Agile transformation for managers and for organization as a whole.