Book when work hurts

What are the risks that appear in the growth of a business? How can a well-functioning organization become pathogenic? Not a day goes by without the media telling us about mergers and acquisitions of large groups that create enormous, even insurmountable, difficulties. Claude de SCORRAILLE, in his book When work hurts, takes up a reflection of Paul Watzlawick and gives us an overview of the nature of these issues.   


Excerpt from the book "When work hurts":

Can an organizational system become pathogenic? This question was the subject of an intervention by Paul Watzlawick in the 1980s [1] . His reflection leads him first of all to specify that an internal order is necessary and that it is maintained with the help of the presence of a “little” disorder.

Excess order causes loss of control,
while excess disorder makes control impossible
and gives rise to an unbearable and therefore damaging chaotic reality.

He develops his thought by emphasizing that it is the growth of a system that exposes it the most to the appearance of pathologies because the development process cannot be perceived; it is observed a posteriori. Like any developing system, the appearance of new resources, whether human, material or procedural, does not necessarily produce more performance than the existing one. It is possible that a qualitative leap occurs in rupture with the previous context. To clarify this principle, Watzlawick takes the example of oxygen and hydrogen which, by linking in a particular way, produce water. Water has different characteristics and properties from its constituent molecules, oxygen and hydrogen. And it would be vain to quench our thirst if we swallowed a portion of oxygen after two of hydrogen! Water is not an addition of two substances; it is the product of a particular interactional system of its components. Water is thus an “emerging quality” of a particular system, it is something other than its constituents. This qualitative leap is the reflection of a change that is observed after it has taken place and with which it is now necessary to operate. This principle is at work in our life, we construct a reality through the interactions in which we are involved. This reality then becomes the theater of what we experience there and within which our adjustments contribute to making this form of reality sustainable or, on the contrary, to making it evolve. In the event that this reality presents a difficulty to some of its members, they mobilize to react to it with their usual means. When they fail to overcome it, then they face difficulties that reveal that their problem-solving strategy is ineffective. It is from the moment when the dysfunctional solutions are repeated that pathological symptoms appear. Watzlawick also evokes relational rules with toxic effects for their protagonists when they are caught in a game where only one of the two can win. With the consequence, when this type of game sets in, to wear down the relationship until it breaks. Who can fight endlessly? Pyrrhus, famous adversary of the Romans, once expressed himself by declaring “one more victory like that and we are lost”. His words have spanned the centuries and are particularly meaningful to certain current work situations. What about the relational game between a management and its social partners when the nature of their interactions is reduced to a confrontation? They can no longer see themselves as partners because their way of interacting makes them see themselves as adversaries, each wants to win over the other because he believes he knows better than the other what is good for the system. When the rules become too numerous, they end up channeling the circulation of information along rigid lines, and impose a conformity giving rise to an impoverishment of behaviors and the standardization of the work tool. However, this is always far from the concrete, far from the necessity that is expressed in the action of the operational and which requires an adjustment to the one who acts. Rigid and unmodifiable, this system of rules can alienate the social construction and neutralize the regulations that only the actors instill. In this case, a pathological system takes precedence over the interactions. The bureaucratic ideology pushed to its climax by an ideal of control according to standardized rules and procedures then becomes pathological. In the same way, it will be necessary to be wary of an ideal of autonomy asserted by the liberated companies very in vogue at the present time. Because these ideals, seemingly antagonistic, basically pursue the same conception of the purpose of work, a conception of performance measured in terms of its market value or reduced to its financial dimension. Pathology, when it appears and persists, indicates that regulatory mechanisms are either absent or ineffective.

[1] Watzlawick P., The pathologies of large systems, Critical notebooks of family therapy and network practices, n° 8, Toulouse, France, 1988.

You can find the book "When work hurts" on Amazon