n South African Journal of Labour Relations - Intergroup dynamics in a business consulting organisation




The primary objective of the research was to investigate the following: "What is the basis of the intergroup dynamics that potentially lead to conflict and ineffective work behaviour, and how does group dynamics manifest in groups within a specific business consulting organisation?" This entailed a qualitative analysis of unconscious dynamics or drives within and between different groups in the organisation, in an attempt to identify and describe those unique processes which lead to confusion about task, group and identity boundaries, disempowerment and a break down in intergroup relations. The intergroup relations between the different departments included in this research were studied from the psychoanalytic, systems and object relations approaches, with specific focus on the Tavistock Group Relations model. The measuring technique comprised an unstructured interview for data collection and the hermeneutic approach to the analysis and interpretation of data. The interview was used in order to explore, study and analyse the relations between two groups in terms of the boundary management, authority and projective processes in and between these groups. These three constructs provided a structure for discovering a range of perceptions from the participants' viewpoint on the interactions between the groups. Apart from the systems psychoanalytic analysis of these constructs, the hermeneutic approach was used in order make an in-depth analysis of the dynamics of interaction between the two groups. The results indicated that these groups, in interaction with each other, set up defences against anxieties which could undermine the success of their work efforts and relationships. Issues of nonclarity of task, group boundary and identity problems, authority issues and projection reactions seemed prevalent. Valuable insights were gained which explained one group's self-absorbed behaviour and the resultant lack of interaction; how anti-task processes and especially administrative tasks are used by groups to contain anxiety and avoid attending to problematic interpersonal processes; how in the absence of clearly defined tasks and identity boundaries groups take up tasks and roles of authority figures in an attempt to define and authorise themselves; how intense competition between groups (normally encouraged in organisations) can lead to heightened anxiety, mistrust and hostility; how projective identification processes may lead to feelings of incompetence and powerlessness in a group; and how human resources managers, in identifying with projections from different groups, take the responsibility for intergroup relations in organisations on themselves, which undermines the opportunity for groups to link directly. Hypotheses were developed around these issues and proved useful as a basis for team and intergroup development, resolving intergroup conflict and further research.


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