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The Addictive Organization

Why We Overwork, Cover Up, Pick Up the Pieces, Please the Boss, and Perpetuate Sick Organizations
  • By Anne Schaef
The Origins of an Idea

We believe that we have developed a unique description of a process in group and organizational life. There were four strands in the evolution of these ideas that were important to us: organizational development, paradigm shift concepts, women's literature, and addictions research and treatment. There are many other areas that could have been probed and that have influenced us, but the ideas from these four consistently emerge in our work with groups. It is not only the importance of each of these areas, it is also the uniqueness of the combination that added to our growing awareness of the importance of addiction in organizations. The "'uniqueness" does not exist in any one of these four areas per se, it exists in the combination. For example, we have found that few people knowledgeable about organizational literature are also well read in feminist, new paradigm, and/or addiction literature, and few in the addictions field have also digested writings by women or the literature on organizations, about the new paradigm, and so forth. This combination of ideas applied to organizations appears to be unique.

The idea of the addictive organization has been germinating in us for a number of years. As we said, it developed out of several concurrent forces in our lives. It came into focus, however, when we began looking at the role that addictions play in our personal lives, in our families, and in the lives of our friends. It was not long before we recognized that many of the groups we knew and the organizations with whom we consulted also have characteristics that we recognized as addictive. Observing some of the forces in our lives, we could link these forces tokey concepts in contemporary writing that had been very important to us. This exploration slowly contributed to a full-fledged theory of the addictive organization. No new ideas develop in a vacuum. New ideas emerge from our thinking, our growing, our experience, and our surprises. As most of us know, creative ideas and awareness are not really developed, they are discovered. New ideas always somehow relate to new understandings of old perceptions or new slants on familiar material. Frequently, we discover what we have not yet known by moving slightly to the left or the right (or even standing on our head) and viewing the old from a new angle. However, in order to achieve that new angle, multiple strands have to come together to form a new perception. This is what happened to us in the development of the ideas in this book, We want to share how the idea of the addictive organization developed for us by exploring the major areas of scholarship and experience leading to our discovery of what we consider to be a major missing piece in understanding organizations and organizational change. We describe some key concepts in each of these four areas and show how they eventually built to another perception-that of the addictive organization.


When we survey the literature on organizations written in the past three years and balance these writings with our training and experience, a few books and themes stand out as significant.

consequences of their actions, and they are, therefore, less able to assume personal responsibility. Also, it is important to recognize that full personal participation results in a totally different kind of knowledge and information fromthat which is gathered abstractly and objectively by someone else. This kind of information in turn affects the organization differently from the information of nonparticipatory management. Quality circles make available a wider pool of talent and foster a climate in which people learn from one another. We have seen numerous groups spurred on by a few words of affirmation or by the sheer excitement of solving a problem, which suggests that money is not the only incentive important to workers.

We think quality circles and other forms of worker participation result in less segmentalism and more communication between groups in organizations. Such participation also distributes leadership among more people, in turn allowing them to learn the skills of leadership. This "spreading around the wealth" challenges the notion that leadership resides in just one appointed person. It is general knowledge in organization circles that with worker participation there appears to be less sabotage of products and fewer sick days taken, suggesting participation is healthy for both worker and company.

Marshall Sashkin's article "Participative Management Remains an Ethical Imperative" is characteristic of much of the writing about this topic in that it provides a summary of the forms of participation. However, his article is considered controversial because he insists that participation is a moral obligation. Briefly, he sees four possible areas of participation by workers: setting goals, making decisions, solving problems, and planning and carrying out change. These

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  • Additional Details
    • SKU: 9780062548740
    • Manufacturer: Harper One
    • Language of Text: English
    • ISBN 13: 9780062548740
    • UMPH: 290698
    • ISBN 10: 0062548743
    • Publication Date: 09/01/1990
    • Format: Paperback
    • Author: Anne Schaef
    • Page Count: 240
    • Width: 5.32 inches
    • Height: 0.61 inches
    • Length: 8.06 inches
    • Weight: 0.47 pounds
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