Unmasking Administrative Evil / the Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism

By Murrell, Kenneth L. | Organization Development Journal, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Unmasking Administrative Evil / the Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism


Murrell, Kenneth L., Organization Development Journal


BOOK REVIEW: Two Books That Bring Some Light to the Shadow Side of Organizations"Unmasking Administrative Evil" by Guy Adams and Danny Balfour, and "The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism" by Richard Sennett.

Unmasking Administrative Evil by Guy Adams and Danny Balfour and

The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism by Richard Sennett

Here are two provocative new books for review that should help us better understand the shadow side of our work. Every since Geoff Bellman had described to me his O.D. Network keynote address, delivered on this subject a few years ago, my concerns have increased on how deeply our profession is sensitive to our own ability to judge the moral character of our work. Geoff's masterful design during his session was to have each member of the audience list a shadow side concern they have about their O.D. work. Then each person took their list, wadded it into a ball and then tossed it blindly around the room. Thus maintaining anonymity each person collected someone else's comment and reads it to their own group. In this way no one had to feel they were risking too much disclosure of the things they considered quite private and could be embarrassing if shared openly with everyone. The discussion of what others had written pointed to the common concerns we all share with the kind of work we do. This had to be a most provocative and valuable session. In the two books reviewed here I want to focus beyond the sharing of what we question about our own role. Here is a look at what three respectable scholars can offer us to consider as to the nature of the shadow side of the organizations we work with.

The first book, which I happened to pick up on one of my too frequent flights into and out of the Atlanta airport is "The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism". The author is a sociologist, Richard Sennett, who is teaching at both the London School of Economics and New York University. Sennett has 10 other books to his credit, including three fictional works. This work immediately caught my attention in the fall of '98 just after it was published by Norton and Company. The book held out a promise of helping me to better understand the new work place. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the work world I had been raised in was gone. The new assumptions about the nature of organizational life are being formed daily and the major social changes associated with these are only partially understood by many of us.

Sennett provides several richly written descriptions of the worker and manager of the 90's who is trying to find meaning in a world of work that is not only fast but in his words represents "the association of the flexible and the fluid with the superficial". Managers are too often facile and quick to avoid the responsibilities of decision making he seems to be arguing. This is where he particularly points his criticisms at team activity. Our cherished work building teams he sees as primarily mechanisms where managers go about avoiding responsibility. Managers in his words keep the environment "fluid" and use facilitation often to protect their own reputations. His most critical views about teams seems to be coming from his lack of experience with any real team development and instead from the countless examples of unorganized groups posing as teams. As a sociology professor his critique can be very enlightening if we take time to study his views and the case examples he refers to. I think he is providing, for those of us who do team building, a chance to give thought to what does not work well in our efforts to build group unity and improve performance. His reasoning as to why this is destroying character in the work organizations of today is grounded in social criticism well worth looking into. The world view shared in this book will not appeal to every reader but again how often do we open up ourselves to scrutiny from those who do not share our basic assumptions. …

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