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OD Theory – Psychoanalytical Theory

In addition to the five core OD theories there are other theories that a solid OD practitioner must understand to build on their theoretical foundation for practice.  Good grounding in theory is essential for every OD practitioner.  The better you understand the theory, the better you will understand the complex and intricate nature of the OD process and OD tool kit.

Psychoanalytical Theory in Brief

Sigmund Freud developed Psychoanalytic Theory of personality that suggests that early experiences influence all human behaviour. The Theory explores two territories of the human mind, the conscious and the unconscious.

The conscious mind includes everything that we are aware of, those parts of our our mental processing that we can think and talk about rationally. Part of this includes our memory, which is not always part of consciousness but can be retrieved easily at any time and brought into our awareness.

The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict. According to the theory, the unconscious continues to influence our behaviour and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences.

Psychoanalytic theory seeks to address three core issues to behaviour – the id, the ego and the superego.

Psychoanalysts argue that all human personality is comprised of these closely integrated functions. The id refers to our biological or physical functioning which influences behaviour that is unfettered, compelling and lacking morality, selfish and intolerant of tension. id functions on the principle of pleasure before anything else and operates at an unconscious or instinctive level.  Many of us have experienced what is commonly referred to as a Freudian slip. These misstatements are believed to reveal underlying, unconscious thoughts or feelings.

The ego is the rationally functioning element of human personality. Ego exerts conscious control, trying always to be the mediator between the id and the superego. Ego seeks pleasure based on rationality instead of irrationality and therefore results in behaviour that is rational and always conscious.  The ego is the aspect we present to the “outside” world, it is our public face.

The superego represents our moral system. It strives to put a right or wrong label on our behaviour and is driven by our own morality.


Key Points

  1. Humanity is irrational, materialistic and mechanistic.
  2. Our early experience influences our behaviour
  3. Anxiety occurs when there is conflict among the three divisions of id, ego and superego.
  4. Humans use defence mechanisms to control the anxiety.
  5. Development of the concepts of human conscious and unconscious and conscience.


Applying Psychoanalytic Theory in an OD Intervention

  1. Observe the impact of id, ego and superego on the interactions between employees and management,
  2. Monitor the conscious and unconscious forces that bind fellow employees together, and the role of autonomy in people’s lives.
  3. During the diagnostic phase, build a model of the dynamics of the workplace.
  4. Highlight how work and the organization interact with the employees’ unconscious motivations and ideation.
  5. Challenge individuals who use splitting (a process whereby we simplify a complex situation by attributing all its ‘x’ characteristics to one of a pair, and all its ‘y’ characteristics to the other e.g. Goodies and Baddies) in their organisational framing, or organisations where splitting has become institutionalised
  6. Continue to remind participants that all work systems have technical, human and social aspects and these are interdependent rather than allowing them to perceive them in separate configurations
  7. Ensure whether the method that is being developed has the requisite characteristics that will in fact enable it to facilitate transition.
  8. When working with an individual or a group in an organisation include something of the other individuals and departments, the products, the technologies, the markets, the geography, the legal framework and the history.