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The Paradoxical Spider Net Effect Published: Sunday, August 4, 2002 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

Let us share with the readers a fundamental thesis. Human and teamwork reality is inherently paradoxical. It is almost impossible to have a team without certain types of tensions and conflicts and that the wish to have those conditions resolved should stem from a reasonable understanding of the paradoxical meaning that tension and conflict has in the life of human beings and work groups within organizations.

But, what is a paradox? Is when the listener is invited into a true or false frame; yet if you think that the statement is true, it immediately backfires on you and appears false, and if you think it is false, it suddenly becomes true. This are sets off vicious cycle that D.R. Hofstadter (Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. 1979) labeled “strange loop.”

An interesting illustration of a strange loop is what happens when one moves upward or downward through the levels of an organizational hierarchy only to find oneself right back at the starting point. Institutional paradoxes are set of statements that are self-referrential and contradictory and that trigger a vicious cycle.

There are three general aspects necessary for the presence of an institutional paradox: self-reference, contradiction and vicious cycle.

Throughout the twentieth century, numerous philosophers and mathematicians have played with different types of paradoxes. For some, such as Russell, Whitehead, Dewey, James and Godel, it was serious work. Our argument is that the paradoxical perspective forms the new knowledge base of postmodern organizational and management theory. We also claim that institutional dynamics are pervaded by wide range of emotions, thoughts and actions that human beings experience as contradictory. Attempts to unravel these contradictory forces create a circular process that paralyzes the system, its teams, units and people.

Our empirical proposition is that the more people seek to pull the contradictions apart, to separate them so that they will not be experienced as contradictory, the more enmeshed they become in the self-referrential binds of paradox. This is the organizational paradoxical spider-net effect. It is precisely because the contradictions are net together that the circularity exist.

To gently illustrate, a paradox such as “all rules are meant to be broken, including this one,” contains a “truth” that is expressed via the juxtaposition of the paradox’s contradictory elements. If we examine the statement, what emerges is that the establishment of rules and the breaking of them are inextricably linked. The idea of breaking a rule is grounded in the notion of the rule itself, and viceversa.

As organizations and their members struggle to manage the tensions generated by contradictory and opposing forces, the essential processes of management dynamics are created. These forces derive from individual and collective reactions to the interdependence of members in teams, units, departments, levels and interorganizational arrangements. Membership in teams and organizations simultaneously creates fear and hope. Fear that their work will be overwhelming or isolating and hope that participation will be both personally and collectively value-adding and gratifying.


Copyright 2002 QBS, Inc.
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