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The Addictive Organization: Why We Overwork, Cover Up, Pick Up the Pieces, Please the Boss, and Perpetuate S by Anne Wilson Schaef

The Addictive Organization: Why We Overwork, Cover Up, Pick Up the Pieces, Please the Boss, and Perpetuate S
The Addictive Organization: Why We Overwork, Cover Up, Pick Up the Pieces, Please the Boss, and Perpetuate S
Anne Wilson Schaef
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Addiction & Recovery
HarperOne (October 4, 1990)
240 pages
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1989 kb

Schaef and Fassel show how managers, workers, and organization members exhibit the classic symptoms of addiction: denying and avoiding problems, assuming that there is no other way of acting, and manipulating events to maintain the status quo.

  • LivingCross
The book "The Addictive Organization" by Dr. Anne Wilson Schaef and Dr. Diane Fassel was a cutting-edge, trailblazing, controversial book on the addictive behavior of organizations when first published in 1990. It covered something that traditional organizational development consulting missed. This book is still at the cutting-edge in the field of addictive organization identification and recovery today!

I was introduced to this book in 1990 by two coworkers in, as I learned many years latter, an addictive organization where we worked - Organization B. I had no idea what my colleagues and the book were talking about then. Hence, I dismissed their warning to me. I understand today - the hard way.

Unlike Schaef and Fassel, I have no PhD in clinical psychology and organizational development consulting. What I do have is real-world experience as a recovering workaholic with 24-years of continuous "sobriety" from the active addiction of workaholism . This period followed 32 years of active workaholism including working in two addictive organizations: Organization A and Organization B.

Organization A is a well-known, highly-respected software organization. Organization B is an internationally, well-known consulting organization. I am a "retired" software engineer with 50+ years of software development experience.

I will leave to the end of this review why I decided to review this book some 26 years after its initial publication. Suffice it to say for now that no other reviewer of this book to date on www.amazon.com has revealed an admitted addiction and recovery experience from it. I humbly submit that is key to and makes this review unique.

Now, to the book. Overall, the authors do an excellent job of showing how addictive organizations display many of the addictive behaviors that addicted individuals have. Moreover, Schaef and Fassel point out how our society in general has become an addicted society. How else does one explain the success of companies, like the fictitious company "The Caffeine Shop", whose primary products depend mostly on caffeine (espresso style to boot) - an addictive substance, which, by definition, can alter one's mood upon intake. Coffee and a cigarette were my breakfast for years!

Schaef and Fassel emphasize and compare the behavior of addictive organizations to that of active workaholics, alcoholics and codependents among others. Important sections of the book include:

1. Terms and Characteristics
2. Organizations in Which a Key Person is an Addict
3. Organization as an Addictive Substance
4. Organization as Addict
5. Recovery in the Addicted Organization

The section "Terms and Characteristics" provide a number of important definitions and characteristics of addicted organizations (stemming from and paralleling those of addicted individuals). The parallels are astonishing. The characteristics identified, otherwise known, as character defects in 12-Step speak, include denial, dishonesty, self-centeredness and grandiosity among others. Schaef and Fassel use the term "addict" both generally and specifically, as distinguished by context. This section levels the playing field for readers without a personal addictive experience.

The section "Organizations in Which a Key Person is an Addict" was the key to my understanding the concept of the addictive organization. Each organization had such a key, highly-visible and influential individual! While both organizations exhibited many characteristics of addictive organizations, Organizations A and B did not exhibit every characteristic of addictive organizations that Schaef and Fassel define.

The two sections "Organization as an Addictive Substance" and "Organization as Addict" describe and nail the behavior of addictive organizations in comparison to addicted individuals. In addictive software organizations, the substance is the software development work itself. The addict is the software engineer, technical leader, manager or executive.

To wit, there were times I would work 36 hours straight on a computer developing and debugging the software my project was developing in Organization A. Here, the substance was the software development organization and the "exciting" activity of software development - the adrenaline and coffee flowed. The organizational addict was the software engineer - me. At one point, when my behavior was "out of control", my manager said he would fire me if I did not take two weeks of vacation! When my behavior was "acceptable", he was glad to let me work endless hours on a computer.

The good news is there is hope for addictive organizations, just as the Recovery Community Meetings and the 12 Steps offer recovery to the addicted individual. The section "Recovery in the Addicted Organization" outlines an intervention-based approach to recovery for addicted organizations. The recovery schema is a combination of recovery for the organization as well as for its addicted individual workers. Organizational recovery takes time as it does for individual recovery, whether in an addicted organization or not.

Organizational recovery is initiated by a team of trained people, lead by experienced, outside consultants such as Schaef and Fassel. Individuals in the organization, such as human resource persons, who function in the Employee Assisted Program (EPA) capacity, can be trained to sustain organizational recovery. Individual recovery would proceed along the lines of recovery using the 12 Steps attuned to each individual's particular addiction / behavior.

The pros of this book are its ground-breaking insights to identify, characterize and link the attributes of addictive organizations to those of addicted individuals. The recovery process outlined in the book appears to be solid, broad and deep - offering addictive organizations the hope of becoming healthy, truly functioning, creative and productive organizations.

The major con of this book is the lack of hard research data - numbers, charts and graphs - linking anecdotal evidence to date to hard, scientific facts. Until such data is available, addictive organization identification and recovery remain a "soft science".

Ok, why did I write this review? As the reader may surmise, the software development organization can become and most likely is an addictive organization in many technology companies to date. I recently read online that the CEO of a leading technical / software company recently said it may be necessary for individual workers in some startup technology companies to work up to 130 hours per week to make the startup successful. That is pure lunacy! Research shows that individual and, thus, organizational productivity, drop off sharply after working 50 hours per week!

If you do not believe that there are addictive organizations today, I challenge you, the reader, to go online to www.glassdoor.com. Then, select the review sections of several major software-intensive companies (i.e., those companies whose products / services depend heavily on software) - household names in modern, computer-based technology companies. Observe how many employee-written reviews in these highly-esteemed technology companies cite the problem of work / life balance. Such reviews most likely report only the tip of the workaholism iceberg and other addictive behaviors in their company organizations.

My ignorance and naivete along these lines took a very serious toll on my life and that of my family in terms of health and work / life balance years ago. I now sound the warning for you, the software engineer / consultant / technical leader / manager / executive reading this review. While software development is an exciting, intellectually challenging and rewarding career, it can also become an active addiction and the basis of serious problems of health and well-being in your future if you are not aware. That is why I wrote this review - to make you aware, based on personal experience!

The book "The Addictive Organization" is equally applicable and relevant today, maybe even more so, than it was when first published in 1990.
  • Ann
This is a profound, ground-breaking read. I especially find myself reflecting on the notion of "binary thinking". The book describes it as a toxic pattern of addiction, forcing a solution to a complex situation into two and only two choices. It's toxic rather than efficient, because neither choice addresses the underlying issue, ignores complexity entirely, and in the end just keeps you stuck in the problem. So you get to look like you're trying to change. But you end up not changing at all.

I look around me and see this toxic pattern everywhere. Politics, media. Two and only two points of view are we offered on any issue. And most of the time, neither viewpoint represents a resolution to the problem at hand. Keeping us stuck. And divided.

I invite you to read it with an open mind and see what patterns you observe in your life, workplace, family, even religion. This is key.
  • Shazel
In many years in the Corporate life, I wanted the Company to understand that a lot of the problems management was having were caused by...surprise!...management.
This book is excellent in explaining to those of us who hate the insanity of corporate life what is happening and why, and possible remedies.
If you are working, or are listening to a friend or loved one complain over and over about office politics and craziness of different bosses, this book is a great read.
Even the authors, however, will tell you not to expect the Company to listen. They might nod and buy the book, pass them around HR and so on, but in essence, most mid- to large-sized corporations are so big that their dysfunctional behavior cannot be taken apart without the whole thing unfolding. (Or at least, that's what they believe, and so the urge to hold on).
The CEO of a dysfunctional company won't appreciate the insight that each company is as healthy or as ill as their top leader - the further away she/he gets from the goings on, the less s/he may be aware of this, and the less willing to hear this.
My advise is to read the book but expect no "cures". Reading this book helped my sanity (I took early retirement). Anyone suffering inside a corporation can start questioning, seriously, if they want to stay in this dysfunctional "family" (there may not be much of a choise)and if they can get out, start planning. Even if retirement or leaving is years away, planning helps. Get a life outside the Company. Also read "Crazy Bosses" and other books by Anne Wilson Schaef.
  • Anarius
A classic book that makes some good points, but it depends too much on anecdotal evidence and not enough on research.
  • MrRipper
This a a great read. I got this book on the recommendation of a old professor. It was interesting to see some of my own addictive habits in this book and why. I saw my whole organization all throughout this book.
  • Yanthyr
If your within your first 5 years of a career type job, you really need to read this. From 5-10 and your now married with kids-time to read this. 11-30 years into the same company
  • Nanecele
This book gave me a clear vision of my organization and how to deal with the leadership vacuum.
Good book