Duffy & Sperry on the organizational life cycle: When the wheels are coming off, do bullying/mobbing behaviors follow?

In their new book, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014), co-authors Maureen Duffy and Len Sperry present a trenchant, insightful description of the typical life cycle of organizations:

  • “Stage I: New Venture”
  • “Stage II: Expansion”
  • “Stage III: Professionalization”
  • “Stage IV: Consolidation”
  • “Stage V: Early Bureaucratization”
  • “Stage VI: Late Bureaucratization”

It’s Stage V, Early Bureaucratization, where serious organizational problems start to arise. Status seeking and turf wars become common. As negativity builds, the better workers start to leave. Leadership morphs into poor administration, and passive-aggressive behaviors increase while morale decreases.

The wheels start coming off in Stage VI, Late Bureaucratization. Miscommunication and poor communication become the norm, as well as helplessness and a lack of shared direction. Workers avoid rocking the boat and safeguard their own job security, while leaders simply try to keep the place going. At this point, absent major, positive changes, “the eventual demise of the organization seems inevitable.”

How does this relate to bullying and mobbing at work?

I suggest that you spend some time with this excellent book to see how the authors relate this life cycle to bullying and mobbing behaviors at work, but we can also ponder the question here.

We have known for a long time that interpersonal abuse at work is usually enabled by an organization’s culture. The Duffy-Sperry conceptualization of the organizational life cycle helps to clarify when these behaviors may become more frequent, especially varieties of mobbing that are focal points for their work.

Over the years, I’ve heard many descriptions of workplace cultures associated with bullying & mobbing that seem to correlate with the Early and Late Bureaucratization stages described by the authors. Status-seeking, turf wars, dropping morale, poor leadership, passive-aggressive behaviors, lousy communication, self-protective and play-it-safe strategies…the list goes on and on.

Bullying behaviors thrive in such institutional settings. Fixing such a toxic work environment calls for wise, inclusive, and open-minded stewardship — very likely the opposite of the brands of “leadership” that brought the organization to its crisis point in the first place.

I’m curious if readers recognize these latter stages of the organizational life cycle in bullying & mobbing situations they’ve experienced or observed.

2 responses

  1. Interesting take on organizational health and workplace bullying. My ex-employer was rolling in the dough; they didn’t appear to be in any danger of going down. The way they raised and spent public monies would raise eyebrows but they bounced back from any possible scandal like teflon. In hindsight, I realize they wouldn’t get away with their shenanigans had they been in the private sector or in a city not dominated by government interests. Public officials where I live now have been taken down for far less.

    The bullying that went on I attribute to a manager who got too big for her britches and was beyond reproach. I believe she engaged in malicious behavior for sport. Picking off subordinates one by one fed her ego. She was addicted and there were never any consequences for her actions.

    I suppose there will always be sickos who get a rise out of mistreating others. In a healthy organization, this behavior would not be allowed to thrive.

  2. I’ve always found that when the bullying starts to get bad, it usually means the company is also in financial trouble of some type.

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