Human Relations

, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 413–429

Social Defenses Against Organizational Learning

  • Alastair Bain


It is argued that for organizational learning to occur maladaptive social defenses within the organization have to be altered. The origins of the concept of social defenses are traced through the work of Jaques and Menzies. A new concept of “system domain,” and related concepts of “system domain fabric,” and “system domain defenses,” are proposed in order to account for the difficulties in sustaining organizational change in organizations that share a similar primary task. “Organizational learning” is defined as occurring when there is co-evolution of “organizational container” and “contained.” The article distills variables from three successful consultancy/action research projects which are characteristic of organizations that are learning, and it is hypothesized that the creation of “organizational awareness” is necessary for organizational learning to occur.



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© The Tavistock Institute 1998

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  • Alastair Bain

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