“Let me tell you a story …….” – Archetypes in and at work …..

January 10, 2013


As my career developed, both as a senior director and as coach, I became increasingly aware of the different roles that I, my staff and my clients played in their lives. That understanding grew as I learnt more about psychology, the human spirit and what moves (and blocks us!).

Yes I learnt all about Force Field Analysis, looking at the factors (forces) that influence a situation, either work or social and I looked  at forces that are either drive (helping forces) or block movement (hindering forces) toward a goal.  It has, and continues to be helpful.

But it seemed still seemed so many of those forces were ‘below the surface’, hidden and not apparent to the MBA manager.

I also noticed that some the constant change in an organisation, often necessary due to outside pressures on the system, exhausted staff and brought to the fore resistances that were not previously obvious. I wanted to be a better manager, to help staff and people transits’ through make change, cope and more, become resilient.

I listened, learned and I started to understand how important stories were, not just in communicating to each other, but also in understanding and expressing ourselves. The myths we tell and the roles we played all formed part of the forces that either hindered or drove on the change programs, personal or organisational.

I was reminded of the work of the psychologist, Karl Jung (whose influence extended to all of the personality trait systems now used (Myers Biggs, Enneagram, Prism) who talked of ‘Archetypes’ to describe these different roles or characters we play in our own myth. The best way for me to describe an archetype is as the pattern of behavior that we adopt and use, sometimes without even consciously knowing it.

And even though we do not consciously know it, because these roles and patterns are so ingrained in the human psyche, those around us (who form part of the system we work in and the forces that are applied to us) will even know ‘unconsciously’ too that we are playing those characters; they will respond in kind. Jung called this common understanding, irrepressible out playing of roles that we all have bought unwittingly into, the ‘collective unconscious’

In particular, I noticed that when working on a project that I could be an MBA and apply Belbin’s team role theory (see below), but that rational approach masked the impact that the hidden, sub plot many played out alongside their overt team role.

I came to understand some of these roles as the Victim, Saboteur, Child and Prostitute. Then I begun to understand more about the more hidden, or deep forces to our project(s) and its development.  I found coaching my clients around these initial archetypes moved them on.