Research shows that bullying occurs in teams exhibiting the most negative aspects of the culture of the organisation e.g. a culture of fear or silence, or where the norm of performance is about ‘seeing to be doing’ - rather than focussing on being effective and efficient. It is most likely to occur in organisations with the extremes of management styles i.e. a laissez faire management or autocratic style. Bullying occurs in teams which reflect these styles the most.
Bullying also occurs in groups, teams or departments, where anxieties are not worked through. Team dynamics become stuck - with stress being repressed at deep levels. Stress in organisations, and in teams, can build rather like molten magma in layers of rock - when volcanic pressure increases explosions occur at weak points in the land strata and magma erupts onto the surface. Likewise a bully – being unable to contain and work through anxieties – is a weak point in the structural dynamics of the organisation, through which stress explodes. Although some of the underlying tensions are released through bullying the ‘eruptions’ fail to create new positive team dynamics. The deeper problems still remain.
Some employees join in the bullying, becoming ‘henchmen’. Some deny it is happening, others may idealise the bully as a defence against their anxieties, others become confused. A collusion develops at subconscious/unconscious levels in the group/team which further fosters bullying. Over time group members become distant from each other. These defensive responses further isolate a target of bullying thereby making him/her, more vulnerable to further attacks.
As a group becomes more submissive to the demands of a bully or bullies, there is a loss of realistic engagement with colleagues. The gap between fantasy and reality increases and over time this impacts on productivity.