12 Ways Trauma Impairs Organizational Health and Function

Grant H Brenner
6 min readOct 20, 2023

Organizational consulting and trauma theory make sense of team dysfunction.

Trauma can play out in organizations and groups in destructive and constructive ways. Destructive “enactments” are more likely occur when there is unseen and unaddressed trauma tainting how people make sense of reality.

Sandra Bloom, psychiatrist and public health expert, breaks down trauma’s impact on organizational function (2011).

12 Features of Traumatized Organizations

From a “group-as-a-whole” perspective, organizations and groups respond to trauma in much the way that individuals do, though they are also uniquely more complex. Whether a corporation, a clinic, a community group, a building board, a family, or practically any other group from small to large, organizations, like people, can develop significant post-traumatic syndromes.

1. Parallel process. Parallel process is the playing out of patterns contagiously from person to person, and on the group and organizational level, often showing up throughout the organization like termite tunnels in a wooden house. An example of parallel process: A supervisor mirrors being hypercritical of a supervisee who is working with a client who is extremely self-critical. A company might blame an external partner for bad outcomes without seeing its own contributions to dysfunction. Trauma can be passed along laterally and vertically within an organization, the way intergenerational trauma passes from parent to child.

2. When tragedy strikes: the impact of chronic stress and collective trauma. Organizational collective trauma occurs in the face of tragedy affecting the whole system. Smaller traumas pile up as cumulative trauma” Cumulative trauma flies under the radar, reaching the tipping point even if predictable in retrospect.

3. Lack of basic safety. Familiar organizational experiences violate safety: “[S]ilence, glaring eye contact, abruptness, snubbing, insults, public humiliation, blaming, discrediting, aggressive and controlling behaviour, overtly threatening behaviour, yelling and shouting, angry outbursts, secretive decision making, indirect communication, lack of…

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Grant H Brenner

Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Disaster Responder, Advocate, Photographer