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Posted on March 2, 2020
Updated on October 13, 2021

Life Plans At Work

The Script in TA is the life plan we make when we are children.  

This plan is usually made outside of our awareness and may take years to run its course.  

The final outcome will be the  script payoff i.e. the outcome we are headed toward to prove that our frame of reference and life plan were correct. The script or life plan can also be seen as a replay of unresolved life issues. We try to work out these unresolved issues but in order to do so we need to discount in some way and project the past onto the present.

See Tilney’s Dictionary of TA for the definitive definitions of the various script concepts.

Individual Scripts at Work

In TA, we frequently read about three different types of scripts – winners, non-winners and losers. Those with winner scripts are likely to become the president, or if they don’t are more than happy not to be.  

For example, this could be the person who prefers contact with the public and does not wish to move up and away from this, or the person who goes part-time so they can spend more time with their grandchildren etc.  

On the other hand, those with loser scripts are unlikely to reach middle management, except perhaps by seniority in terms of years of service. The non-winners can be recognised by almost making it, or almost losing it. The former are likely to try really hard but something goes wrong and they fail, whilst the latter will make major mistakes but just manage to salvage the situation.

Sometimes we decide that we will not be like our parents, or not be how our parents wanted us to be. If our parents had loser scripts then we may decide to work hard and be successful. We then drive ourselves hard and the cost of making this decision to succeed is high. This is counterscript.

The episcript on the other hand is the negative script message passed on by the parents or significant others that is really their own. In this way, the parents release themselves from the script message e.g. Don’t exist. English calls this the “hot potato” (1969).

The mini-script is the way a part of the script is played out in just a few seconds or minutes. This process starts when we respond to an internal driver or working style or go into Over-Adapted mode. As the working style is a defence we will not be aware of any emotion (I will be okay if  I...) . Then, when the working style fails to offer sufficient defensive support we move to one of three positions. So, the process starts with the driver and moves on as follows:

1.     Driver

2.     Stopper (another name for racket/substitute feeling)

3.     Blamer

4.     Despairer (this may be the third move for some)

Eventually we are likely to return to the working style and move around again. Mini-scripts reinforce the broader script decisions.

Scripts About Work

As we grow up we receive (told or shown) messages about work.

  • Work is to be tolerated
  • You’re not supposed to enjoy work
  • If you’re from round here you won’t get a good job
  • You have to put up with being treated badly in order to keep your job
  • Men are supposed to be the boss
  • Women’s place is in the home

Cultural Scripts

We all have a cultural script.  James (1991) talks about the Native Americans who migrated to North America across the Bering Straits over 30,000 years ago. 

'Originally their script theme was living-off-the land by hunting and gathering. Then as the weather got warmer with the ending of the ice age, they developed a taking-care-of-the-land agricultural script by planting corn and cotton... Originally their script was self-determined. Then a new one was imposed by the Spaniards who wanted to make the Christians and slaves...'

All cultures have their beliefs, often handed down from generation to generation. In multi-cultural organisations, these different scripts can cause miscommunication and misunderstanding. The issues involved include assimilation or pluralism. These will need to be taken into consideration when working in multi-national organisations.

Organisational Scripts

So do organisations have scripts?

Organisations vary. We may work within a University, or a local authority and then go to another similar University or another L.A. However, whilst we may find similarities there are also likely to be huge differences. This will depend upon the culture of that organisation which will be influenced by the script. One establishment may be aggressive and distrusting and highly competitive with little delegation, whilst another trusts its employees, delegates and the process is one of co-operation. 

The differences are influenced by the founding parent figure, national and local influences. The organisation will receive messages from employers, community bodies and other local establishments that will influence the nature of the decisions being made. These decisions are designed to enable the organisation to survive the context in which it is placed. 

Naming is also part of the script. The philosophy of the organisation that set up the organisation will also be influential.  For example, Rudolph Steiner schools, Summerhill and so on.

In order to consider the organisational script we need to consider Berne’s authority diagram, including the euhemerus, and any subsequent regenerative leaders. We need to consider the external influences on the organisation, and any religious, educational or philosophical beliefs. We also need to consider whether the organisation has a winning, non-winning, or losing script.

Most of these aspects could also be asked of a particular department.

Krausz (1992) discusses organisational scripts and the use of cultural perspectives and the influence on employees. These affect how, what and why things get done in the way they do in that organisation.

The founders of the organisation create the intangible as well as the tangible aspects. The “intangible” includes the values and belief systems, as well as the psychological contracts. The intangible aspects are the hardest to change. Structures and systems may be replaced but if the beliefs and values don’t change then there is unlikely to be a fundamental shift.

Each organisation will have a range of ideologies based upon the founding parent. For example, time ideology outlines characteristic uses of time in different organisations. Ernst outlines four time ideologies:

  • Time as a precious resource used to meet organisational and personal objectives. Punctuality is valued.
  • Time is a resource used to maintain power, status or prestige.  Time used to play one-up/one-down games.
  • Time is not an important resource. There are no clear goals.  People are busy but not effective. Non-routine work is passively resisted.
  • Time is not a resource at all because goals and objectives are discounted. Actions are unplanned and often unpredictable.

The OK Corral can also be used to assess the nature of the organisational script. This is particularly so with the process statement of each quadrant: Get rid of: Get away from; Get nowhere with, Get on With.

Hewson and Turner (1992), outline a brief questionnaire as their way of finding out about the organisational script:

My organisation is the kind of place which:

1.     Tends to fail/is a success

2.     Was once great/developed from humble beginnings

3.     Competes vigorously/is inward looking

4.     Is dedicated/is casual

5.     Takes care of people/cheers up people

6.     Is friendly/is impersonal

7.     Is self-centred/is concerned

8.     Is prudent/is improvident

9.     Is open/is secretive

10.  Is tight-lipped/is emotional

11.  Is serious/is fun

Organisational script change requires: 1) permission not to follow the founding parent’s directives if they are inadequate or dysfunctional today 2) suitable organisational development 3) here and now decisions 4) a desire to be successful 5) congruence between philosophy, values, skills and behaviour.


English F. (1969) Episcript and the “hot potato” game. Tab 8(32)

Ernst F.H. (1971) The OK corral: The grid for get-on-with, TAJ 1(4)

Hewson J. & Turner C (1992), Transactional Analysis in Management, The Staff College

James M. (1991) The Better Boss in Multicultural Organizations, Marshall Publishing

Krausz R. (1993), Organizational Scripts, TAJ 23:2

Mountain, A. & Davidson, C. (2011) Working Together - Organizational Transactional Analysis and Business Performance Gower Publishing

Tilney T (1998), Dictionary of Transactional Analysis, Whurr Publishers