The first panel I attended was held in an exceedingly sleek, modern, steel and glass conference room of Wedlake Bell, the Tavistock Institute’s law firm. I randomly rode the elevator up to the top floor with Cliff Oswick, the Chair of the Tavistock’s Council, and was greeted by a view of St Paul’s Cathedral out the wall of windows. The panel consisted of Ralph Woolf, a successful English business executive who had been very influenced in his leadership roles by his Group Relations and Tavistock experiences; Gilles Amado, a French consultant who had worked extensively in industry, as well as with sports teams; and Olya Khaleelee, a giant in Group Relations and Socio-Technical Analysis, who had shaped not only the Tavistock Institute but also OPUS, and who is Eric Miller’s widow.
Ralph Woolf’s story came straight from industry. The son of a tailor’s presser, he climbed the corporate ladder until, once near the top, he was shocked to find himself out-of-touch with labor in his organization. When he received feedback from a Tavistock consultant that he and his leadership team was contemptuous of labor’s work, he found himself at his first Group Relations Conference (“Any port in a storm,” he recalled). This began a long career of work with the Tavistock Institute, and he went on to transform his into a particularly democratic institution. He said that the thing that prepared him for leadership was watching how the Leicester conference director handled the attacks on authority.
Gilles Amado quoted Howard (I missed the first name):
“Insight is a defense against action.
Action is a defense against insight.”
And then proceeded from conundrum to conundrum, when he pronounced:
“When do we act? When to we review? This is an art.”
He critiqued today’s Group Relations Conferences for being “over-fascinated with review,” and then offered that today’s society itself had collapsed the distinction between action and review itself, into an environment of constant change.
He also noted how the nature of the task influenced the nature of an organization’s unconscious processes:
“Butchers have different unconscious processes than athletes,” he deadpanned.
He also pointed towards a future direction for investigation when he said he was interested in cooperation, rather than hierarchy, and seemed to suggest a greater focus on the dynamics of group and task, and less on the dynamics of leadership and authority.
I found Olya Khaleelee’s presentation to be the deepest, both in history and ideas. She began by telling the story of how she and Eric Miller met. He joined her in a consultation to a factory, where they were applying the Leicester conference model to a manufacturing facility with 12 employees, and they didn’t seem to agree on much. She concerned herself with how psychoanalysis and systems psychodynamics can be deployed at any level (individual, group or society), and found meaning in Miller’s question: “How do you give an interpretation to 1000 people?” By extension, she offered that OPUS was founded on the question, “If groups have an unconscious, why stop there? Why not society? The world?”
Her comments continued during a rich Q & A, when she offered that,
“You cannot change a subsystem if the larger system isn’t prepared to allow them to change. They [the larger system] must manage its projective processes.”
And she offered the example of how a subsystem would be unable to change if the larger system needed it as a scapegoat. She urged investigative work to begin at the level of the citizen of the organization, and urged us to ask what unconscious processes were being mobilized in the citizen.
This train of thought became even more promising when she listed mobilizations of citizenry that we’ve recently witnessed, such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, which began as a promising democratic mobilizations but with mixed results. She concluded with the frightening observation that
“the state of authority has changed. [It’s] much more horizontal, a sibling structure. [And it] might be more reactive today.”
Her comment on the sibling structure recalled for me Juliet Flower MacCannell’s The Regime of the Brother (found here), a favorite of my graduate school years. Money blurb:
“On the verge of its destruction, the Patriarchy has reshaped itself into a new, and often more oppressive regime: that of the Brother.”
This, in turn, took my mind back to Danah Boyd, the US elections, and what she called “the hacking of the attention economy.” It feels more powerful to call this the hacking of our unconscious mobilization. In the US, we’ve indeed witnessed a popular, “horizontal” uprising, without authority or ideological experts to lead it, but rather only an extremely reactive citizenry to follow it.