Foreseeing Sea Change

Foreseeing Sea Change

Leicester Conference 2020

Leicester Conference 2020

In 2002, the BBC aired a four-part series by the filmmaker, Adam Curtis, entitled,
The Century of the Self. In the documentary, Curtis poses some critical questions about the nature of society and how those with dubious ambitions, used the work of Freud and other key psychoanalytic thinkers to influence whole populations, towards their own ends. Many of the world’s leading schools of management and leadership learning have, arguably, done likewise through the proliferation of the MBA machine.

This is not to say that having an MBA and a solid grounding in the rudimentary elements of running an enterprise is not worthwhile. Rather, our contemporary challenges and opportunities afforded by technology, globalised workforces and the growing productivity downturn, require a “learning for leadership” that is less about “filling you up” with knowledge but is more about “drawing out” the innate skills, capacities and capabilities for leadership in uncertain contexts.

This is good news! Since 1957 the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations has been offering a learning methodology that has been developed, modified and replicated across the world, and it is NOW coming into its own time. When A K Rice wrote in Learning for Leadership about the early days of the Institute, studying groups was pioneer territory. People were unaccustomed to thinking about (and definitely not used to sharing) feelings anywhere, least of all at work.

Feelings are now front and centre in our social world…

Hollywood and Netflix regularly show us people struggling at work with colleagues, and at home with family members. Almost every film or series depicts a number of workaholics struggling with “work:life balance”. We see Bosses who take advantage and often demonstrate sociopathic or borderline personality characteristics and their ambitious staff who struggle to please them. If the media depictions are right, we are in a sorry state.

So what can we do about it? The 2020 Leicester Conference, from 1-14 August, as well as exploring the fundamentals of group relations: Task, Authority, Organisation, invites members to consider its sub-theme, 4C’s C-Change (it also sounds like “Foresees Sea Change” when read out loud).

In many ways, this sub-theme is a homage to the founders and creators of Group Relations conference learning. The Tavistock team foresaw a time when leaders would need to draw on their own experience in role, and in context. They foresaw the nature of the working world becoming less hierarchical and more collaborative and uncertain. Above all, it seems that they foresaw the underlying interconnectedness of human beings and their environment in a way that we are only now catching up with.

Speaking of pioneers…

This year marks the 100th year of the creation of the Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology, the first legal entity-organisation created by the Tavistock pioneers. From this founding organisation that housed all the psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, anthropologists, political and social theorists (many of whom were also fine musicians and athletes): this mixed-methods, practical, applied social sciences institute flourished.  Seizing financial and political opportunities, they created the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations on 20 September 1947 in preparation for the Tavistock & Portman Clinic to enter the National Health Service on 5 July 1948. They all continued to live and work together. A team from within the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations was developed as the Institute of Marital Studies, which continues today as Tavistock Relationships. And Tavistock Relationships still operates through that first legal entity, the Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology. So why is this telling of our shared history important?

Across the world, there are Group Relations organisations that have formed and flourished and academic institutions that have incorporated Group Relations into their programmes to much success. As we start to think about our possible futures as a species, how we understand and narrate our past is as important as how we create and shape our future.

Do you remember Herman Snellen?

He is unknown to many. He was the Dutch ophthalmologist who created a system to measure visual acuity back in 1862, from which we get the 20/20 measure of good, clear, sharp sight. Herman gets very little attention, but his system and the phrase “20/20 Vision” are ubiquitous and live on.

In 2020, Group Relations continues to have meaning in leadership learning circles. Whether people encounter Group Relations at Harvard, INSEAD, IMD or one of the numerous Group Relations conferences across the globe, we know they will have a transformative experience. Let’s hope that we hold on to our history and that we turn our eyes to our mothership, the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations’ Leicester Conference, and make our plan to attend one day, if not in this Centenary year, one year soon, climate permitting.

Perhaps the BBC will commission a new series one day in the not too distant future: “The Century of the Group”….. 

Dr Leslie B Brissett
Conference Director, Leicester 2020

The Leicester Conference: Task Authority Organisation: 4C’s C-Change

Early bird discounts of £400 are available for applications received before 1 May 2020.

A maximum of 75 places are available. Contact Anabel Navarro, Pre-conference Administrator with any queries and you can also find out more and make an application here.  

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