Working in China - a second Group Relations conference

Working in China - a second Group Relations conference

Tavistock Institute China: Creating Learning Organisations.


4 March 2019

Tavistock Institute China: Creating Learning Organisations

We arrived in Qingdao, where Tavistock Institute China is based, on the Yellow Sea coast – a huge C20 city known as the blue/green island. In 2012 it was named China’s most liveable city – it’s clean, orderly and spacious and we were in a large international hotel in the Sino-German Eco Park by a lake. The sky was clear and bright, the air cold and invigorating, we went for a walk around the frozen lake to orient ourselves.

We were joining the Group Relations conference at the beginning of January as consultants, part of the last module of a 2-year long programme for a training cohort of Group Relations Dynamicians in China.

We are both relatively new as Group Relations consultants so this was particularly exciting and anxiety-provoking all at the same time: the newness of being in China; and putting our Group Relations experience into practice in order to further the learning of the members. The conference design also involved the added complexity of co-consulting with members of the training cohort in each event. It was a responsibility and always a learning process as we worked in the various groups and then processed what was going on in the staff group afterwards.

Those staff with little or no Mandarin had a Chinese translator each – always just behind your right shoulder, translating back and forth. Almost immediately, it became natural to pause after speaking and these pauses were useful for noticing and reflecting on what was going on.

The conference staff was international – China, the US, India, Israel and the UK were represented. The 15 people in the programme training cohort became the Training Group in the conference plus 24 other members (most with no experience of Group Relations) – this was a six-day conference, bookended by two training days for the cohort and finally their well-earned graduation afterwards.

The full title of the conference was Creating Learning Organisations: Bringing Meaning and Engagement to Work. There is something about all Group Relations conferences, working with the not-knowing, uncertainty and anxiety, and the acknowledgement that unconscious processes are happening, that encourages learning or being in learning mode. The fascination with the fact that there is always something else to wonder about, to learn, no matter how apparently small or insignificant. Being out of one’s comfort zone, whether literally thousands of miles away or just by deciding to do things differently, brings meaning.

As the conference proceeded, smog smudged out the sky and the edges of the buildings and halfway through it began to snow quite heavily. The staff lived together in the staff room and ate together, going out each evening for dinner at a local restaurant along the highway. Up the stairs to a small room with a Lazy Susan on a large circular table, various vibrant delights rotating round, loads of garlic and chilli – you helped yourself before it moved on or you might miss out! Becoming adept with chopsticks and small bowls – the food was delicious.

By the time the conference finished and everyone in the cohort had spoken feelingly about their 2-year journey during the graduation ceremony, the sky had brightened up.

Matthew Gieve and Rachel Kelly
The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations.

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