Read about the symposium convened by Jean Neumann at this year’s Academy of Management Conference in Chicago.
“I am grateful to you and your colleagues for supporting this endeavor, navigating TIHR pressures including the total life spaces of the whole authorship group. By showing up to speak on TIHR’s behalf from 8-9.30am on that Tuesday morning in Chicago, each presenter embodied the richness of effort and care that, in my opinion, characterizes TIHR’s scholarly practice. Double “yes” to pride and determination! Also, something about humanity in an academic context needs mentioning: effort and care towards honouring complexity and vastness.”
Jean Neumann’s letter of appreciation to contributors after the symposium was a significant development from the “Customising TIHR Traditions” session she and Antonio Sama led in the Garden Museum during last year’s 70th-anniversary celebrations where they invited participants to consider what customisation meant to them in the context of their work and practice. Their customisation question was then expanded to include the influence of the past on contemporary projects through material now catalogued in the TIHR archive at Wellcome Library, and freely available to all to read, explore and research. All this translated into the symposium long promised by Jean as a member of the archive advisory group, ‘Opening the Tavistock Institute’s Archives: Dialogue between Past and Present’, which took place at the 78th annual meeting of the Academy of Management, held this August in Chicago.
After four days of attendance at workshops, papers and division meetings, networking, and supporting our Human Relations colleagues, we arrived in our room for that very early start on the final Tuesday of the conference. Our session, listed as a Management Consulting highlight, drew in a large, lively and engaged audience. Through the telling of each paper, it soon became very clear that we each had more than found in our own current work instances of the customisation of past TIHR practice and expertise to contemporary concerns, drawing comparisons with both staff’s embodied memory and understanding, and the material repository of the archive. At a conference attended predominantly by academics, each paper offered dynamic evidence of, and was testament to, the ways in which TIHR practitioners are working with the archive to adapt, develop and apply past insights to present concerns, to speak to the longstanding TIHR consultant question of, what kind of intervention may be needed here, for this organisation to improve lives.
As such, in their dialectical stance, interpreting the past in terms-of its relevance in the present, each paper demonstrated in its own way our ability to work very broadly from a contemporaneity that is both able to listen to the voices of the past, and work with them in the here and now of the current field.
Richard Holti of The Open University Business School’s response to the papers and the overall theme of the symposium spoke to this continued adaptation in terms of TIHR’s:
Emancipatory social science based on in-depth engagement with experience as illustrated in Sadie King and Liz Cory-Pearce’s ‘To “Stock Take” and to “Take Stock”’ paper, which makes sense of and weaves anthropological threads in the history of the Institute’s work together with contemporary research and practice in the area of workplace wellbeing.
Initiatives to bring about democratic and participative forms of organizational change that long predate “HRM” were highlighted in Cliff Oswick’s analysis of TIHR work with the Jebsens Norwegian shipping company as integrating diagnostic and dialogic OD and substantially predating dialogic OD.
Using systems psychodynamics to understand top management subversion of change was demonstrated in Camilla Child and Leslie Brissett’s sensemaking of a culture change programme within the UK’s National Health Service, which was intended to enable all citizens of the NHS to dialogue with top leadership and to have a say in how their health service is run.
Interdisciplinary, multi-level, and multi-method realist evaluation of new models of production and service delivery was the subject of Joe Cullen, Kerstin Junge and Giorgia Iacopini’s whole system change project in the textiles industry, that draws on the changing context of TIHR’s early post-war work in Ahmedabad, India, when the textiles industry was globalising, to the consequences of this globalisation in the present day – the textiles industry being second only to oil and gas in terms of environmental impact.
Understanding of the present and possible futures is deepened by experiencing and reflecting on emotions unleashed by encounters with the past as set out in Juliet Scott and Antonio Sama’s finding of new consultancy identities and practices (as artists; curators; shamans; and historians of ideas for instance) through their organisational development work with and through the archive.
Richard Holti concluded by pointing to a shared theme emerging through all the papers of the distillation of the kinds of qualities that are needed to work in these ways and their contexts. He asked of us all, In what sense can this ‘shamanism’ be institutionalized? How can these practices be spread and diffused? How can social scientist-consultants’ ability to work in this way be developed?
Stephen Cummings, the second discussant, in his summary of themes shared across the papers and our archival past and the present moment, made reference to recent innovations and the rapid changes that can be expected in the near future in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector. As new digital platforms open up the possibilities for multiple audiences (researchers, practitioners, entrepreneurs, social innovators, and other interested publics) to engage with archival materials and other collections, we can already hope for a (not so distant) future when many interest groups might likewise customise TIHR past work for their own present purposes, much as we have illustrated here.
With thanks to Jean for her work not just in convening the symposium, but also especially for her committed encouragement to us all to produce not just paper presentations at the conference, but also to write the substantive papers that underpinned them, and which we are looking forward to publishing in the not too distant future.