Category Archives: economy of leadership

The case of the homeless charity

by Philip Boxer

In the previous blog I introduced the whole economy of leadership.  Here I outline a case showing my diagnostic use of this economy.

The case is about a non-profit organisation that had developed a model for providing long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy to the street homeless.  It was par excellence an edge organisation, providing an organisational platform that sought to align the needs of funders, psychotherapists-in-training, homeless shelters and traumatised individuals. The following describes the four different forms of ‘truth’ within a domain of relevance with which members of the organisation were identified:[1]

The members of the organisation were identified with different aspects of the work of enabling the homeless to bear their traumas through the use of long term psychodynamic psychotherapy.  Within this chosen domain,

  • Volunteer psychotherapists in training worked with homeless persons for up to 2 years – the ‘WHAT’.
  • Management used a model that provided assessment (of need), supervision (of volunteers) and support (to the whole process) – the ‘HOW’.
  • Driving all this was the relation to the particular form taken by the needs of the street homeless, for example shaping where and how these needs could be encountered – the ‘WHY’.
  • Who the organisation could be for whom was determined by the way funders were prepared to fund its work – the ‘WHO/M’. So what was the problem?

I was a Board member, and the challenge we faced in common with many other non-profits was a change in the way funding was made available, with the attendant changes this demanded in strategy.  This case was essentially about a failure of strategy – hence the homelessness.

Previously, funders had been prepared to pay for the whole service as a ‘good thing’ – this was the history that both the Director and the Board were familiar with.  But funders were increasingly wanting to link their funding to outcomes related to specific projects. The difficulty was that the needs presented by the homeless were multi-sided, and not easily fitted into simple output measures.  To be effective, the work being done had not only to address the homeless person’s direct need, but also to meet their indirect needs by the way the work ‘fitted’ alongside other things being done, for example arranging accommodation and food, managing addictions and addressing health needs.  This was not only a complex ‘narrative’ that was difficult to get funded. It also demanded edge-driven collaboration between multiple organisations.

The organisation needed  to get funders involved with its work. But to do this, it needed to make its models more dynamically responsive to the multi-sided nature of the needs being presented by the homeless, so that its role within the larger ecosystem could become clearer.  In terms of the network-forming leadership roles, this demanded triple-loop learning of the organisation.  In practice, however, the attachment of the Director and the Board to old ways of thinking about the service made this impossible, the organisation continuing single-loop behavior under its founding model. It was not able to be strategic:

A closer look at the full economy of leadership shows why this was the case.  The full economy adds in the network-enabling forms of leadership and the relationships within the economy as a whole, the anti-patterns of leadership being shown in square brackets.  It shows how the organisation was split:

  • The ‘heart’ of the organisation was in the volunteers’ work with the clients under supervision.  For the volunteers this was a valuable extension to their training. ‘Management’, whether in the role of the Senior Management Team (SMT) or by Administrators, belonged to a different kind of agenda, being inimical to the volunteers’ work but suffered by them as necessary to complying with Board requirements. The disconnect between the work with clients and the SMT was symptomatic of this. Equally, the agenda of the volunteers in extending their training had no real relationship to the Board’s view of the organisation.
  • The ‘head’ of the organisation was in the work of the Director and her administration supported by the Board, all three of which were more identified with the past ways of doing things than current pressures for change.  Given that the allegiance of the SMT was more to working with volunteers than with the Director’s or Board’s agendas, their demands for super-reasonableness reflected their resistance to engaging with the demands for change emerging from the work with clients.  The members, who constitutionally elected the Board, were also irrelevant, with no real involvement either with the Board or with the work of the organisation, other than voting at their Annual General Meeting.

So it was a classic case of clinicians working on a Faustian basis, with ‘management’ and ‘Board’ split off and responding to a quite different set of agendas – agendas that nevertheless would ultimately determine the demise of the organisation.

Of course numbers of things were done to try to build positive connections across the economy as a whole [2] in order to try and overcome these difficulties, examples of which were:

  • the (w)edge management process, developed to provide a better alignment between the work of the organisation and the way it could be held accountable to funders.
  • Board members spending time ‘in the field’ with members of the SMT and volunteers in order to better understand the work of the organisation.
  • Research commissioned with Peter Fonagy on the long-term benefits of the work with the homeless, to better inform funders of the nature of the needs being dealt with.
  • Alliances built with the other organisations alongside which the work was done, for example St Mungo’s, so that better collaborative alliances could be built, with these other organisations becoming Members.
  • A group relations conference design by Barry Palmer enabling the organisation to develop a relationship between  its different parts and itself as a whole.
  • Research commissioned on the system dynamics between street homelessness and the behavior of the larger social care system, for which homelessness was a symptom, in order to better situate outcome measures within the context of this larger dynamic.

Ultimately, however, attempts to develop an effective relationship to strategy failed, with an attendant failure to create a place for this particular form of long-term work in the minds of the funders.[3]  The consequence was that rather than closing the organisation, the Board merged it with a larger not-for-profit within which it’s work could form a part of a larger whole, within which the multi-sidedness of its work could be better addressed.[4] The absence of an effective relationship to strategy continued, however, and the work of the organisation was eventually closed down.

[1] The ‘truth’ of a discourse is an effect of its structure. It is what the speaker subject to the discourse’s structure feels to be ‘true’.
[2] From the perspective of the Board, these demanded consulting interventions.  The diagnostic status of the economy of leadership could therefore be thought of as framing the nature of the need for these interventions.
[3] Fundamentally, the anti-patterns on the left side of the economy were never overcome… personally, I never really grasped the extent of (and basis for) the resistance that persisted to the end. In retrospect, using volunteers in the way that it did probaly compounded this by rendering invisible much of the real demands at the edge.
[4] The merger addressed the funding issue by placing the operating model alongside a number of other services, enabling the multi-sidedness of homeless needs to be managed more effectively. The merger was an intervention’ that changed what the organisation identified itself with. But it didn’t change the economy of leadership that persisted into the new organisation.

The economy of leadership

by Philip Boxer

I describe an economy of leadership as the relationships between eight patterns of leadership in the way an organisation relates to its environments, four that address the development of the networks from which the organisation is formed, and four that are enabling through the way they sustain its existing networks.[1] This economy includes eight anti-patterns of leadership (patterns of resistance) through which individuals resist taking up a relation to the other leadership patterns. The relationships are between each network-forming pattern and the other four network-enabling patterns, so that the whole economy appears as follows. The anti-patterns resist these relationships being formed:

These four types of relationship define the ways in which each network-forming pattern (or its anti-pattern) relates to the four network-enabling patterns:[2,3,4]

  • Pairing: the relation to wiRgo of the network-former becomes the governing assumption of the network-enabler – the enabler understands what the network-former really wants. The network-enabler realises the parts that the network-former cannot reach for himself/herself.
  • Affiliation: the governing assumptions articulated by the network-former become the letter of the law followed by the network-enabler  – the affiliated enabler works at sustaining the espoused practices of the network-former.
  • Dependency: The wigo/wiRgo relation of the network-former becomes the basis on which the network-enabler forms their relation to ‘truth’ – the enabler tries to emulate not what the network-former says, but what s/he does.
  • Fight-Flight: the relation to ‘truth’ of the network-former disrupts the network-enabler’s relation to wiRgo for him or her, creating a tension that makes the network-enabler uncomfortable/anxious.

Of course these are hopelessly abstract, so in the next post I will use a case study to show how all this gets put together diagnostically.

[1] This economy of leadership is a Libidinal Economy of Discourses (LEoD) that forms through the way individual use the structures of the organisation to support their identifications, expressed in the form of ‘truths’ about the organisation.  This use reflects individuals’ valency for the way the LEoD supports their relation to desire.
[2] Pairing (baP), Dependency (baD) and Fight-Flight (baF) are ‘sophisticated’ forms of the Bionic basic assumption behaviours from which they derive their names.  Affiliation is ‘sophisticated’ form of the Oneness basic assumption (baO) developed by Lawrence, W. G., A. Bain and L. Gould (1996) in “The Fifth Basic Assumption.” Free Associations 6(1): 28-55.
[3] The network-enabling patterns are the perverse discourses, and the different types of relation they have to the network-forming patterns are based on how the quadripod is supported by the way the structures of the organisation. The anti-patterns, described in leadership counter-resistance, are forms of the Meness basic assumption (baM), also described in Lawrence, W. G., A. Bain and L. Gould (1996) in “The Fifth Basic Assumption.” Free Associations 6(1): 28-55.
[4] Sandy Henderson, Director of OPUS, argues (in Henderson, S. (2017). Taking the group to task, OPUS.) that the three basic assumptions (baP, baD & baF) are responses to challenges to shared social purpose (impotence, undecideability & incommensurability respectively – my wording), the consequences of which give rise to Baburoglu’s forms of maladaptation (superficiality/monothematic dogmatism, segmentation/stalemate & dissociation/polarization respectively).  I would add that baOness is a response to the absence of authorisation, and in its maladaptive form gives rise to Hopper’s aggregation/massification.

Leadership resistance: conserving identity

by Philip Boxer

My blog on Leadership at the Edge drew on eight leadership patterns in order to begin to describe the conditions for a successful edge organisation. Leadership resistance, or anti-patterns, were originally formulated in the context of software development, but are a way of thinking about patterns of behavior that have bad or unintended consequences through the way they involving asserting the position without relation to the other positions.  Here I am using it to refer more specifically to the way these anti-patterns resist change.[1]

Any of the network-forming positions might seek to introduces some new direction in its relation to the way way others are working together within an organisation.  Resistance is the refusal or blocking of the new direction being introduced, but from the perspective of the person resisting, resistance is conservation of (their) identity. Rick Brenner has identified eight organisational coping patterns based on the work of Virginia Satir, that serve well as patterns of resistance (anti-patterns) opposite the eight network-forming or network-enabling patterns identified in the previous blog.  In what follows, I align these to an economy of leadership in which these anti-patterns (shown in square brackets) are the other side of the network-forming or network-enabling patterns:

Again, I relate four of these patterns of counter-resistance to resisting change to network formation (the quotes are from Brenner):

  • Visionary x Infatuation: The Infatuation anti-pattern “displays complete devotion to a particular person, idea or organization. It remains dedicated in the face of almost any contradictory data, which can lead it to decisions that expose itself to inordinate risk or even to organizational disaster.”
  • Exemplar x Narcissistic: The Narcissistic anti-pattern “is driven by its love of itself and disregard for everything else. No other organization, no person, nothing external to itself is of any worth or value, except perhaps as support or utility to itself. This anti-pattern is prepared to use, abuse or exploit anyone, any idea, or any other organization, including its organizational parent, to further its own ends.”
  • Connector x Loving/Hating: The Loving/Hating anti-pattern “is driven by its relationship with other organizations, people or ideas. Whether finally to destroy that organization, person or idea; or to attach itself thereto in permanent adoration and ethereal bliss, it ignores almost everything and everyone else external to the focal relationship.”
  • Truth-Teller x Incongruent: The Incongruent anti-pattern “disregards one or both of the following:  the relation between the organization’s internal representation of reality and reality itself, and the relation between its internal reality and the organization’s representation of itself to the outside world.”

The other four patterns of counter-resistance relate to resisting network enablement (the quotes are again from Brenner):

  • Enforcer x Blaming: The Blaming anti-pattern “seeks people or things to hold responsible for any problem, not to learn from its mistakes, or to prevent them in the future, but to preserve its view of its own infallibility — and the fallibility of others.”
  • Fixer x Super-Reasonable: The Super-reasonable anti-pattern “emphasizes context, usually through a devotion to “objectivity” and at the expense of human considerations or considerations of relationship.”
  • Gatekeeper x Placating: The Placating anti-pattern “shows undue concern for possible negative consequences, being so driven by avoidance of discomfort right now that it’s willing to exchange it for far greater — even inevitable — discomfort in the future. This anti-pattern avoids confronting issues or people, preferring instead to take full responsibility itself for any disappointing outcomes”
  • Facilitator x Irrelevant: The Irrelevant anti-pattern “is coping by flight. In the face of adversity, it copes by avoiding not only the adversity, but any recognition of it.”

So far, all I have done is to set up correspondences between three sources of insight into behavior within organisations, albeit surprising in the extent of the fit.[2]  They provide a way of thinking about how leadership is exercised at the edge, and how existing anti-patterns within organisations may resist changes. In my next blog I will describe how leadership patterns and/or  patterns of resistance lock together as an economy, using some case examples.

[1] These anti-patterns, through relatedness to other positions is blocked, may be thought of as exhibiting the Meness basic assumption (baM) described by Lawrence, W. G., A. Bain and L. Gould (1996) in “The Fifth Basic Assumption.” Free Associations 6(1): 28-55. For more on how the other basic assumptions affect the relationships within the economy, see the economy of leadership.
[2] My hypothesis is that these eights are revealing of an underlying structuring of the relations within an economy of discourses, both of these sets of eight being based on extensive research into practice within and between organisations.

Leadership at the Edge: creating an economy of leadership

by Philip Boxer

I want to propose a way of thinking about leadership within an edge-driven organisation by drawing on the work done by John H Clippinger. In his forthcoming book on edge organisation, he states his objectives as follows:

The overall mission of this book is to provide the principles, techniques and justification for transforming hierarchical, command and control organizations, into highly agile, self-synchronizing networks. In contrast to well-entrenched economic and organizational models that assume human beings to be selfish, individualistic, and rational actors, this book considers human beings to be innately cooperative, having evolved innate strategies of collaboration, trust, and reciprocity that have proven to be highly adaptive.

His aim is to enable high-value teams to operate at the edges of organisations, focusing on the social conditions under which teams can be effective.In what follows, I propose to build on his eight forms of network leadership.

Clippinger draws on Searle’s work on making the social world, in which institutions are defined as contexts creating the mutual conditions under which particular propositions can be treated as being true.  He also draws on Coase’s work on the nature of the firm, which defines institutions as creating economies in the way knowledge is transferred as it relates to the coordination of particular task systems – economies that are superior to market economies.  As Langlois further elaborates, these economies apply not only to hierarchical control exercised within the single enterprise, but also to networks of coordination across independent organisations (the example Langlois uses is General Motors’ Volt electric car).  These networks of coordination are edge organisations, creating economies of alignment.

Clippinger argues that eight forms of network leadership role are necessary to creating the mutual conditions for effective joint action by a network.  In the following I organise these leadership roles in a way that creates an economy of leadership:[1]

I relate four of Clippinger’s roles to the formation of a network (the quotes are from Clippinger):

  • The Visionary – “The role of the visionary leader is to imagine futures, determine what is limiting about the present, and show what is possible in the future. The visionary leader imagines new possibilities, creating new institutional facts and realities, and therefore plays a critical role in moving networked organizations in new directions.”
  • The Exemplar – “Also referred to as “Alpha Members”, these are individuals who exemplify the standards and qualities that characterize the best competencies of the peer network. These are the role models that others imitate.”
  • The Connector – “These network leaders participate in multiple social networks, connecting not only with a large number of members, but a highly diverse number of members as well. They are critical for identifying and accessing new resources and helping to get a message out.”
  • The Truth-Teller – “In every network organization, someone has to keep the network honest. This entails the very challenging task of identifying free riders and cheaters. In knowledge-based organizations, it is also about ferreting out half-truths, spin, blunders, and lies.”

And I relate the other four to the enablement of a formed network (again, the quotes are from Clippinger):

  • The Enforcer – “Enforcement can mean physical coercion, but more often entails psychological or peer pressure. Clearly, force and military means are the enforcement methods of last resort, but are necessary in order to buttress other forms of enforcement, which can vary from guilt and shame to legal redress. Most networks have their own forms of redress and enforcement that entail exclusion.”
  • The Fixer – “This is an individual who knows how to get things done and measures him or herself not just by how many people they might know, but rather by how they can get things done that others cannot. Such individuals are results oriented.”
  • The Gatekeeper – “For every network there are membership rules: criteria for being included, retained, elevated, and excluded. The gatekeeper decides who is in and who is out.”
  • The Facilitator – “In order for a network to grow and evolve, it must be able to add new members and reach across network boundaries in order to do so. The facilitator role is pivotal in creating communities or sub-networks that provide the greatest form of network value. The role of facilitator in many respects resembles that of the “community coordinator” in the development of communities of practice, a method developed for helping to create and leverage knowledge.”

In subsequent blogs, I will develop the characteristics of these leadership roles further and relate them to each other as a leadership economy – an inter-related set of leadership conditions necessary to the healthy development of an organisation.[2]

[1] The Coasian view of the network describes that with which the members of the organisation identify themselves, while the Searle view of the network’s institutional characteristics approach it in terms of discursive practices. The Lacanian ‘discourse’ adds unconscious valencies to the way discourses are taken up.  Arranging the leadership roles in this format reflects a correspondence I propose between the network forming roles and the Lacanian four discourses, and between the network enabling roles and the perverse forms of these four discourses.
[2] The strength of these inter-relationships is based on the valency the different roles have for each other and provide a way of explaining the stability of particular organisational cultures, i.e. it is the particular way in which this configuration of roles is held that defines the organisation more than the work of the organisation.

Leadership and Authority in Systems

by Barry Palmer. Quotes from Philip Boxer February 1999.

1. Over the years the group relations conferences have become professionalised. By this I mean that Directors can make up their staffs with men and women who have considerable previous experience of taking staff roles, many of whom have directed conferences themselves. Whilst they are invited in part because the Director believes they have something distinctive to offer, their main qualification is that they have the necessary conference experience. They are invited, and accept, primarily because it is a group relations conference, and not because of the particular title and aim of the conference. They can be assembled twenty four hours before the conference begins, in the knowledge that in broad terms they know what to do.

2. The effect of this is that the role we take up in a conference is shaped primarily by internalised ‘professional’ criteria, rather than by an appraisal of the unique circumstances of the particular conference. This can be described in terms of a person taking up a role, but this is not the most illuminating way of describing it. I would prefer to speak of the conference consultant role as a way of being, which the subject [1] takes up or invents as a way of being himself (or herself).

In other words, the notion of ‘role’ can be approached in terms of a construction in relation to task; and also as a construction in relation to desire. Interesting on this latter point that Lacan’s notion of the structure of a “discourse” is as a construction of social being. I think Barry is trying to get at the way in which the person invests himself (or herself) in a particular way of being-in-the-world, understood by that person’s relation to their own desire(s), rather than in terms of the ‘external’ characteristics of the role itself. But I don’t know enough about how the Grubb languages these issues to be able to make a clearer connection….. For the time being, let us refer to these two aspects of role as its “inner face” and “outer face”.

The Grubb Institute concept of finding, making and taking a role is thus, in this instance, inadequate, because the one doing the finding, taking and making is already a conference consultant self. There is no naked ‘person’ who finds and puts on a role like a suit of clothes. The Institute concept does not problematise this ‘person`.[2]

3. In a conference staff working to this professional ethos there is no difficulty about discussing the activities of the conference (what happens), or how these activities should be organised in a programme and staff deployment. But it is impossible to raise questions about the fit between these organised activities and what the members have a right to expect (that is, who we are as a conference staff, and who they are, from the members’ point of view),

Another way of thinking about this distinction might be (e.g.) that the staff’s professionalised view of themselves was more in the discourse of the University/Knowledge, while the members’ view of them was more from the position of the discourse of the Hysteric/Symptom. i.e. that the staff were in the relation of discourse of Science (in the members’ experience).

or about what may be the desire which has brought them to the conference, without calling into question the professional way of being themselves which the staff have adopted, and so raising anxiety which is expressed in anger or bewilderment.[3]

4. My recent experience of the Leicester conference is that what I have described does not arise there as a problem, because the conference is what the professionalised staff deliver, and that is what most participants come for.

This reinforces the hypothesis that the participants want to learn about the Knowledge/Science axis. Perhaps in the Study Groups they have the opportunity to be Sceptics?!

The staff do not discuss the advertised definition of the primary task of the conference: there is an opportunity to discuss it, but it is not taken. The advertised focus upon leadership, authority and organisation becomes in practice a focus upon feelings and fantasies about people in designated leadership roles upon the transference. Questions about who we are as a staff for the members, and about why they have come – their unconscious desire do not arise, except from a few marginalised members.

5. My perception is that Bruce directed the recent Grubb Institute conference in a way which called into question this who-we-are-and-for-whom level of conceptualisation of the enterprise we were engaged in. By this I mean that he did not allow us to assume that our learned and habitual way of participating in the activities of the conference was necessarily providing the kinds of opportunity for learning which had been advertised through the brochure.

6. What were the key moves through which the Director[4], directly and through the text of the brochure, interrupted the usual way in which conferences unfold?
(i) Perhaps most radically, Bruce proposed that management meetings in the latter half of the conference were convened to examine whether and how we were creating a context, in which members could learn about leadership and authority in systems (ie in working contexts construed as systems). The structure and concept of the Institutional Event made it possible to distinguish between the question, ‘What is going on in this institution?”, which we sought to answer within the sessions of the event, and the question: “Are we enabling participants to learn about leadership and authority in systems?”, which was raised in the staff meetings outside the event.
(ii) Implicit in (i) is the intention to conduct staff meetings as strategic rather than operational and co-ordinating management meetings[5].

This is an interesting distinction that could be thought about in terms of the strategy ceiling: the “strategic” intention would be to critically examine/raise the strategy ceiling, whereas the “operational” intention would be to operate in relation to the strategy ceiling as it is.

(iii) He sought to lead a shift of discursive practice[6] towards seeing and experiencing the events of the conference as task systems (as systems set up with an intended output), and not solely as social systems like organisms, ‘whose meaning is uncertain and sometimes indeterminable’ (brochure, p 2).

I do not accept this opposition – I would want to argue that ‘meaning’ as it emerges in social systems has to be understood more in relation to the ‘inner faces’ of its roles, rather than their outer faces. This means that we are thinking about (what I think of in terms of) the Discourses….. and the question of how the two come together is a question of how Economies of Discourse are formed, and how these get privileged qua establishing strategy ceilings.

(iv) He sought to remove “group” as a privileged object within our discursive practice. (This process was not complete, since we could still see the holes where the word “group” had been. The title “Small Study Event” doesn’t really make sense unless there is a deleted group for the word “small” to apply to.)
(v) He repeatedly reiterated the aim and operating process of the conference and of events and staff meetings.
(vi) He did not take part in the Small or Large Study Events, which I took to be a recognition that, because of the power of the professional ethos, it is almost impossible for the Director to take a consultant role in either of these events and hold on to the aim of the conference[7].

7. The difficulty and strain of all this was considerable. Members of staff were not merely bewildered but disconfirmed by these and other changes of language and practice. Zanne Lorenzen said that even when she got it right she didn’t know why it was right; it might just as well have been wrong. We talked about “this is not the way I am used to working”[8]. I found I never could remember the wording of the aim and operating process of events in spite of the reiteration. I think the staff were able to work together and weather some serious confrontations, not because we came together round the written definitions, but through some congruence of ethic or desire which was superordinate to these definitions and barely articulated at all. The word ‘transformation’ was perhaps closer to representing what we associated round than words like ‘authority’ or ‘system’.

8. I don’t suppose Bruce underestimated what he was up against. But, as I have already tried to indicate, I think the conceptualisation of what was required, in terms of persons searching for, finding, making and taking roles, does underestimate what is at stake. This metaphor does not capture the transformation which is entailed in redefining one’s self within a new discursive practice. In Praxis Event I David Gutmann talked about transformation in terms of creating a new role, so he was on to this. (I think now that what I mean by transformation is transformation of the subject.)

9. One of the challenges of acting to induce transformation is that the first moves have to be made within the untransformed system. So Bruce acts to transform the professional paradigm from within the professional paradigm.

This may well be what Bruce was trying to do, but it doesn’t sound right to me. The whole point of ‘across-and-up’ in the step-by-step diagram is its opposition with ‘up-and-over’ – privileging metonymy over metaphor or vice versa. To privilege desire over meaning is to go across-and-up, whereas the questioning and intervention on meaning itself is to privilege (the deconstruction of) metaphor over metonymy. I would want to know where the desire of staff was in relation to the praxis of the event…… it would be in relation to this that any change could come about in the paradigm.

He assembles a staff who I presume he feels share some of his aspirations[9], but who have nevertheless been acculturised within the group relations tradition. The wish to have an in¬ternational staff, within what are taken as economic givens, means that he cannot assemble a staff before the brochure is written and start to hack out the language and practice of the conference with them. So by the time we arrive many strategic decisions have already been taken and publicised. He adopts a programme whose deep structure is that of the Leicester type conference of the 1960s, in spite of the renaming of events and the introduction of Praxis Events[10].

…. the point being that what drives people beyond the limits of the current paradigm is precisely that – drive qua desire.

10. The experience of being repeatedly confronted with these angular definitions of aim and operating process had the effect on me of taking away my sense that I knew what I was doing. This was a necessary process, insofar as my feeling of knowing what I was doing was derived from slipping into the familiar behaviours of the professional paradigm[11]. But with the wisdom of hindsight – I’m doubtful whether it was the optimum strategy for bringing about transformation in the staff. (The way Bruce and others of us became infested with spelling mistakes and slips of the tongue may be an indication of unconscious awareness that what we wanted to do could not be done with this way of using language.)

11. Well, what would you do, if you’re so clever? I don’t know (and it would require other things besides knowledge to do it), but what has emerged from writing this note is that it is necessary for a Director and staff to reach beyond a redefinition in language of aim and operating process. They have to do this, if they are to be able to achieve a redefinition in language which they can accept as standing for a shared desire[12] which can never be fully articulated. Imagine, in a game of golf, trying to putt on a green where the hole was on the edge of a precipice immediately on the far side of the hole. You would not dare to hit the ball hard enough to get into the hole, for fear of hitting beyond it. The ‘beyond’ of the stated aim of the management of the conference is the desires of the various staff what we each really want. These are a kind of precipice, because they take us beyond language and into the unconscious. But if we do not acknowledge what is left over and left out by any statement in language, we get into fundamentalism.

12. Having pursued the line of thought which was most important for me from the conference, I want to look more briefly at David’s position in, and contribution to, the staff. First, David’s interpretative practice was new and mind boggling to me, and seemed to come out of a distinctively French rather than Anglo Saxon box. By this I mean the way he worked with phrases, words and even letters as signifiers of unconscious intention. On the face of it, it is batty to suggest that the word ‘Release’ on someone’s shoes, or the word ‘Liberty’ on the back of my tie, are manifestations of unconscious processes; batty, that is, if David is meaning us to entertain the idea that the unconscious is influencing people’s choice of shoes or flipping my tie over at the crucial moment. It makes sense to me, however, if David is using his own associations to suggest how the unconscious of every subject is making meaning out of the fine rain of signifiers of every sort, in which we live and move and have our being. We walk around plastered with emotive words, and take up residence in rooms with emotive letters on the door[13]. Why should people who are sophisticated in this kind of work assume that this doesn’t have any effect?

13. Secondly, David, as I understood him, wanted to conduct all the business of the staff as management within the sessions of the Institutional Event, once it had started: not only the work of trying to understand the state of the conference, but also the work of assessing whether we were delivering the conference we had led the participants to expect. This is an intelligible strategy but I don’t know whether it is rational or optimal for learning. It generates paradox, by creating a space in which there is no inside or outside a kind of Mobius strip. I have at other times criticised the way in which Ken Rice’s diagrams, representing the individual, the group and the organisation as closed figures with an inside and an outside, are taken as literal representations of these entities. So why am I hesitant when David proposes a practice which subverts this conception? I think it comes back to the importance I attach to construing the conference as a purposive enterprise.

Remembering the moment of what-is-going-on-here when Bruce and I were discussing the ‘split-screen’ methodology, and the significance of separating the formal organisation from the organisation of task (thus leading into the N-S-E-W formulation) “purposive” in that moment appeared to be a characteristic of task + formal organisation…. albeit with task being that which was privileged. I think there is a problem here in the way in which “purposive” is being privileged…. we need to get clearer on what is being privileged here, particularly in the light of Barry’s arguing that this is in some way put in opposition to the privileging of “unconscious”.

It is not possible to act with authority, I think, without provisionally defining a world in which their are boundaries defining me and not me, inside and outside a world constructed in the domain of the Imaginary, in Lacanian terms.

These two distinctions belong to different registers – inside//outside in relation to the imaginary, me//not-me in relation to the Symbolic.

The trick is of course to remember that they are constructions in Bradford Keeney’s phrase, that they are not illusory, but not real. And we might wish people who come to conferences to learn this. But is the construction of Mobius strip events the best way to provide that opportunity? I don’t know.

14. I think Bruce is right in saying that group relations conferences have evolved in a way which pursues the exploration of unconscious processes at the expense of learning about leadership and authority in purposive (task) systems. I say ‘evolved’, but my impression is that this ambiguity was there from the beginning, and that Harold Bridger parted company with Ken Rice at an early stage because, as Bridger saw it, the Leicester conference ignored the work related desires which in those days brought the participants to the conference[14]. (I’m now noticeably doubtful whether the basic Leicester design, however tweaked, is compatible with learning about leadership and authority in purposive systems.) I think that a conference for the study of unconscious processes is what David wants that he is less interested in purposive systems and that this was one cause of conflict between him and Bruce.

Here is this presenting dilemma – I am very unhappy with its form, since I think we are actually dealing with something else – professional dilemmas, conflicting constitutencies, different forms of addiction/attachment, an incommensurability serving particular interests…..

15. However, I think Bruce is wrong in making something absolute out of the conflict between purposive systems and working with the unconscious. He asked whether there is purpose in the unconscious and I said ‘Yes’. Desire and intentionality are unconscious; they enter conscious thought and talk as statements of purpose. To put this I hope more lucidly, it is necessary for directors and managers and governing bodies to define boundaries of task, time and territory. But it is psychoanalytically naive to suppose that these judgments are based solely upon an objective and rational appraisal of needs and resources in a real world, or ever could be. These judgements always and inevitably go beyond the logic of needs and resources. And what is `beyond` is the unconscious desire[15] of those who draw the boundaries – what is in it for them, as persons, as subjects. I don’t know whether the group relations conferences, in any form, can be tuned to this frequency.

8 November 1996

Barry’s Notes to the Text
[1] I’m using the Lacanian term ‘subject’ in order to avoid using the words ‘person’ or ‘individual’. ‘The subject is not simply equivalent to a conscious sense of agency, which is a mere illusion produced by the ego, but to the unconscious; Lacan’s “subject” is the subject of the unconscious.’ (Evans D, Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Routledge 1996).
[2] I realise that the Institute does not equate ‘person’ with ‘individual’, and that we regard ‘person’ as a systemic concept. But I don’t think this is taken account of in the concept of taking a role.
[3] This formulation draws upon Philip Boxer’s theory of levels of strategy, set out in part in his ‘Intent and the Future of Identity’, in Boot P, Lawrence J and Morris J (eds), Creating New Futures: A Manager’s Guide to the Unknown, McGraw Hill 1994. This paragraph (3) is not as lucid as I would like, but I hope this ‘levels of strategy’ concept will become clearer as I go on.
[4] This way of telling the story builds up a picture of Bruce contra mundum which glosses over the complexity of what went on in the staff and in the conference as a whole. Other staff and members worked with, against and without reference to the moves I am describing, at different times and in their unique personal ways. The running controversy between David Gutmann and Bruce was on a different axis which I shall refer to later. There are other illuminating ways of reading the events of the conference. It would be more scientific to describe the processes I am interested in impersonally, as a conflict or confluence of discursive practices (see note 6) as a complex negotiation over what were to be allowable ways of ‘conferencing’, and of talking about our ways of conferencing. But I shall continue to tell the story in an individualised way, because it makes for an easier read.
[5] Maybe too cryptic a statement but it is not sufficiently important to spell it out.
[6] `Discursive practice’ (Foucault): a way of talking; more precisely, a way of using language to construct or evoke a ‘reality’, within which people then communicate, act and make decisions.
[7] We make a public ritual of installing the administrators as management before the Director takes up another role in Praxis Event I. Why has this not been necessary in the past, before he has taken up a consultant role in the Large Study Event? Because he and others are still in staff roles? But that begs the whole question. Bruce’s practice, this year and last, is a statement that the management role cannot responsibly be vacated.
[8] This phrase reminds me of an incident in The History of Mr Polly (H G Wells), in which Mr Polly rescues an old woman from a burning house by escaping with her across the roofs. As they scramble perilously across the tiles she says: ‘This is not what I’m used to!” (Associations on a postcard to B Palmer by 31 December 1996.)
[9] As Bruce said, his anxiety about Zanne, which made its presence felt in the opening plenary, was that he had never met her before. He had therefore had only twenty four hours in which to intuit whether she shared the kind of desire or aspiration around which he had assembled the rest of the staff.
[10] This is not a criticism, in a negative sense. Thomas Kuhn said that paradigm shifts come about not because people self consciously set out to do something different, but because they push the existing paradigm to the limit, until it breaks down. Or something like that.
[11] In the language of The Dynamics of Religion, this practice tended to push us into a state of extra dependence.
[12] A ‘shared desire’ may not be possible; perhaps what Boxer calls a ‘federation of intent’.
[13] I think the “G” of Room G was “Grubb” for me, and also the name of my younger son Gareth, who we sometimes call “G” in the family. Room G was Bruce’s office for a while when I worked in that building. Bruce, heaven help him, has been in the place of a father to me, so I have been “G” to him…
[14] “Despite the overall success of Leicester, I was still disquieted about… study groups. It seemed to me that the idea of a group of participants with the task of ‘learning about groups by being a group’ meets Bion and Rickman’s (1943) conditions for the ‘study of its own internal tensions’ only when the participants are patients prepared to join such a group with the expectation of ‘getting better’. Then the real life task of the group is for the patients ‘to get well’. It did not seem to me that there was a compelling real task in the non patient groups that I had experienced.” Bridger, in Trist E and Murray H (1990), The Social Engagement of Social Science, London: Free Associations, p 223.
[15] What in an earlier incarnation Bruce referred to as `basic need’, or something like it.