Contents Vol. 21.1



Organisational Creativity – Birth of a Journal

Lionel Stapley


This paper documents the way that, taking advantage of new technology, organisational creativity resulted in developing a failing organisation, to develop into a truly international organisation. The paper starts from the conflictual nature of industrial relations in the UK in the 1960s and continuing into the 1970s which resulted in the launch of OPUS (An Organisation for Promoting Understanding of Society) in 1975, its early development, and decline into a near non-active organisation until the appointment of a new Executive Director 1994. The paper then concentrates on the development of a new comprehensive medium to long-term strategy that, in the following six years resulted in the development of a vibrant and successful organisation providing for the needs of those involved in any way with a systems psychodynamic way of working. It then moves to one of the major strategic aims, that of producing an International Journal, that would provide a vehicle for the systems psychodynamic field of working; through to the publication of the first Issue of the International Journal ‘Organisational and Social Dynamics’, in 2001.


Lord of the flies: A psychoanalytic view of the gang and its processes

Mark Stein


Gangs are usually seen to exist on the edge of society, in the Mafia, on the street corner, or among those engaged in people- or drug-trafficking. In this paper I take a different approach and argue that, especially in response to trauma, gang functioning may be present at the very centre of our society, and is sometimes to be found in governmental, business, public and voluntary sector organisations, as well as the groups and teams within them. Using Nobel-prize winner William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies to give shape to my ideas, I develop a psychoanalytic theory of gang functioning. I draw in particular on Kleinian psychoanalytic ideas as well as concepts from the psychoanalytic study of groups and organisations. I argue that the establishment of the gang involves primitive splitting and projective identification and the perversion of adult authority. I suggest further that gang functioning involves the destruction of the sensory and communicative apparatuses that alert the gang to reality, coupled with the creation of a substitute, false ‘reality’. These features enable the avoidance of painful truths and experiences and facilitate the enactment of hatred that is so characteristic of ganging behaviour.


Repairing the Damage: Wishful, Defensive or Restorative?

Susan Long


Damage, physically and to the psyche is inevitable. This is whether it is caused unconsciously, through consciously malicious intent, thoughtlessness, as collateral or just through a hostile environment or the warring of internal forces. At the group or social level, the last few years have seen much damage in terms of economic recession, climate change, racial inequalities and domestic violence.

The desire to repair follows such damage. The psychoanalytic focus on reparation sees the process as an attempt by a person to repair perceived damage to another or more precisely, to an internal image of the other – a loved other. Large groups such as organisations and societies also do damage and sometimes acknowledge this and make attempts to repair – perhaps defensively, simply to restore their own reputation, but perhaps from guilt and remorse.

This paper will invite readers to think about reparation in terms of either fantasied wishfulness, or defensiveness or its possible restorative capacity. My exploration rests on the premise that damage is always to the system and that both that which damages and that which is damaged suffer. It is in system restoration that hope re-emerges.


The Exploring Difference Workshop: Group Relations Methodology to Deepen Anti-racist Education in Toronto, Canada.

Janelle Joseph, Barbara Williams, & Tanya Lewis


Though the Tavistock group relations paradigm is now more than seventy years old, its unique conceptualisation of unconscious group processes remains nonetheless essential for understanding and affecting this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous time. An adapted Tavistock group relations event called the Exploring Difference Workshop (EDW) takes place in the context of (1) increasing attention to endemic racism within Canadian society, and (2) increasingly obvious limitations of dominant modes of anti-racism training framed within discourses of equity and multiculturalism. This paper discusses new contributions group relations methodology can provide through the EDW to engage with the intractable and painful aspects of talking about racism in “the here and now.” The paper offers an analysis of key themes emerging from the workshops and the consultations supporting participants’ learning about “difference” and Self-Other relationships. It proposes that the EDW enables deeper understanding of, and dialogue about, the (un)conscious processes affecting racism and anti-racism education and offers a means for enhancing collaboration across difference in these times.


On the psychodynamics of hope and identity in times of crisis.

Why they are needed when BA victimism/supremacism prevail

Claudia Nagel


In times of crisis uncertainty and insecurity rise and lead to heightened anxiety and fear. To overcome these emotions, hope and identity are needed. In this paper I would like to explore the psychodynamics of hope and identity, the role they play in overcoming crisis, how they are connected in good and in bad times and how leaders can create real hope and real identity. My major point will be, that hope and identity are linked via fear and containment – in defensive and destructive ways, forming both fake hope and fake identity and in constructive healthy and healing ways, improving the well-being and -functioning/performing of individuals, organisations and societies. I will show that the crisis also induces a new basic assumption mentality which I have already called in earlier papers “victimism”, and which I will develop further here with the addition of supremacism. Victimism/supremacism as basic assumption mentality in the sense of Bion are critical in understanding the development of prevailing larger phenomenon such as populism, the rise of authoritarian leaders, identitarian movements, identity politics and similar developments. Leaders need this knowledge to move beyond the BA V/S mentality and the crisis into hope and the future.


The Meaning of Greta  A psychosocial exploration of Greta Thunberg

Simon Western


This paper explores the social meaning of Greta Thunberg.  Time magazine made her Person of the Year 2019, claiming she has become a social phenomenon a ‘global sensation’.   This paper utilises psycho-social theory and new social movement theory to explore the social meaning of ‘Greta’.   It asks what ‘Greta’ evokes in our ‘social imaginary’ (Taylor 2009:146).  What conscious and unconscious identifications are projected onto ‘Greta’ that have made her the unlikely famous person she is?   These questions are not about exploring her individual psychological, leadership or character traits, but focus on Greta (now 18) as a social object (Latour 2005) with a vast social network following her, including over 4.2 million twitter followers, a new documentary film about her, and mainstream media coverage across the globe.

Part one of this paper outlines the context and libidinal economies that Greta operates within, and the theoretical influences the paper draws upon.  Part two of the paper outlines five core messages that Greta transmits, and the meanings that emerge from observing social reactions to her. The paper ends with a conclusion summarising the social meanings of Greta.


First genocide, now ecocide: an anti-life force in organisations?

Paul Hoggett, Rebecca Nestor


Most contributions to OSD have assumed that organisations are beset by various anxieties – some inherent to their work, some to the social context in which they operate – which threaten to blow them off course. If not managed effectively these anxieties generate various defences – splitting, denial, dissociation, etc – which undermine the capacity to engage creatively with the organisation’s internal and external reality. Many of the organisations studied, in health care, education, etc. ,ostensibly have a public purpose, but what of those organisations whose purpose is antisocial, where their business is primarily to destroy rather than create? The Group Relations tradition emerged from the aftermath of the holocaust and genocide. Today the genocidal impulse has become conjoined with an ecocidal one; as a result we stand on the brink of disaster. This article explores the “structures of feeling” in organisations as our existential fears reach acute levels, and asks whether we need to extend our frame of analysis beyond the anxieties and defences provoked by our destructiveness in order to better understand humanity’s apparent embrace of destructiveness.


Extending the Tavistock Model: Bringing Desire, Danger, Dread and Excitement into a Theory Of Organisational Process

Larry Hirschhorn


“You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.” —William Blake

This paper develops some novel extensions of the classical Tavistock model of organizational psychodynamics. The classical model privileges the emotion of anxiety as the primary trigger for psychosocial experiences in organizations. While this approach has been very generative, it has also been limiting, since there are several other important emotions that shape how people take up their work and their roles in organizations. The paper shows how open systems theory and sociotechnical thinking emerge logically from the anxiety model by highlighting how organizations become functional, and work becomes satisfying. The paper goes on to explore how desire as a feeling for the future, stimulates such feelings as danger, dread, and excitement. When these feelings become dispositive, they generate experiences associated with anxiety, and the primary risk, as well the potential for a developmental politics. Politics can be developmental rather than defensive when executives create settings where conflict is seen as transaction and rationality as an achievement. The paper explores these issues through the use of case vignettes in the public domain, including a skunk works project in Data General, and leadership struggles and strategy dilemmas in Apple, IBM, and Polaroid.


Executive Group Coaching: Interventions not for the Faint of Heart

Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, Caroline Rook


As the world is changing, organisations are changing with it: Matrix structures, flat hierarchies, virtual work, and teamwork are becoming the norm. Therefore, the ability of working successfully with others has become increasingly important and effective teamwork is essential to make these new complex organisational structures work. However, as this special issue highlights, there are major challenges in working effectively together in this rapidly changing world. Indeed, teams often do not live up to the promise of faster problem solving or higher levels of innovation. ‘Turf wars’ and broken trust are common. Group coaching interventions can be second to none in creating effective collaboration and a culture of trust. Based on the clinical paradigm, this paper outlines competencies and conceptual models that make for successful group coaching. Overall, effective group coaching interventions, which will also help executives to lead and direct individual and organisational transformation and to create a coaching culture within organisations, need group coaches who have a holistic orientation and pay attention both to micro and macro processes.


Emotional Textual Analysis as a semiotic action-research method to work with emotions within organisations

Felice Bisogni, Francesca Dolcetti, Stefano Pirrotta


The paper aims to contribute to the Special Issue for the 20th Anniversary of the Organisational and Social Dynamics Journal presenting a semiotic action-research method called Emotional Textual Analysis (ETA). ETA, developed in Italy by the Studio of Psychosociology and the Chair of Clinical Psychology at Sapienza University of Rome, is an explorative abductive method that consents to analyse how the organisation symbolically interacts with its context. In ETA methodology the interdependence between the organisational system and the client system is considered as the product of socially shared emotional cultures. The paper describes the theoretical and methodological foundation of ETA method and presents the results of a recent action-research project carried out by the authors within a National Health System organisation. In the conclusion, the added value of using ETA to work with organisations facing contextual changes in the current historical period is discussed.


From Here to Eternity?  Work, coaching and consulting in a post Covid world

Halina Brunning and Olya Khaleelee


This paper, written for the special 20th anniversary edition of O&SD, examines how the technological revolution and the pandemic are changing the shape of organisations and the future requirements from advisory services such as coaching and consulting, within the context of a PC culture and anxiety about climate change. The authors describe how AI and robotics are influencing the nature of work, replacing many jobs and enabling managers to be less operational and more strategic in orientation. The influence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the introduction of Universal Basic Income are described. The effect of the pandemic on the human psyche, on employment, poverty, homelessness, racism and mental illness are spelt out as well as the implications for the world of work and organisational life. Attention is paid to the impact on the role of coach/coachee, using the six domain model of coaching with predictions of how coaching may change in the future. The final section is devoted to organisational consulting and how the impact of the pandemic may transform client/consulting relationships.