Reprise of conference work by consultants in a 2010 Institutional System Event, from the perspective of the Convenor of the consultants

Stan  De Loach, Ph.D.

       


9 March 2010

Dear Managers of the Institutional System Event (ISE),

I want to thank you for the opportunity to work on the staff of the 2010 group relations conference.  Words aren’t adequate to express my gratitude for the highlight of my year.

This is a brief follow-up and conclusion to my work in the role of convenor of the consultants during the just past conference.  I hope you will find some value in the information and feedback, which are consistent with the notion of and my commitment to shared management in public.

I am using the following working hypothesis, outlined by one of the male consultants during the ISE and developed further by me in the weeks post-conference, to make sense, in a general way, of the insights and learnings present, brought to full consciousness or not, in the 2010 ISE.  The hypothesis is not completely satisfactory because it depends too much on an individual (nonmember of Management) perspective.  It would be more satisfactory were it presented in the words of the members of ISE Management, using the insights and data collected in their own work and informed by the consultants' work with members.  At least, however, it contains the basic metaphor contributed by the male consultant from his work with members and includes the essence of the Director’s “musing,” brought back to the consultants from a male consultant's visit to Management.

You can determine for yourselves to what degree this hypothesisInstitutional System Event 2011: Overview of work carried out to date, from the perspective of the Convenor of the consultants
Institutional System Event 2011: Overview of work carried out to date, from the perspective of the Convenor of the consultants
 may resonate with your own experience as Managers.

For reasons related to the working hypothesis’ “because clause,” neither the metaphor nor the musing was embraced or elaborated by the consultants, in spite of multiple suggestions to do so and attempts to elicit the details for a hypothesis grounded in them.  The task of developing working hypotheses to share during the ISE is, however, properly a task of Management, not of the consultants.  Assuming responsibility and leadership for Transformation of the institution through the use of working hypotheses was challenging for the consultants and in parallel fashion, not by coincidence, for the members.  Perhaps the impediments existed among the Managers. also.

I do not know to what degree my personal style of convening the consultants, which I am in the process of transforming (see below), and the limited amount of the consultants' experiential preparation prior to the ISE may have reduced their abilities to work with the members via consultations centered on working hypotheses about institutional development, dynamics, and functioning.  Perhaps my style and their preparation did not enable them to fully understand their role and task as being separate from those of Management.  Possibly for this reason, some consultants were distracted from a full commitment to consulting to the members by a preoccupation with "returning to their former union/fusion with Management" in the former methodology and/or relating in some other non-task-driven way with Management, whether to gain its permission and approval or to demonstrate their own disasporsa's continuing allegiance to Management (lest it be questioned or required?).

Not all consultants, and especially not all female consultants, were 100% “on board” with the task and the role, due to various other factors: responses to me and my style of convening, novelty of the ISE in their experience, doubts about their authorization from Management, feelings about the method or consequences of Transforming the event, and a terror of doing work that might not be legitimate or sanctioned by Management.  Some of the lack of clarity about their consultant role in the ISE, as distinct from their former familiar identity as simply “members of Staff,” served to permit avoidance and express hatred of learning by experience, for example, in reluctance to engage in actively transforming role behaviors previously taken up in different, earlier Institutional Events or other conferences.

All consultants undoubtedly interpreted the ambiguity or total absence of authorization by Management (to work with the members and for the members to seek out the consultants’ services) in the written hypotheses delivered by a male member of Management to be a direct comment about the lack of legitimacy for their work.  This lack of verbally expressed authorization allowed an undesirable “secondary gain,” namely, interpretation of it to mean that it was “okay” for some consultants not to give themselves over to the work of consulting in the ISE because of such consultation's clear association with Transformation (that is, bringing to bear the unconscious obstacles to altering or at least critically examining the old, established order).

This kind of dynamic weakens and distorts the post-conference working hypothesis presented here because the dynamics it conveys (essentially fear or ambivalence about Transformation) are as valid for members as for several or most consultants and members of Management.  There is therefore no sector from which to effectively leverage the intervention in order to permit learning and Transformation.  The terror inevitable in Transformation was present in and affected the ISE system-as-a-whole (that is, both of its subsystems, as well as the consultants, who continually held onto the idea that of course they were a subsystem under study in the ISE).  The "demotion" to a wholly consultative, non-central role in the event also appeared to damage heartily their narcissism.  Their emotional/psychological response to their interpreted "exclusion" from Management was so intense that I found myself wondering whether Management "needed" the consultants in some sort of co-dependent way and whether they may have felt "pulled" by Management to behave as they often did.

Where are the women among the membership and among the consultants?  Were they more terrified of Transformation than the men?  Probably not, though maybe they were more in touch with the terror and were more likely to name it.  Terror, named or unnamed, can account for much of the paralyzing need for safety from risk that was in evidence, as verbalized in the hypothesis and the alternate hypothesis that follow:


Working hypothesis (initiated during the ISE and completed post-ISE):

In all subsystems of the ISE, the image of an earthquake and its aftermath, which changes the landscape beyond recognition, brings loneliness, homelessness, and helplessness, limits contact, and increases concerns about safety and security, seems increasingly to shape and be part of the current “institution-in-the-mind."

Here-and-now responses by the members and perhaps by certain parts of the conference staff involve

1.  moving around as lone individuals or huddling together tightly in separate subsystems, isolated from each other…and thus, by maintaining shifting abodes, succeeding in avoiding genuine encounter with the Other and externalizing their inner feelings of being "dislocated" or "uprooted"

2.  anticipating or expecting that “relief” will soon arrive, perhaps from “abroad” or air-dropped in from “above”…and therefore, postponing or discounting the need for encounter with the Other here present.  In other words, a focus on the "there and then" almost to the exclusion of the "here and now."

3.  rushing into a self-designated “lifeboat” rapidly filling with refugees, which as a strictly “gated community” promises safety by staying home and collective engagement in inertia, that is, going nowhere…the simplest way known to avoid encounter with the outside Other

Why?

Because of the terror of engaging in real encounter and collaboration with the Other, and the associated terror of taking up responsibility and leadership in the Transformation of this institution, which for some feels "destroyed" by new events and ways of conceiving the task of the ISE.

Evidence for this hypothesis comes:

From the ISE, where some members wander and remain unconnected with any subsystem, where unused resources are concentrated in a single subsystem, and where interactions among subsystems are limited or hold no interest.

From the Small Study Systems, where we have observed processes of “weeding out” or excluding participants and feelings related to “belonging,” intimacy, and security.

From the Large Study System, where longing for connection is often coupled with the simultaneous expression of aggression.

Management recommends working with the Consultants to develop this or other hypotheses about the institution that we are all in the process of creating.
 
 

An alternate (briefer) working hypothesis might be:

In the aftermath of what is perceived by some as an “earthquake,” which aptly captures the idea of forceful alteration or shaking up of the ISE-in-the-mind, the survivors wander alone or huddle together, seeking to maintain their individual security and identity by blocking or avoiding genuine encounter with the Other.

Here-and-now responses involve

1.  moving around as lone individuals or huddling together tightly in separate subsystems, isolated from each other…and thus, by maintaining shifting abodes, succeeding in avoiding genuine encounter with the Other or in not even having a known address or location

2.  anticipating or expecting that “relief” will soon arrive, perhaps from “abroad” or air-dropped in “above” by some higher power…and so, postponing or discounting the need for encounter with the Other here and now

3.  rushing into a self-designated “lifeboat” rapidly filling with refugees, which as a strictly “gated community” promises safety by staying home and through inertia, that is, going nowhere…the simplest way to avoid encounter with the Other

Why?

Because of the terror of engaging in real encounter and collaboration with the Other, and the associated terror of taking up responsibility and leadership in the Transformation of this institution.

Evidence for this hypothesis comes:

From the ISE, where some members wander and remain unconnected with any subsystem, where unused resources are concentrated in a single subsystem (the "refugee center"), and where interactions among subsystems are limited or nonexistent.

From the Small Study Systems, where we have observed processes of “weeding out” or excluding participants and feelings related to intimacy and security.

From the Large Study System, where longing for connection is often coupled with the simultaneous expression of serious aggression.

Management recommends working with the Consultants to develop this or other hypotheses about this institution.


Transformation of behaviors associated with my role as Convenor of the Consultants during the 2010 ISE

During the last conference, various comments and some criticisms seem to converge and point to the promise of my increased effectiveness through transformation of some role behaviors, which I have learned and used over the years, but which are not standard parts of the traditional and current conference culture in this setting.

In general, my goal for the next year is to Transform my way of working with the consultants (provided, of course, I have the opportunity of being on the conference staff) in the direction of less intensity, less haste, more questions, and fewer answers, all with a sunnier delivery.

The following comments or vignettes are all examples of “learning from each other” that took place in the 2010 conference and that directly influenced my decision to transform some of my role behaviors:

A.  One male consultant was able to shift his focus from feelings about my way of convening the consultants and from being enmeshed in the intrasystem dynamics among the consultants to a focus on the system-as-a-whole task.  By so doing, he came up with the metaphor (the Haitian earthquake image) that best seemed to me then and now to capture what was going on during the ISE and also the salient dynamics related to the metaphor (that participants [both members and consultants] in the ISE were waiting for relief agencies to rescue, fix, organize rather than themselves taking up leadership and responsibility for transforming the current system to be more in line with their needs and wants).

However, he was a singleton in this regard, and other consultants did not join with him or follow his lead, in spite of my encouragement to do so.  My way of convening did not, therefore, incapacitate him, but a transformed way of convening could perhaps facilitate his and others’ (including straight men’s and women’s) creativity and license to reflect as consultants on the system-as-a-whole.

B.  A female consultant's saying on various occasions, “I don’t understand that.  Can you say more about it?”  Whether to increase understanding as currently (by clear answers or responses) or to prefer evoking learning by questions and reflection (more à la Socrates) is one critical choice in my decision to transform behaviors in the role of convenor of the consultants.  The revised way is more time-consuming, but probably the learning and the ISE themselves take the time that they take.  One can’t push the river…though by nature, I would by nature do so if I could.

C.  Another male consultant's screaming, “How did THAT (something I had said) help that young male consultant's learning!?”  Different people learn by different means.  By transforming some of my teaching behaviors related to working with the consultants during the ISE, learning opportunities may be more appealing and easily taken advantage of.  Maybe learning can occur if the pace is slower and more reflective (or less directive).  This hypothesis of increased consultant learning has to be submitted to a trial, because in this conference there are multiple, largely unconscious or at least unstated, forces mitigating against consultants' genuine participation, comprehension, and learning from the ISE experience.

D.  The female consultant's expression of the terror of Transformation at the conference-ending round-table discussion, terror originating in the implicit possibility of losing through unforeseen Transformation what is valued and already “perfect” or “good enough.”  Her profound expression explained and clarified much of the members’ and staff’s behaviors during the ISE.  It located this very real terror among the consultants, although after and not during the here-and-now of the ISE.  If my style as convenor included more questions than answers, it might foster the reflection needed to bring this power to the table during the ISE and to incorporate it more articulately in the consulting work with the members and for management's elaboration of working hypotheses about the temporary institution's dynamics and functioning.  Why Transformation of the IE should be so terrifying is not yet altogether clear.

E.  The Latin consultant's asking me, “Why do you assume that I did not include the clause referring members to Management and the Consultants at the end of my consultations to the subsystem?”  Excellent question for thought and to include in the role behavior revision or Transformation that I am undertaking.  Failure to distinguish the unique individuality of each of the consultants, in trying to convene them all is not a proper approach.  That there were consultants who publically indicated that they would not and did not include this clause in their delivery of working hypotheses to the members, does not mean that no consultant actually did so.

F.  The sobbing female consultant who said to me, “I thought you weren’t a bully.”  I’m not, of course, but the existence and lack of public exploration of the projections, facilitated or not by my behaviors, limit my effectiveness.  And I prefer to maximize my effectiveness through bringing to consciousness the unconscious elements projected onto us as consultants.  Given the strength of the conference director's passion, one wonders if her plaint were not meant for the conference director but were blocked because of fear of him (and not so much of me in my role).

G.  The African-American consultant's, “In almost every aspect of my life, I am increasingly being presented with almost daily and practically urgent demands and requirements for my own Transformation (new roles, advancements, leaving important people and positions behind)…and I am trying to go there, though it isn’t easy!”  My own involvement in the process of Transformation supports and improves my work in the role of convenor of the consultants and in all other roles during the conference.  I see that my roles in Tavi work at this conference are also presenting me “with demands and requirements for my own Transformation.”

H.  The Associate Director's managerial style.  Distinct from my own, effective, especially welcomed by women.  By incorporating some parts of her approach, I might be able to increase my usefulness (possibly gauged or judged by consultants’ learning and task focus in the "new to them" ISE) as convenor of the consultants.  Her managerial actions are examples of behaviors that other staff members model and that are worthy of note and study in order to improve my own.

I.  The East European consultant's, “Now that I have done it (the ISE), I’m surprised that it was really not that hard.”  His statement reminds me that learning and Transformation through real, lived experience is still the very justified and honored name of the Tavi point of view about institutional/social life.  Not by coincidence, of course, does he make this statement: the ISE design that we use originated in Europe and has been continuously updated in European group relations or transformation conferences.

J.  The young female consultant's, “Yes!” as an intentional, deliberate response to and acceptance of challenge and surprise in the explicit demand made for work from her in a very new role.  This action of hers is also an example of behaviors that other staff members may chose to model and that I can incorporate in my own.  Clearly she accepted to perform her new task of consulting to the members' self-division into subsystems without Management's authorization, approval, or permission.  She was, I believe, paying for my sins, because Management could not fully authorize me to convene the consultants, and could not authorize me to make task-supportive disposition of the consultants. 

K.  The courage of the female Asian-American consultant under pressure (while working for the first time with a female African-American senior consultant in the RRAG), as well as her ability to transform, through sensitive articulation, my understanding of the singleton’s inner experience and motivation (with reference to a singleton present in the RRAG to which she co-consulted).  My uncertainty, which I try to evaluate in my decisions about transformation of the behaviors that I use in the convenor role, is whether the pressure was the causative factor or the limiting factor in her abilities.  She modeled a way of discussing members (not the total system) that was sophisticated and natural.  I could learn to use it in my personal work of Transformation.

Again, thank you both!  Where else could I get an education so high in quality and immediacy and with so much joy, excitement, and collaboration in the learning process?  Truly, working at the conference that you both direct with courage and persistence is a cherished experience.

Stan
 

© 2010, 2013, 2016   Dr.  Stan  De Loach   All rights reserved.


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