Re: Group Relations Conference LO2173
Fri, 21 Jul 1995 00:37:51 -0400

Replying to LO2003 --

Tavistock Group Relations Conferences (grcs)

In a previous postings, I have explained why grcs might useful tools for
creating an emotional environment suitable for creating a learning
organization and listed a basic bibliography about Tavistock group
relations conferences(grcs). This posting describes some of my grc
experiences and relates Team Learning of Chapter 12 in "The Fifth
Discipline" to Tavistock grc's. Remember my offer to send you a brochure
for the Bryn Mawr grc from Aug 11 to Aug 16 on request.

My experience may be useful because while I now work on conference
staffs, over the last twelve years I have attended more than 35
conferences as a member. Most people are members at only one or two
conferences. I paid to attend so many conferences to master conference
consulting by collecting role models.

Alignment (page 234), given the right conditions, will naturally occur
in teams. These conditions exist in the grc small group exercise. I
have never attended a conference in which a significant level of
alignment did not develop in my small study group. I do not mean that
all these groups ended on a friendly note. In at least two
conferences, my small group ended in considerable anger. But it
appeared to me that everyone in every small study group exercise
experienced the group functioning as a whole for some part of the
conference. The grc experience can demonstrate to potential learning
organization members that alignment is attainable.

Dialogue (page 238) is the mode of communication in grc's. Members are
given opportunity to observe their own group process and many
experience observing their own thinking. I enjoy seeing conference
members "getting" the distinction between discussion and dialogue.
When, during a conference, members begin to consciously switch between
discussion and dialogue, I am filled with a renewed sense of hope. (
The terms-of-art discussion and dialogue are not used but the
activities are common.)

Conference experience demonstrates the value of conflict. Since the
conference is a temporary institution and most members will never see
each other again, a conference is a safe place to risk expressing
anger and trying on different roles. Many members discover the value
of conflict as a means to shared understanding. The experience of
dropping habitual defensive routines (page 237) and interacting with
the world as an authentic person, however briefly, is why many members
find grc's memorable. While defensive routines are frequently
uncovered during grcs, staff merely provides the opportunity to learn.
They do not attempt to modify members defensive routines.

While, in the US, mental health institutions make the most use of grc's,
in the UK, Finland, and Australia industry and government send
members to conferences. Most of my experience is at A.K. Rice
conferences in the US. One type of member that I have frequently seen
at conferences is the bull resident. He is usually a newly appointed
chief psychiatric resident and has had a life of successfully
impressing his supervisors and teachers. He comes to the conference
certain that he will be the best member that has ever been. What he
experiences is a rite of passage. Staff's stance of consulting to "the
group as a whole" and letting members evaluate their own learning
defeats attempts by members to excel. When the bull resident attempts
to get a good grade, he is left with the problem of finding someone to
give the grade. Many, but not all, bull residents, in my experience,
learn for the first time to be the sole judge of their own
performance. It is often a painful lesson.

For my last observation, I leave Chapter 12 and comment on the "Wall"
(page 281). A feature of Tavistock conferences is that much of the
staff's work is carried out in full view of the membership. Over the
last six years I have attended a series of conferences at Howard
Universit on the theme of diversity. One way the diversity theme is
introduced is by having a diverse staff. The staff attempts to model a
diverse group working together and the fantasy is that the membership
will see the staff working together effectively and harmoniously. But
as the Wall exercise predicts, the staff work is anything but
harmonious. One lesson I and others learned from this series of grc's
is that working in the context of diversity is complex. Many members
"get it" that despite members dependency needs staff does not have even
most of the answers. This learning translates to organizations unwisely
assuming that some single person or select group can generate all of the