Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

The Wisdom of the Work Group for Assessing the Future

Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

The Wisdom of the Work Group for Assessing the Future

Article excerpt

Do we neglect or even disdain Bion's perspective on the sophisticated work group?

Could we investigate how it provides us with a distinctive slant for the task of illuminating the work of the future?

Often the enormousness of present-day challenges and the pace of change seem unaccompanied by great notions and the great people to implement them. This void, like so many darknesses, may augur new leaders. And certainly in this moratorium new concepts of leadership have incubated. With the emergence of great men and women we can anticipate exciting new visions of power. (Bennis & Nanus, 1985)


Across the centuries, it is clear that the sustainability and development of effective, purposeful, working practices are affected by the shifting cycles of financial, economic, and climatic as well as political change. At each point, in downturn, upturn, peace, prosperity, strife, or stagnation, there emerge different sets of catastrophes and options, possibilities of transformation and choices of response. At each of these points some form of group leadership shapes the outcomes.

The methodologies and style of taking decisions are vital in determining whether or not those responsible really "get down to the business" and are truly able to grasp the nature and quality of the critical, and perhaps unique, reality that is emerging. The catch is that beforehand no one knows which decisions are key for addressing the essential elements.

In troubled times such as these, there is a need to search for those methods that help us to build a high level of acumen into our assessment of our situation. We need methods that enable people in organisations to prepare effective and powerful dialogue in order to meet the needs of a sustainable, if differently shaped, future.

Most importantly for ourselves, when thinking of the sophisticated work group, how do those of us working in the psychodynamic tradition meet our responsibility for identifying what this tradition can offer those concerned with creation of purposeful and effective work groups in the middle of the ordinary business of the work-world. This is more than an understanding of the pathology of the Basic assumption behaviours. My suggestion is that it is timely to delve into the wisdom of some timeless methods for progressing skilful, "adept" change for these less than certain times. We need to investigate within our own circles more fully. How do we provide support for the processes of coherence, for making steps into the "darkness" using methods we believe in, for generating the leadership of sophisticated work groups?

The aim of this paper is to study how to develop a body of thinking about the generative processes that move groups to take action, and to deliver. I shall discuss the question of whether we have concentrated on basic assumption (Ba) mentality without sufficiently elaborating the positively intentioned qualities of the sophisticated work group (SWGroup).

My own contention is that membership of the (SWGroup) is an experience that promotes individual personal integration as well as integration and development of task, for the organisation. I will provide illustrations of the "sophisticated work group in action" from consultancy experiences and will attempt to characterise their qualities- drawing out the conceptual points as I go along, and then collect them in a table that summarises each section.


W. R. Bion (1998) clarified the fundamental insight that there are two forms of group functioning at any one time: one "at" the surface, the other "underneath the surface". The second operates in ways that are only to be seen through the impact revealed in the overt outcome. My question is how do we now use his insights into the functioning of the SWGroup where the two levels interface at the surface and below, where the task and the dynamics transparently are supportive of each other? …

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