By Robyn Vesey and Judith Bell
As part of the celebrations marking Tavistock Consulting first 25 years, we have been collecting together papers that capture key ideas, turning points or new developments from authors who have worked at Tavistock Consulting at different times over the course of its history.
Our Director, Tim le Lean set us the challenge of distilling the large number of possibilities to a maximum of ten publications – and it has been a tough challenge, given the rich array of contributions to new thinking and examples of the creative application of the Tavistock systems-psychodynamic approach. We were helped in our task by suggestions from our consultants and faculty on the papers that they have found most developmental, creative and useful in their practice.
It probably isn’t a huge spoiler to say that the first title on the list has to be The Unconscious at Work, published the year Tavistock Consulting was created, and including papers from staff who set up Tavistock Consulting and key associates, well known and involved in the work through the seminars led by Anton Obholzer, Psychoanalyst and the Chief Executive of the Tavistock Clinic at that time. The second edition of that seminal volume was published this year with new chapters and a wider application to commercial organisations. To find the other nine titles we’ve been looking at the many books, chapters and papers published in the intervening 25 years detailing the ways systems-psychodynamic approach can be understood and applied to work and organisational life.
So, how did we manage to refine this long and illustrious list to just 10 papers? We wanted to make sure the list as a whole represented different dimensions; historical, spanning the whole 25 years, including papers from 1994 up until 2019; conceptual, including both the rich psychodynamic tradition focusing on the individual and how the inner life is experienced within organisational contexts, as well as a systemic, sociotechnical and organisational perspective focusing on the structures, context and wider challenges that make up realities at work.
Most crucially when it comes to the conceptual, our intention was to highlight the ideas and thinking that can bridge these two areas, making meaningful the hyphen between systems-psychodynamic. This inter-play between the organisational/systemic/social and individual/unconscious/psychodynamic, as observed, understood and used is of course crucial to the work of organisational consultancy in the Tavistock model.
Finally we wanted to represent the different applications of the systems-psychodynamic approach as we inhabit it at TC: group work, organisational and system change, coaching, training and leadership development at individual and team levels.