The Dynamics of Change: Tavistock Approaches to Improving Social Systems

Author(s) : Mannie Sher

The Dynamics of Change: Tavistock Approaches to Improving Social Systems

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This book contains reflections of the most important theories and practices of the ‘Tavistock tradition’ over the past 80 to 90 years - psychoanalysis (the role of thought); socio-technical systems (the interaction between people and technology in workplaces); theories of leadership, research and evaluation methodologies; participant design and greater democratization of the workplace.

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This is a book that aligns theory and practice. Mannie Sher shares numerous examples of work explaining how systems psychodynamics concepts influence practice for the benefit of clients and the social good. In particular, he demonstrates how systems psychodynamic concepts enable understanding of beneath-the-surface forces in large systems that promote significant observable improvement in behaviour and performance.

The book offers an overview of the central feature of systems psychodynamics – the ubiquitous presence of anxieties and the mobilization of institutional and social defense systems against them – a set of inspired ideas that have defined ‘Tavistock’ social science research methodologies, organisational change initiatives and executive coaching encounters for nearly a century.

The four sections of the book reflect the author’s professional journey across both Tavistock institutions - the Tavistock Clinic from 1971 to 1976 - public sector psychotherapy (Section 2) - and the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations from 1997 - group relations (Section 3); organisational development and change (Section 4); and board evaluation (Section 5).

The work is also a tribute to Pierre Turquet, Robert Gosling and Mary Barker at the Clinic and Eric Miller, Isabel Menzies Lyth and Gordon Lawrence at the Institute who inspired the author and who were influential in generating and shaping systems psychodynamics thinking – the confluence of dominant framing perspectives of organisational and social systems thinking and psychoanalytic perspectives on individual mental processes and group and social dynamics. It also salutes the many others in the international group relations and organisational development networks who are tested daily in their work by the hidden unconscious processes of their client systems.

‘This book shows precisely and with great subtlety what is necessary for effective leadership. The capacity to decide and to wait, to think and to feel, to ponder and to act intuitively, to be deeply connected to present realities and yet always aware of overarching objectives - these qualities are more than personal competencies: Mannie Sher demonstrates how such capacities can be embedded in work as diverse as a GP's clinic, a bank's boardroom and an entire regulatory system. I strongly recommend the book to all who are interested in leadership, and to everyone keen to understand how human beings can possibly cope, with wisdom and good humour, with the challenges of responsible roles in modern organisations.’
- Professor Jonathan Gosling, Centre for Leadership Studies, University of Exeter

‘This compendium is a breath-taking, brilliant account of intellectual development and societal impact by a prolific man of his times. The account of his journey from the unlocking of a suppressed person, to the freedom to develop his intellectual gifts, to his development as an institutional leader and thought leader, and finally development in the role of guardian of beloved ideas and champion of ideas unfolding is quite inspiring. This is an important addition to the literature for adult development and systems theorists as well as for professionals who are in the business of making a difference in societal well-being.’
- Kathleen Pogue White, PhD, Psychoanalyst and Leadership Development Consultant, USA

'This book beautifully represents the unique professional and intellectual journey of Mannie Sher from psychoanalytic psychotherapy to the study of unconscious processes in groups and organisations. This marvellous range of case studies, from the care sector to international finance, demonstrate the mind of a social innovator at work, a mind which is constantly in dialogue with its psychoanalytic mentors, particularly Bion.'
- Paul Hoggett, Professor of Social Policy, University of the West of England

‘This book is important at many levels. It is much more than a history of the professional work of a significant member of the Tavistock Institutions, although it does trace that history. It is much more than a record of the work and approaches of the Tavistock over several decades, although it does that also. In presenting Dr Sher’s work from his time at the Tavistock Clinic in the 1970s through his involvement in the group relations work and action research projects of the Institute, to current work with organisations, the book seamlessly weaves a description of complex theories and practices into a coherent fabric most importantly grounded in his direct research.

A dedication to finding unconscious psychological and sociological truths in social systems is evident; as is the crafted and thoughtful approach to organisational difficulties during change. Dr Sher’s breadth of experience and capacity is admirable.

This collection of papers demonstrates Dr Sher’s down-to-earth, reality-based yet deeply reflective focus on approaching problems within organisations and social systems. It will be an invaluable resource for students, managers, policy makers and all those wishing to further their understanding of the ‘Tavistock’ approach.’
- Susan Long (PhD), formerly Professor of Creative and Sustainable Organisation RMIT University Melbourne (now Adjunct Professor) Organisational Consultant and author

About the Author(s)

Mannie Sher is Director of the Group Relations Programme and Principal Researcher & Consultant and Executive Coach at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. He is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, a Fellow of the British Association of Psychotherapists and board member of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations (ISPSO). He is a member of the Israel Association for the Study of Group and Organisational Processes (OFEK) and a co-founder of the Belgirate conference on group relations conferences.

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