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Organizational Effectiveness

Names, Thoughts & Lies: The Relevance of Bion’s Later Writing for Understanding Experience in Groups

David Armstrong co-authored Group Relations: An Introduction. In this chapter from the book, Armstrong traces in Bion’s lines of thought in his later body of work which complement, modify and extend the ideas presented in Experiences in Groups, and how the relative neglect of these lines of thought by practitioners in “group relations” contributes to the sense of a self-inflicted theoretical and methodological atrophy which sometimes seems to surround those who work in this field.

David Armstrong, W. Gordon Lawrence, & Robert M. Young, Group Relations: An Introduction, Process Press: London. Chapter Seven, pp. 117-135.

Bion didn’t think much of Experiences in Groups.1 In a letter to one of his children he comments wryly on its critical reception compared to his later published work: “the one book I couldn’t be bothered with even when pressure was put on me 10 years later, has been a continuous success”.2

It is tempting to interpret this in terms of the redirection of Bion’s energies and interests, following his second analysis with Melanie Klein, from group phenomena to the dynamics of individual psychoanalysis. These he was to explore in a unique series of publications from Learning from Experience to Attention and Interpretation and the three volumes of psychoanalytic and partly autobiographical dialogues, A Memoir of the Future.3

This view, however, ignores the evidence of Bion’s continuing interest in and use of the group in much of his later writing, including his occasional papers, discussions and seminars.

("Psycho-analytic insight in individuals and groups” is after all the sub-title of Attention and Interpretation).4

I believe it is possible to trace in this later body of work lines of thought which complement, modify and extend the ideas presented in Experiences in Groups, and that the relative neglect of these lines of thought by practitioners in ‘group relations’ contributes to the sense of a self-inflicted theoretical and methodological atrophy which sometimes seems to surround those who work in this field.

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The Discovery & Loss of a “Compelling Space”: a case study in adapting to a new organizational order

In a case study of a CIO in an investment bank, Sharon Horowitz helps capture a number of shifting paradigms within organizational life and describes how these shifts may inhibit creative and innovative thinking. 

Clare Huffington, David Armstrong, William Halton, Linda Hoyle, and Jane Pooley, Working Below the Surface: The Emotional Life of Contemporary Organizations, Karnac Books: London, 2004. Chapter 8, pp. 151-163.

Chapter Eight

Setting the Scene
Dr. Johnson, in his famous eighteenth-century dictionary, defined “job” as: “petty, piddling work; a piece of chance work.” In the late nineteenth-century Garment District of New York City, “job work” meant “piecework.” (Fox, 1994) While much has changed over the centuries, it appears that this earlier “piecework” description of jobs resembles emerging features of contemporary organizations, which, in their adaptation to changing technological and global competitive forces in the marketplace, have had to reinvent many aspects of their business models.

This adaptation process has shortened the length of most business time frames and changed the length of today’s employee contracts. These structural and procedural shifts have, by extension, required a parallel adaptive function in the workforce in that people have had to alter how they take up their authority as well as their relatedness and attitudes towards their place of work. One unintended consequence of the new employment contracts has been the untethering of the psychological contracts that contain the multitude of unconscious themes around individual attachment to the organization. Previously, employment contractual relationships had helped foster and maintain an organizational containment function that offered a certain level of psychological safety to individuals, enabling them to take professional challenges and creative risks that, in turn, helped nurture innovation. With the advent of ubiquitous short-term employment contracts, existing structures in which it is psychologically safe enough to take the challenges and risks of learning and creativity are vanishing. Yet, there remains a pressing need to tap into and release learning and creativity in order adequately to respond to external challenges and still achieve goals, targets and performance criteria. This then presents a dilemma:  how do organizations remain competitive and innovative when they can no longer provide their employees with the creative space in which to produce the innovations so vital to their survival? How do they resolve the dilemma of both needing to be creative in order to adapt and innovate while, simultaneously, meeting productivity needs within a short business cycle? 

The chapter explores this dilemma in detail based on emerging theories as well as a client case study and concludes by suggesting some potential ramifications it may hold for both individuals and institutions as well as for the organizational psychoanalytic consulting community.

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