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Competition, Subversion, and Enjoyment in Groups and Organisations

5-day non-residential group relations conference

Monday 15th December 2014 - Friday 19th December 2014

Tavistock Centre, London, UK

Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust

Primary Task
Role of Staff
Info & Fees
Payment Terms


This group relations conference, sponsored by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, continues the series of Conferences inaugurated in 1969 by the Professional Committee of the Tavistock Clinic, for the study of group and organisational processes.

It is designed as an experiential workshop offering no lectures or seminars but a variety of group configurations with specific tasks. These foster the exploration by participants (members and staff alike) of the ways in which the emotional life of a group impacts on its members’ capacity for learning from experience towards thoughtful, imaginative, and efficient action. Issues such as task, authority, accountability and leadership are open to consideration, as are the meanings, limitations and creative potential of taking up leadership and/or followership roles in a variety of settings. Insights can be usefully applied both to the field of work and to the social world.

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Conference Aims and Primary Task

To experience and examine conscious and unconscious processes of group dynamics as they happen, in the exercise of role, authority and leadership.

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Competition, subversion and enjoyment
Competitive feelings can be a haunting concern at work and in our social lives – but also a source of pleasure, as in sports and games, and an actual driver for enhanced performance. Yet, the enjoyment derived from playful competitiveness, may bring into focus uncomfortable feelings such as dislike and envy. We may then shy away from competition at the cost of a loss of vitality – as if the safest way to play is to play dead.

Moreover, when internal strife has the upper hand, a group will lose the capacity to imaginatively engage the skills of its members in addressing its task. Survival of the group then becomes its fundamental (although unnoticed) preoccupation. How does the fear of annihilation subvert the task in an apparently rational justification of misguided action or inaction?

In this context, enjoyment appears to be double-edged. While the term refers to pleasure, fun, and delight, it may also arouse suspicion of a perverse satisfaction of primitive and even destructive impulses, as if nothing was barred. We then construct the Law to control our fear of the Other as a reflection of our own disowned impulses.

Psychoanalytic thinking helps to understand oppositions such as rational/irrational, good/bad, competition/cooperation, constructive/destructive as either/or simplifications – and hence – false dualities. Questioning such oppositions assists peeling the layers of a rigid way of thinking used as a defence against the anxieties that uncertainty may elicit.

In addition, a systemic perspective fosters a view of the whole of a system, understanding its parts as intrinsically related in multifaceted relationships rather than isolated components.

The Conference sets out to create a framework within which the conscious and unconscious patterning of these relations and interactions, and the processes that shape them, can be made available for reflection and exploration. Noticing the layers and the messy traces of emotions below the surface allows a deeper, richer understanding of our individuality in, and contribution to, a social world.

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Design and method
The Conference is designed as a temporary organisation to assist experiential learning – that is, learning from the immediate experience of participation in, and reflection on, the events of the Conference itself. The different activities are structured to explore the vicissitudes of delegating authority, tasks and roles, as well as the management of boundaries in relation to task, time and place. These will not remain static but will change and develop from event to event and through the week, as the organisation grapples with its own potential for transformation.

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Internal membership
Internal membership is open to anyone who currently works or studies at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, all Tavistock accredited courses elsewhere in the UK, the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, and the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. Thus, internal membership is taken up by trainee social workers, psychoanalytic psychotherapists, child & adolescent psychotherapists, systemic couple and family therapists, educational psychologists, and organisational consultants.

External membership
In addition, the Conference extends membership to up to 20 participants from any professional background (e.g., management, HR, coaching, nursing, consultancy, banking) who, though not currently involved with the Tavistock portfolio, work in or with corporate, public or charitable organisations and have an interest in the dynamics of work.

Training group
This is an opportunity for a group of up to eight members to work in experiential as well as consultative roles. In addition to the Conference events, the Group has its own separate schedule and events that address their specific needs. Training Group applicants should have had previous membership experience of two group relations conferences of this kind.


Member role – The role of the members is to work to the task of each event. The events provide the opportunity to take up roles within groups and on behalf of groups. Members will be able to explore leadership, followership and representative roles and to study their relationship to authority, responsibility and change. There will also be opportunities to examine the roles offered to them consciously and unconsciously by others, as well as the roles they take for themselves and allocate to others.

Training Group role – The role of Training Group member is to work to the task of each event in the roles that have been selected. The different events provide opportunities for working in, and learning from, member or consultant roles with staff and members. They will be able to experience leadership, followership, and representative roles and to study their relationship with authority, responsibility and change from their position as a subsystem within the Conference. They will be able to study the roles offered to them both consciously and unconsciously, as well as the roles they themselves take up and allocate to others.

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Role of Staff

Staff have specific roles throughout the Conference as delegated by the Director. Firstly, they act collectively as Management. In so doing, they take responsibility for managing the boundaries of task, time and territory, so that members may work on the different activities and engage in the primary task of the Conference.

Secondly, during the different events staff members take up roles as consultants, offering their perceptions of what is occurring, at both an conscious and unconscious level, and thus encourage learning about roles, authority, leadership and the doubts and anxieties evoked by change in a developing organisation.

Staff members meet periodically in their own sessions throughout the Conference in order to exchange thoughts, feelings and hypotheses so that they can deepen their understanding of the organisation – and hence maximize the resources available to members.

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Conference plenaries – The Opening Plenary involves all members and staff. It introduces the Conference and provides an opportunity for participants to share their expectations as they cross the boundary into the Conference and reflect on what may have been left behind. The Closing Plenary offers an opportunity for reflection on the learning from the work done over the week, while studying the process of ending relationships.

Small study groups – This event offers the opportunity of participating in a group of 8–10 members. The task is to study face-to-face, interpersonal role relationships and group processes as they occur. A staff consultant is provided for each Small Study Group.

Large study group – The LSG comprises the membership of the Conference including the Training Group. The objective here is to experience and learn about interpersonal relations in the setting of the whole membership. Staff, working in consulting role, assist the task by offering observations about what they perceive may be happening in the ‘here-and-now’ of the group.

Review groups – The purpose of these groups is to review and reflect on the roles that participants may have taken up so far in the Conference, and help to identify areas for further development. Members are allocated to a group of participants with a staff consultant as facilitator.

Intergroup event – This event offers an opportunity to participate in and to study relations between groups as they happen and, in particular, the problems of exercising authority while taking responsibility on behalf of others. Members form groups among themselves for this purpose. Consultancy is provided by the staff and the training group and the event ends with a plenary review session.

Organisational event – The task of this event is to conceptualize the overall Conference as a developing institution within a managed setting. The dynamics between groups in their interaction with one another, and between the membership and management, are some of the issues which may be explored in order to understand what sort of organisational culture is explicitly and implicitly in operation as constructed by members, consultants and management. Consultation from staff is available on request while the Management group works in open sessions. The event concludes with a plenary review.

Application groups – These groups take place on the final day of the Conference and have the same composition as the Review Groups. The task is to apply the learning derived from the experiences in the Conference to participants’ current work issues. A staff member assists the discussion in the role of facilitator.


Conference Director
Carlos Sapochnik  
Organisational Consultant and Researcher; Visiting Tutor, Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust; Member, International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations (ISPSO); Associate Member, Organisation for Promoting Understanding of Society (OPUS).

Conference Associate Director
Maxine Dennis  
Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Psychoanalyst and Adult Psychotherapist, Adult Department Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. She has directed and had staff roles on Group Relations Conferences.

Training Group Associate Director
Gabriella Braun  
Director of Working Well, organisational consultant. Working across all sectors, she specialises in leadership development, team dynamics, conflict, organisational culture and change. She works in Group Relations in this country and internationally.

Conference Administrator
Sara Riley   
Psychoanalytic Observational Studies (M7) administrator; Group Relations Conference Administrator since 2009.

Will Crouch  
Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist, he works in the Adult department and at the Portman Clinic. He is also a psychotherapist and supervisor in private practice.

Neelam Dosanjh  
Chartered Consultant Clinical Psychologist and an Organisational Coach. She has worked in the NHS for over 20 years. She has an associate role with the Tavistock Psychological Therapies Unit and has taught on the Consultation and the Organisation (D10) programme.

Michael Jarrett  
Professor in Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, a Group Relations and Management Consultant, and a Managing Partner at Ilyas Jarrett & Co.

Lydia Hartland-Rowe   
Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist; a Training Cluster Lead at the Tavistock & Portman NHS Trust; and an Associate Member, Organisation for Promoting Understanding of Society (OPUS).

Mary B. McRae,   Ed.D
Associate Professor, Department of Applied Psychology, New York University; Private Practice, Organisational Consultant; Fellow, A.K. Rice Institute for the Study of Social Systems; Scholarly work: group and organisational dynamics in a multicultural world.

Ben Neal  
Organisational Consultant and Coach; Visiting Tutor at the Tavistock & Portman Foundation NHS Trust, the New School of Existential Psychotherapy and the University College Cork. Ben is an associate member of Tavistock Consulting and of OPUS (Organisation for Promoting Understanding of Society).

Karen Partridge   
Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Systemic Psychotherapist, Supervisor, Trainer and Consultant working at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and in private practice.

Mike Solomon   
Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Consultancy Lead in the Child & Family Directorate at the Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust. He also manages a multi-agency team working with excluded young people in the London Borough of Camden.

Shankarnarayan Srinath  
Consultant Psychiatrist in Psychotherapy and an Organisational Consultant in Cambridge.

Karen Tanner  
Consultant Social Worker and an Associate Dean in the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Karen has an interest in child neglect and the professional development of social workers. Karen’s experience includes teaching and working with organisations.

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Info and Fees

The Conference will take place at the Tavistock Centre, 120 Belsize Lane, London NWR 5BA from Monday 15 to Friday 19 December 2014.
Mon 15 (Registration 09.00–09.40) 09.45–18.30
Tue 16 09.30–18.30
Wed 17 09.30–18.30
Thu 18 09.30–18.30
Fri 19 09.30–16.30 (Farewell drink 16.30–17.00)

Participants are expected to attend all events throughout the duration of the Conference.

If you wish to discuss the suitability of the Conference to your needs, please email or phone
Carlos Sapochnik, Conference Director +44 (0)20 8374 2230

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Payment Terms

Conference fees
• Internal member – Included in course fees
• External member – £700
• Training Group – 800

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on Monday 3 November 2014.

Early booking is recommended.

A group discount is available to groups of three or more participants from the same organisation.

Please contact the Conference Administrator for details and an application form:

Cancellation Charges
– Less than 2 weeks in advance: 100%
– Between 2–8 weeks in advance: 50%
– Between 8–12 weeks in advance: 25%

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