The intergroup and institutional events:

An overview of designs, foci, structures, and functions

Stan De Loach, Ph.D.

Recent innovation:

The role of consultant to the boundary between members and staff

Recently, staff members have functioned in a number of novel roles.  Some of these roles (e.g., consultant to the administrative team, consultant to the conference directorate) involve intra-staff activities (Chicago Center for the Study of Groups and Organizations, 1994).

To work with members, a staff person may be deployed in the innovative role of consultant to the member-staff boundary, with consultative responsibility for all conference participants during the intergroup and/or institutional event (Texas Center of the A. K. Rice Institute, 1990).  In the opening of the event, the director outlines the member-staff boundary consultant’s task of interpreting the political nature and psychodynamics of member-staff interactions as they are revealed in task execution.  The director specifies that the consultant to the member-staff boundary has his or her authorization to enter and to act in all conference workspaces.

The conference director authorizes the member-staff boundary consultant, but accountability for the role is to the institution as a whole and not strictly to the director.  The boundary consultant’s personal style and adherence to the task determine the conference system’s ability to manage the strong anxieties awakened or intensified by the position.  The member-staff boundary consultant’s scope of employ can exaggerate feelings of power and omnipotence in the person filling the role, while producing commensurate uneasiness in the rest of the system.

Staff members, including the director, may be unable to envision points of entry for collaboration with the member-staff boundary consultant.  A clear understanding, at all levels of the institution, of the different staff roles smoothes collaborative interaction.  Staff persons may fearfully expect the boundary consultant’s grandiosity or unbounded intervention in their activities.

Concerns about competition and loss of control, exacerbated by the member-staff boundary consultant’s broad authorization, may thwart the director’s unaccustomed collaboration with a staff member in a role capable of provoking unfamiliar primitive, personal, and telling projections.  The nature and stability of the authorization between the director and the member-staff boundary consultant may be a source of conflict.

The presence of a member-staff boundary consultant may lead the members to operate with concerns parallel to those of the staff: fears of partiality, of irrational intervention, of violation of group integrity, dread of personal incompetence in the presence of a staff figure with imagined highly sophisticated competence and experience.

For members and staff, these anxieties can distort the transmission, reception, and preservation of accurate information about the role of the consultant to the member-staff boundary, who may therefore usefully reiterate the nature of his or her task at multiple points in the course of the collaborative work.

Non-conference institutions manage similar organizational anxieties by assigning spatial boundaries to functionaries, thus reducing the likelihood and intensity of system-wide influence.  Spatial separation, whether of Federal and State governments, of a firm’s headquarters and its satellite offices, or of discrete cubicles in a large workspace, serves to slow or deflect influence by a central agency.  It makes close and immediate supervision impracticable, and it retards the spread through the system of contagious anxieties.  But such strategy is unavailable as a means of containing anxieties about the member-staff boundary consultant, whose designated purview embraces all authorized workspaces.

The importation of the role of consultant to the member-staff boundary into the conference design may cover or provoke fears that the conference director is inexperienced or incompetent.  Alternatively, it may represent management’s striving for perfection through the imposition of a system of checks and balances to prevent the management’s and institution’s awareness and study of its limitations and their consequences.

The European perspective may understand the role of consultant to the member-staff boundary as a compensation for imagined inferiority of non-British conferences to the Leicester program (B. Dean, personal communication, March, 1993).  Through a concrete representation, the role may enact the superego function played by staff members’ awareness and idealization of the Leicester program and tradition.

History and parameters of the intergroup event
Types of intergroup event
Intergroup and institutional event foci
The director's tasks
Structures: Paradigms for learning
Boundary functionaries
The staff room's boundaries
Recent innovation
The member-staff boundary consultant's entry into members' groups
The learning tasks of intergroup representation and negotiation

Related topic:  Study group consultancy: Elements of the task


1998, 1999, 2006, 2016   Dr. Stan De Loach   All rights reserved.

iii 2016
vi 2006
ix 1999
vii 1998