The intergroup and institutional events:

An overview of designs, foci, structures, and functions

Stan De Loach, Ph.D.


A Tavistock group-relations conference is a temporary educational system structured to facilitate the study of relations between and among groups through experience in an assortment of group sizes and settings.  The utility of the intergroup and institutional events in understanding the particular microcosm of society met in the conference, as well as the events' applicability to the extra-conference work and social activities of the participants, underlies their high value and central position in conference design.

Because each Tavistock group-relations conference is composed of different individuals, no two conferences ever develop identical cultures or structures.  Each conference totality, through its collective life, defines a distinct culture, which embodies the ensemble's vision of community.  This vision of community develops in accord with the conscious and unconscious wishes, histories, preferences, and morals of the participants.  During the events, this vision becomes visible and palpable.

The culture fashioned by the collective is eventually imposed, accepted, or enacted throughout the conference system.  In theory, staff ’s interpretations do not shape or condone the externalization of the collective's vision of community.  Rather, staff 's interventions aim to acknowledge and describe this unitary creation, particularly in regard to the unconscious creative processes that contribute to its character.  The conference culture is an accommodation to the social and political stresses animating the member and staff subsystems, as well as to larger extra-conference social forces.

Maintaining self-awareness and acting responsibly in the midst of the collective's operationalization and extension of its vision of community demand skill.  The intergroup and institutional events permit learning about the influence of systemic forces on individual valences and decision-making in multi-group settings.  They also permit examination of the substantial influence that an individual or a group is able to exert in intergroup situations.  The intergroup and institutional events underscore the fact that collective life and community are not interchangeable or synonymous concepts.

In order to survive as members of society, individual human beings must learn about the role of rational external and internalized relationships to authority figures in the exercise of personal authority in social contexts.  Such learning is a lifelong process and requires reflection, hence the relevance of the intergroup and institutional events.

Both the intergroup event and the institutional events are de facto intergroup exercises.  The events refine inner structures and paradigms.  The intergroup exercises are fruitless without an active, interior focus.  Ultimately, no theory, technique, or external authority figure can substitute for individual thought and action in mediating the requirements for collaboration and conflict reduction among groups.

Because of the inevitability of conflict between the collective's morals and the individual's strivings and urges, intergroup experience leads the individual to regard community as not an entirely benign phenomenon.  As a social system, community can be undemocratic and can infringe upon the individual's rights.  This state of affairs often generates ambivalence toward differences in general and towards neighboring and co-existing groups in particular.

The Tavistock method stimulates a focus on the subjective experience of inclusion in, exclusion from, and participation through systems whose boundaries are concentric.  Conference learning about intergroup-relations derives from this subjective experience or from a subjective point of view about the experience of the interplay of the individual and the collective (De Loach, 1988).

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  by Dr. Stan De Loach   All rights reserved.


iii 2016
vi 2006
ix 1999
vii 1998