Institutional System Event 2011: Overview of work carried out to date, from the perspective of the Convenor of the consultants

Stan  De Loach, Ph.D.

13 March 2011

I want to thank you once again for the opportunity to work on the 2011 conference staff.

This review contains some of my thoughts about the just past conference and my/our work in it.  I hope you will find some value in this information and feedback, which are consistent with the notion of shared management in public, which in my experience greatly augments the opportunities for experiential learning in group relations conferences and in the Institutional System Event (ISE).  Shared management in public is a new concept in this conference, and, after three years of work, its acceptance among Managers and Consultants remains uneven and ambivalent.

One recurring thought about the January conference that I have had since its ending is this:

When I look back and think about the effects of our collaborations [that between the Directorate and myself as consultant, that between the remainder of Staff and myself as consultant and colleague, and that of the Staff (of which I was one) among ourselves and with each other], said collaboration having lasted a total of only 9.75 days over a three-year period, I am positive about the conference institution's ability and willingness to grow or learn, to become more sophisticated, to pursue institutional (and individual) transformation, with and in spite of all the paralyzing anxiety and significant personal and system costs involved, and thereby to survive for at least another 35 years.  Ensuring the conference institution's survival and meaning in the current educational, political, and social contexts is a goal of the consultation that I have provided.  Success will do honor to your individual and joint leadership of the institution.

Would anyone (members or Staff) now even recognize the former so-called Institutional Event (IE) of years past?  Would Staff members be able to "do" it, without the intrusion of thoughts and questions and perspectives of a broader, even radical systemic nature?  Are participants in the ISE exposed to and learning to explore regions of their lives and experiences with authority and leadership other than those principally inter- and intra-group in nature?  Have the resistances to Transformation at the institutional level been visible, noted, and perhaps themselves partially transformed or worked with in a way that the future unknown can be approached with appropriate but not disabling fear or reluctance to expend psychic energy to transform it and thereby ensure its survival?  The resistances will perhaps always exist, but they can be used as energy for learning (as, for example, this year I observed several male and female consultants visibly and profoundly engaging in the use of unconscious resistances to provide energy for their "inventing and innovating knowledge of what to do or how to do it.").  For me that behavior is all intensely exciting, if still unfinished or incomplete. 

I know how central to your hearts is this enduring and exemplary institution, for you both as Director and Associate Director.  Both of you have been and continue to be courageous in your initiation, permission, and participation in this intervention in which you invited me to collaborate in order to promote Institutional Transformation, with its surprises, unknown outcomes, and sometimes uncontrollable vagaries.  I know that no Staff member has failed to be aware of this courage, to be inspired by it, and, appropriately to be faced with a question, inside themselves, about whether "they" individually and collectively have courage and strength equal to yours (yours, here in the plural).  Inevitably, engaging in shared management in public means that we have all witness each other's resistances and limitations.  Such is the nature of leadership that is genuine.

Yet the updated and transformed version of the ISE that we are developing collectively together demands great appeal to the exercise of individual and role authority.  As a result, your dual leadership will more and more be questioned and challenged and possibly rejected in the course of the ISE and perhaps in other conference events as well.  Bringing the unconscious to consciousness entails surprises, some of which are frightening, unpleasant, angering, resisted.  Or, as Wilfred Bion famously said, "Life is full of surprises.  Most of them terribly unpleasant."  Engaging as a staff, whether in a Management of the ISE role or a consultant role, is necessary because it ultimately permits innovation that contributes to Institutional Transformation.  

This "long" perspective of what is desirable and functional for the overall conference institution that you both direct requires a patient public exploration of the institution's "short" or immediate experience, during the here-and-now of the conference.  This transformative experience that you initiated of re-thinking the institutional event in the context of a conference, continues to be painful and erratic, particularly for Management and the consultants.  So painful and forcefully resisted that the only plausible dynamic underlying such existential resistance must be the collective fear of the encounter with Death.  Fear of the Director's death, in the first instance; the contemplation of this phenomenon, of course, easily hints at or recalls each staff member's relatedness to her or his own certain death. 

Parodoxically, those fears belabor every aspect of conference staff's work and at the same time provide the motive and opportunity for the future perspective needed for the imagination, innovation and Transformation that in turn provide for the survival of the conference institution.  Death is inevitable and for that reason, essential.  From the beginning of my work with you in the role of Institutional Transformation consultant, every innovation, distinct perspective, terminological novelty (remember "system" instead of "group"?) has been held ambivalently, particularly by the consultants, because they glimpse and respond to the "dark side" of my work, that is, the rejection or betrayal of the past, of their fond memories, of what they "learned" from their "professors" and mentors in group relations work, of the university conference's remarkable tradition, of the conference's and their own history and past.  That they are called to themselves participate in this seeming betrayal provokes passionate sentient response.  Yet betrayal, a cohort of Death, is inherent in each innovation and Transformation.  Death accompanies life.  The adjustments required or suggested by the "new" or "young" ISE that we are developing for this annual conference are opportunities to live, to love (or hate) the work and one's colleagues, to be surprised, to innovate, to transform the conference institution's death, at its yearly end.  

I am honored and pleased to have had some part in both reflective and experiential aspects of this amazing process and movement (movement as defined in the French word bouger, which means to move by bumping into one another in the process of advancing, as on a rapidly moving crowded flat conveyor belt, with its due possibilities for both eroticism and aggression, for both life and death).  Thank you for your confidence and your patience as we continue to learn.


© 2011, 2013, 2016   Dr.  Stan  De Loach    All rights reserved.

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