Study group consultancy: Elements of the task

The consultant's task is to be vigilant for strains and strivings intruding into the group process, especially when such matters obstruct individuals' developing into a working group or when the disturbances have iatrogenic determinants.  The practical ideology of the conference staff can be perceived as a source of perturbation.

Those who uphold the purist conception of the conference task may be over-inclined to believe that they are dealing in absolute values.  But the notion of exercising one's own authority or managing oneself in role is itself no more than an ideology or myth.  (Miller, 1985b, p.393)
The ideology of a group relations conference is not mere embellishment; indeed, it is adminicular to the institutional task.  "Ideologies are systems of ideas and connotations which human beings build up in order to have a better orientation for their actions.  These systems are fully conscious thoughts which mostly carry with them a large amount of emotions" (Schilder, 1936, p. 601).

The radical behavior used to avoid the accusation that the consultant attempts to impose class morals or the conference ideology is the promulgation, in the conference prospectus, of the values regnant and cherished in the enterprise.  Consultants must not treat the representations of values as solely interjections in the conference publicity and opening, discrete from their own labors.  The overall conference scheme, to provide opportunities to study and learn about group and organizational processes, prominently those relating to authority and the motifs elaborated in its interpersonal and intergroup exercise, predicates certain practical and philosophical values.  The methods employed in the conference often provoke strong emotional reactions and minute examinations of the underlying postulates and rationale.  The consultant should be acquainted through personal experience with these implicit values and should have evolved a personal position in relation to them.

"Consultancy...cannot but be a political activity, at least insofar as it promotes some values and not others.  Professional status, despite the claims often made for it, does not place the practitioner beyond the realm of values" (Miller, 1985a, p. 244).  No apology or justification is indicated for personal or role-allied values, but unfettered examination and dissension must not be disallowed.  The process of inspecting differences in the realm of operative interpersonal morality furnishes opportunities for prototypical learning by experience and cogently demonstrates its robust power.  Group members' initial resistance to the task and its representatives, activated by prima facie dissatisfaction with conference policies, must be converted to rational assessment of the propriety of those policies and of the values and politics shaping them.  The forces counseling study of the situational ethics of staff and member values, as well as the forces urging indiscriminate deference to traditional formulas for just, civil, or peremptory conduct must undergo analysis.  The striking division of participants into group members and staff, plus the commanding necessity for all participants to work together, regardless of their position, spurs the importation into the conference of class values and conflict from the social macrocosm.

A society in microcosm heightens awareness of the limitless variety among human beings.  Human variability presents an incrimination of and a partial justification for the Tavistock approach to comprehending organizational systems.  The complexity consequent to this human irregularity confronts the consultant with the insuperable necessity for adeptness at impromptu apperception.  Throughout the contracted time limits of the study group, the consultant must exemplify the task of rationally evaluating multileveled participation in groups and larger systems.  Inquiry is not confined to the usual, obvious, observable, and frequent agents of influence, but rather moves to encompass any and all potential factors, knowable or imaginable, that the data implicate in the system's behavior.

The consultant applies a global focus to interventions and refers to plausible extra-group contributors to group content and tone.  No human system labors in arrant isolation from ambient systems.  Consultancy presupposes an unbiased effort to shed light on the hierarchy of outside systems impinging on and coloring the group's operations.

Reputable premises and basal conjectures, however rudimentary, guide attempts to construe the group's behaviors and must be shared with group members at an appropriate time.  In addition to attending to the immediate and particular data made available, the consultant concurrently must allow subliminal mental functions to locate the content of group discussion within more enduring and problematic contexts, particularly organizational ones.

Beneficial consultancy requires collaboration, minimal interference with authentically self-investigative work, and timely identification of conflicts or disturbances that detain task accomplishment.  Relevant consultancy enables members to consolidate knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance (Richfield, 1954; Russell, 1929).  After bestowing honest, perceptive reflection on their own emotional responses, consultants are in a position to discern members' affiliated feelings.  The language of intervention may be direct and natural or precocious and memorable, but it should enlighten group members about nuances of their own immediate affective experience.

If the consultant can expedite examination of all aspects of the group experience, including the ontological implications of acceptance or rejection of values touted in the Tavistock paradigm, especially in the conference methodology, a valuable adjunct learning becomes possible: how members may utilize the consultant's endeavors to engender their own learning.  In the process, there "is an develop a rare and valuable skill--the ability to engage persons with greater authority in an assertive and self-determining fashion" (Newton, 1973, p.503).  Group members' development of these skills indirectly protects the consultant from accusations of undue influence by lessening the perils introduced by interaction and collaboration with ideologues.

Because the provision of stimulating learning opportunities is an avowed goal pressing on the consultant, regular, detailed review of the most economical means to this end is called for.  Mindfulness of the objectives of consultancy need not skew attention from the means of their attainment. The high degree of individual discretion essential to this work augments the consultant's responsibility.

Chapter Seven

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