The shadow of our limiting beliefs

The shadow of our limiting beliefs

The shadow of our limiting beliefs

Sunitha Lal

The shadow of our limiting beliefs

At a Group Relations Conference two years back, the Primary Task was: to study the exercise of authority in the taking up of roles through the interpersonal, inter-group, and institutional relations that develop within the conference as an organisation, within its wider context.

During this conference, the identities I was recognized by were ‘woman’, ‘middle aged’, and ‘brown’. What struck me is that these labels are given as a limiting force by the system. I agree that I am brown and I am middle-aged – but that defines ‘what is’; it does not limit me.
Here is my experience regarding two separate incidents at this conference, in the space of these identities:

Incident 1:

In the Large study group where the entire group met, the seating arrangement was that of two spirals in double-coil format. For a few days, men took the centre of the spiral. Nothing moved forward in the group, we were neither exploring nor discussing, and there was this feeling of being stuck. With some planning, one fine day, we women took over the centre of the spiral.

As we were sitting in the centre and enjoying what we have achieved, the group started slowly waking up to the reality of what happened. A new reality. Some were congratulating us, some were seeing us in a new light; there was some recognition and appreciation. The earlier occupants were stunned and were lamenting how the middle-aged women took over their seats and that they were feeling emasculated. There was also a discussion on how all the women sitting in the centre were middle-aged, and the young women were left out.

At that moment, one voice from the further end of the spiral asked

“Are you planning to do anything? I understand you took over the space but what are you going to do now?”

She was young and I could sense disappointment. When men occupied the centre-stage, nothing more was expected, but with women occupying it, something more was demanded. That too from other women. There was disappointment for not achieving more and ambivalence towards the formation of alliances with the older women.

The ‘middle-aged women’- I wonder what we represented – the mothers they resented? Shame if we were not cool enough or effective enough? Is it envy or competition? Also, in patriarchal systems, men use women as gate-keepers to keep the outliers inline – no one should stray, no one can reach forward, no moonshots.

Incident 2:

In a separate inter-group event, my colleague and I went to the group that called themselves a diversity group. As I started speaking, they were looking at my colleague and responding to her. It was almost like I was not there. Later, I went to the same group requesting them for a meeting. I shared the need for the meeting, our request, the task, venue and time. But when we met them, they asked basic questions as if I had not shared all the information earlier. It was puzzling. My colleague and I explored this with the members from the diversity group.

The three women from the diversity group accepted that they were not able to see me in a leadership position, as I was brown. They were able to respond to my colleague who was Caucasian and were not able to acknowledge what I was saying. Interestingly, two in that group were from the UK, the colonizer, and I am from India, the colonized. Later, one of them apologized profusely.


When we are in a group it is not about the self, it is about what’s happening in the group, the organization, or institution. Where is the intersecting point? When you can’t see me or hear me, where will we meet to know each other? There is an unconscious and immediate negation of mutual recognition. That was the question that haunted me.

Moreover, I had a choice in whether I wanted to feel limited, labeled, judged or cheated. But in many ways, these identities are part of what I am. I felt proud and centred as I embraced them. Also, what I am today does not stop the million possibilities of what I can become in the future – and it is into this beautiful future that I walk forward and onward.

Sunitha Lal

October 2021

The shadow of our limiting beliefs

Finding our Moorings during Uncertain Times

Sunitha Lal, MLM

NIODA Group Relations Conference staff member


Sunitha Lal is the CHRO at Ather Energy and has more than twenty-five years’ of experience in the space of organisational development and people practices. She actively engages with and contributes to forums and platforms that focus on building Culture, Diversity & Inclusion, Mindful Leadership, and Organisational Behaviour. She has participated in GR conferences and workshops as a member and staff since 2015 and is an Associate Member of Group Relations India. She is a strong proponent of the oral tradition of storytelling and is the author of the book ‘Dotting the Blemish and Other Stories’, a collection of short stories about women’s lives embedded in patriarchy.

Complexity, Creativity and Community in a Networked World

NIODA Group Relations Online Working Conference

Introductory Session: Familiarisation with the technology
Wednesday 3 November 2021

3 – 5 pm Melbourne 🇨🇰
4 – 6 am London 🇬🇧
12 – 2 pm Singapore 🇸🇬
12 – 2 am New York 🇺🇸
9:30 – 11:30 am New Delhi 🇮🇳

Live Interactive online Conference:
Monday 8 – Wednesday 10 November 2021 and Friday 12 November

10 am – 4 pm Melbourne 🇨🇰
11 pm – 5 am London 🇬🇧
7 am – 1 pm Singapore 🇸🇬
7 pm – 1 am New York 🇺🇸
4:30 – 10:30 am New Delhi 🇮🇳

Full fee AUD$1,500
NIODA Alumni/AODA Members/ Group Relations Australia Members AUD$1,200
2 or more people from the same organisation AUD$1,200

Please contact Ellie Robinson, Director of Administration for
information about partial bursaries for those unable to meet the full amount.


The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

Working collaboratively during COVID-19

Working collaboratively during COVID-19

Working collaboratively during COVID-19

Eradication or controlled suppression of COVID-19 is the difficult choice facing Australia right now. Almost 100 researchers have been tasked with analysing the consequences of the options of maintaining restrictions and eradicating COVID-19, or easing restrictions and letting the disease run.

Working collaboratively during COVID-19 by Jennifer Burrows

Eradication or controlled suppression of COVID-19 is the difficult choice facing Australia right now. The Weekend Australian (April 18 2020) described a project being undertaken by almost 100 researchers from Australia’s Group of Eight universities who have been tasked by the government with analysing the consequences of the options of maintaining restrictions and eradicating COVID-19, or easing restrictions and letting the disease run.

Working collaboratively during COVID-19

An innovative process was used to create the draft report, called the Roadmap to Recovery, within a two-week timeline. The members were asked to work anonymously using pseudonyms so ideas were judged on merit and not impacted by reputation or hierarchy, which encouraged risk-taking and honest debate. The participants included established academics and also talented early career researchers and PhD students which supported a diversity of opinion and a variety of thinking. The members were drawn from a wide range of disciplines including medicine, epidemiology, health sciences, economics, psychology, political science, education, and other social sciences.

The problem was split up into 10 interrelated questions flowing from the first: which model should Australia follow, eradication or controlled suppression of COVID-19? A specialist software platform supported members to work collectively on the questions and used “collaborative reasoning” techniques to come to a consensus view and produce a short report from a complex collection of information. No one was nominated to be a leader or told what part of the problem to focus on. The developing work was available to all members so they could comment on drafts, rate the readiness of completed work, offer assistance and invite co-authors. This group-sourced intelligence encouraged contending analysis and a better product.

This process is a remarkable shift from the usual way of working in traditional academia, which is often slow, individualistic, and hierarchical. It is an example of collaborative thinking being used to address the collective need, which is being practised at macro and micro levels as a response to the pandemic.

At the macro level, it is seen in the sharing of data and breakthroughs by scientists working across the world to find ways to fight the virus, in Germany taking France’s most critical patients, and in the establishment of the Australian National Cabinet. At the micro level it is found in communities (physical and virtual) connecting to share and support each other through the crisis, the level of compliance with social distancing to protect the most vulnerable, and people reaching out to help family, friends and neighbours.

With collaborative thinking to respond to the collective need being widely practised, and the benefits experienced by so many of us, what might we learn about this way of working that we might continue to use in our families, community, workplace and globally? The Roadmap to Recovery project contained a clear purpose, task and timeline, merit-based recognition, a diversity of thinking and tolerance for difference of opinion, self-management and emergent leadership, transparency of the developing product and an emphasis on both the individual and collaborative contribution.

Could the Roadmap to Recovery project be an example of being able to find a balance of both the individual and the collective engagement, so they can be integrated to produce a unique solution? The contribution required of the individual is their expertise, the ongoing finding of their role in the project and the ability to offer leadership as required, their willingness to share resources and the vulnerability of making draft work visible and welcoming feedback. The value of the collective is in the diversity of contribution, thinking and the clash and building of ideas leading to a co-created outcome. The shared purpose, held by all, for a collective benefit provides the glue to unite the members in the face of the inevitable challenges of working in this way.

My hope is that having practised this way of working and experienced the benefits of it we will not return completely to our old ways of working after the crisis but will endeavour to bring the experience of collaborative thinking and a collective perspective to our future relationships, leadership and work.

Jennifer Burrows

Jennifer Burrows
Symposium Committee Member, NIODA

24 April 2020

Working collaboratively during COVID-19

ps Leaders and managers are invited to think deeply about working collaboratively into the future at the 2020 symposium: Working into the Future: Building Individual and Organisations Culture Beyond 2020

Working collaboratively during COVID-19 by Jennifer Burrows

Reparative Leadership in 2020

Reparative Leadership in 2020

Is Reparative Leadership possible in 2020: Socio-Analytic Dialogue and its elusive quest

by Dr Bruno Boccara

Is Reparative Leadership possible in 2020?  Dr Bruno Boccara considers Socio-Analytic Dialogue and its elusive quest…

Is Reparative Leadership possible in 2020? by Bruno Boccara

Disagreements about policies are often the consequences of deeper psychosocial issues, which in turn are displaced into the public policy sphere. The daunting challenges of our times will only be successfully addressed if societal level unconscious dynamics are also accounted for. While incorporating a systems and psychosocial dynamics perspective to public policy remains in its infancy, approaches such as Socio-Analytic Dialogue allow governments and their constituents to do this important work.

In response to the increasing ubiquitousness of perverse societal dynamics, Socio-Analytic Dialogue emphasises reflectiveness, shared meaning, and empathic availability through reparative leadership. The latter is achieved, in part, through the promotion of citizens’ internalisation of how their country functions as a social system and through positive identification between subgroups in society. Sadly, albeit unsurprisingly, I have found that encouraging countries to participate in Socio-Analytic Dialogue is not straightforward.

For example, in spite of its relevance to a country like France, in which we witness the country nearing a breaking point, President Macron – who was contacted through his chief economic adviser while still a candidate – showed no interest in these ideas despite him undoubtedly having the intellect and drive to work in a psychosocial and systemic way. What has transpired since Macron’s election, be it the yellow jackets (Gilets Jaunes) protest movement or the pensions reform strikes, the longest and most violent of the last 40 years, clearly highlights the inability of his government to engage in a meaningful dialogue with its constituents. Macron, whose popularity collapsed, has become a derided and often hated object and seems unable to understand the many projections and introjections of various groups in France as well as the mental representations of those in power and of the elites.


On the other hand, New Zealand is almost the complete opposite of France in this regard. Thanks to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s extraordinary capacity to credibly emphasise societal-level empathy, New Zealand has been the closest to reparative leadership. Through the promotion of empathic availability and search for meaning, which reduces societal splitting, Ardern has achieved something that few politicians are willing and able to do.

Yet, while New Zealand’s adoption of an “Economics of Kindness” as reflected by the adoption of a wellbeing budget is groundbreaking, its policy framework remains nevertheless likely to fall short of transforming society psychosocially. When I attempted to reach the Prime Minister’s office to offer a Socio-Analytic Dialogue approach, I was directed to the Minister of Finance. Unfortunately, the latter’s response was that fiscal policy alone could achieve what was advocated. However, while economic policy has the tools to make society more equal and provide improved opportunities to its constituents, it is insufficient by itself as it does not allow for an understanding of how a country functions as a social system. This is regrettable as New Zealand has the capacity to set the tone, on behalf of the rest of the world, for reparative leadership.


Meanwhile, a genuine opportunity for Socio-Analytic Dialogue and transformational change has arisen in Morocco. The kingdom is interesting from a psychosocial perspective as the sense of doom that is seemingly prevalent in Western nations, all feeling a decline, is missing. While a large segment of the population is desperately disenfranchised and angry, an equally large share is feeling quite positive about a future that feels like it is improving for them. As a consequence, it is an unusually vibrant, hopeful and dynamic environment.

With its seemingly archaic power structure and significant economic inequalities, Morocco may seem an unlikely place to embark on a psychosocial journey. However, the country’s main public sector enterprise, OCP (Office Cherifien des Phosphates), is very dynamic and has been at the forefront of major social innovations which promote empowerment and human development. Furthermore, the authorities are keenly aware of the need to understand youth’s aspirations and frustrations in a complex and changing world.

The country decided to launch a process, which I was invited to lead, aimed at “listening” to Moroccan youth. While Morocco’s cultural heritage predisposes the country quite well for such an initiative, there nevertheless are some topics, such as corruption and power structure, especially regarding the King, that may lead to self-censorship or be, by law, off-limits. However, the authorities seem to understand that psychosocial discussions on affect, regardless of the topic, are apolitical and not conducive to increasing the propensity for dissent. Despite this, resistance to the process could nevertheless be on the increase. For example, a couple of group discussions sponsored by one of the governors (the latter directly appointed by the King) were abruptly cancelled. Furthermore, since the commencement of the process, there have been repeated requests to define the process and its outcome, in what could be an unconscious effort to control the process by restricting the range of topics.

A Socio-Analytic Dialogue approach may be experienced by the authorities as having the potential to challenge the social compact; the latter understood as having insulated the country from the negative, and in some cases catastrophic, impacts of the Arab Spring. Furthermore, the dynamism and vibrancy of Moroccan society alluded to earlier could, in a hubristic form of denial, foster beliefs that economic growth and diversification can, on its own, resolve the issues. This is, however, inconsistent with the reality on the ground. In discussions, a lot of the youth, despite their optimism, focused on one thing and one thing only: exiting the social system through emigration. And yet, this does not imply that there are wishes to attack the system, in large part due to the King being widely experienced as a positive object of identification. The latter strengthens Moroccan identity and, as such, renders the society more cohesive and makes it more resilient to psychosocial shocks. Yet, the system also knows the fragility of the existing equilibrium and could fall into a depressive state, wherein the system as a whole feels helpless. These dynamics coexist and create resistance to and ambivalence about engaging with psychosocial and system dynamics. Nevertheless, I remain cautiously optimistic.



In light of the vignettes describe above, and other acutely regressed defenses mobilized in many parts of the world against collective anxieties, I would argue that the world very much needs an understanding of societal level unconscious dynamics. As such, Morocco’s interest in thinking creatively about public policymaking should be seen as a “gift” to the rest of the world as it could set the stage for other nations to follow its example, and increase empathic availability and capability worldwide. 

Dr Bruno Bocarra
Founder Socio-Analytic Dialogue

10 February 2020

Is reparative leadership possible in 2020?

About Dr Boccara

Dr Bruno Boccara, is the founder of Socio-Analytic Dialogue, graduated from Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées in France and has two Ph.D.s (Civil Engineering and Economics), both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.

He has extensive policy experience: At the United Nations (World Bank) as Lead Economist on lending operations in Africa and Latin America and on governance and leadership issues worldwide; and in the financial markets (UBS and Standard & Poor’s) on a trading floor during the Asia crisis and as Director of Sovereign Ratings for Latin America.

He completed his psychoanalytic studies at the NYU School of Medicine Psychoanalytic Institute and also trained in organizational behavior, leadership coaching, and Group Relations.

Socio-Analytic Dialogue is conducted by a task specific team, consisting of economists, political scientists, and psychoanalysts trained to work on large group dynamics, in conjunction with a country-level team.

Dr Bruno Boccara’s book Socio-Analytic Dialogue: Incorporating Psychosocial Dynamics into Public Policies is available through amazon.



ps Are you a leader or manager and would like to learn more about systems psychodynamics? Have a look at the NIODA Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course.

Is Reparative Leadership possible in 2020: Socio-Analytic Dialogue and its elusive quest by Dr Bruno Bocarra

‘Close to home’ my reality of fire in Australia

‘Close to home’ my reality of fire in Australia

'Close to home' my reality of fire in Australia

As I am writing to you I am receiving notifications that the fires have spotted into the town of Eden. We still have fire on the mountain next to us but it is currently contained.

‘Close to home’ my reality of fire in Australia by Robyn Hartley

‘Close to home’ my reality of fire in Australia. 

I want to share with you my journey…

I live in Brogo NSW. Our local communities of Cobargo and Quaama were devastated on new years eve, two among many.
We evacuated at 3 am realising we couldn’t fight it.  We made it out just before our highway turnoff was burnt. We came back a day later as the hill on our property was still on fire and we thought we could help to put it out. We couldn’t but the wind was in our favour. We only lost a part of our fencing.
We improved our fire fighting ability only to be evacuated a few days later at 4 am, when they predicted the possibility of catastrophic conditions. We came back again a day later delivering supplies to neighbours that hadn’t left their properties. There was a fire on two of our neighbours’ properties.  Containment processes were carried out.
Again we improved our fire fighting capacity and determined we were ready. On the third time, we were advised to leave we decided the conditions were ones we could defend against. Luckily we didn’t have to. The water bomber came to put out the fire at one of our neighbours’ places.
On Sunday we met with our community as we listened to stories of people losing their homes or successfully defending. It is a community in shock.
As I am writing to you I am receiving notifications that the fires have spotted into the town of Eden.
We still have fire on the mountain next to us but it is currently contained. Rain is predicted tomorrow or the next day so I will probably be able to unpack the car for the first time in two weeks.
I wanted to share this level of detail with you because of the role NIODA played in this process. It was the deep integration of my understanding of leadership and taking up my role / own authority that consolidated at the last GRC that I consciously drew on, as well as my spiritual practice. My partner drew on the ‘strength that was coming through me’ which meant she could further draw on her own strength.
It helped me to; stay present to the changing conditions as we prepared our property, to manage my fear and to lean into the boundary to make decisions, to both go and then to stay, based on data that was in the now.
I want to express my deep gratitude for the space NIODA and all of the other organisations around the world hold, for deep and true learning about what leadership really is. That learning made a difference in a life-challenging situation.
A heartfelt thank you for the much-needed work that you do. This country and the world is crying out for true leadership to show up more. Know that you make a difference.
With love and gratitude,

Robyn Hartley
Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) Student, NIODA

14 January 2020

‘Close to home’ my reality of fire in Australia

Are you a leader or manager and would like to learn more about group dynamics? Have a look at the NIODA Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course.

‘Close to home’ my reality of fire in Australia by Robyn Hartley

Academic excellence award 2019 winner Cameron Brooks

Academic excellence award 2019 winner Cameron Brooks

Academic Excellence Award 2019 winner Cameron Brooks

Dr Brigid Nossal presented the John F Newton Award for Academic Excellence

The award for the student who has received the highest grades across the years of the degree has been named in honour of Professor John Newton.  John is the esteemed founder of academic education in systems psychodynamics in Australia.  I am very pleased to announce the Academic Excellence Award 2019 winner Cameron Brooks.

Mr Brooks has shown great passion and commitment to his studies and has achieved outstanding results. Cameron’s capacity to deeply explore and integrate new learning has been a delight for all of us, staff and students to be witness to and a part of.

Dr Brigid Nossal
Deputy CEO & Director of Consulting, NIODA

3 December 2019

Academic Excellent Award 2019 winner Cameron Brooks

‘The world isn’t getting any less complex’ by Cameron Brooks 

I have an MBA, so why would I want to devote another three years of my life to further study about management and leadership? I’m not saying my MBA wasn’t useful because it was, but it didn’t fully explain why organisations function the way they do, and I also didn’t learn much about myself and how I show up as a leader.

My experience with this program has profoundly changed the way I understand myself as well as how groups and organisations operate. Where once I saw individuals, I now see systems. I have a greater appreciation for our interdependence as we act in concert to both enable and constrain action. The theories, perspectives and the work of this course have provided me with a powerful lens for reflecting and making sense of the messiness of life.

I’ve learned that my experience of relating to others, be in it in my family, my work or my community is as much an experience in the mind as it is in the real world. As life happens it’s easy to assume that the stories I create are the truth. They feel real to me. I’m learning, and at times I’m a painfully slow learner, to hold my truth less tightly and to be more open to the possibility that multiple truths may exist. Listening for metaphors, testing hypothesis and being able to not just tolerate the anxiety of not knowing, but to value it, provides pathways for a richer, more nuanced understanding of the world.

I’ve learned to pay attention to things big and small. Things that I once might have otherwise overlooked, ignored or deliberately avoided. A tingle in the stomach or twinge in my neck. A catch of an eye or a slip of the tongue. An uneasy silence or even a seemingly innocuous argument over the number of marker pens required. Each instance a possible window into the world of thoughts that may have not yet found a thinker. And instead of reacting on instinct, I’m learning to pause, to create space and allow time for thinking and reflection. I’ve witnessed the transformative changes that are possible when we make our thinking available for others.

I’ve learned that we are capable of time travel. It’s usually in times of stress or uncertainty, and there have been more than one or two times during this course, that I may inadvertently return to the past to help me make sense of the present. And yet the past is also written in chalk, not ink. With work and the support of others, I’ve seen that its possible to find new meaning from past experiences to take up new and more productive roles in the groups that we inhabit.

I believe I have gained a greater sense of wholeness from this experience because in learning about others, I have learned much about myself. The process of increased self-awareness is both rewarding and terrifying. Maslow speaks of the desire to know and the fear of knowing. Acknowledging the good, the bad, and the ugly, they are all a part of me. I’m a perfectly, imperfect human, and that’s good enough.

I would like to thank my family for their patience, love and assistance in helping me complete this program. For making me meals, mowing the lawns, listening to me complain about the impossibility of word counts, giving me space and providing perspective, thank you. To my fellow students, thank you for being part of this crazy, life-changing adventure. You have been both a source of exasperation and inspiration, but most importantly, you have held up the mirror to help me to know myself. And to the staff, board members and supporters of NIODA, thank you for creating a place where this learning can take place. To Nuala, Wendy and Brigid, thank you for your thoughtful teaching, guidance and support. You have given us the space to struggle but provided wisdom and care to help us learn. The world isn’t getting any less complex, so I believe the work of this course is as essential now as it has ever been.

Cameron Brooks
Graduate, NIODA

3 December 2019

Academic Excellent Award 2019 winner Cameron Brooks

ps Are you a leader or manager and would like to learn to pause, to create space and allow time for thinking and reflection? Have a look at the NIODA Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course.

Pin It on Pinterest