The Lime Neighbourhood

The Lime Neighbourhood

The Lime Neighbourhood

By Dr Nuala Dent, Conference Director
Complexity, Creativity and Community in a Networked World


At a recent online group relations conference, I had the opportunity to explore the concept of neighbourhoods. This blog will describe my experience and, I hope, stimulate thinking about how we create a sense of community in online places.

The institutional event of the conference had as its primary task:

“to provide a space in which members can explore ideas and feelings about belonging to their own group and to other groups present in the system and the ongoing process of establishing and developing relationships and relatedness within the system as a whole.”


I joined a group that was interested in exploring ‘identity related to place’, which aligns with my interest in place and place-based attachment. Initially, there were three of us, all female and of a similar age. In seeking to find ourselves in relation to each other, we began with a discussion about our identities related to our geographic places, USA, Switzerland and Australia. One commonality is that we were all located outside of Europe with European heritage and/or citizenship. Further, there was an interest in combining local interaction with a global mindset. We explored this further and seemed a little stuck when one person reminded of us the task, which was ‘’to provide a space to…”

This brought my PhD research into mind, and I shared my working definition of space and place, wherein space can be described as a place in potentiality, and places are created when people come together to make shared meaning. Building on this, another person brought in the concept of neighbourhood which opened up many avenues for discussion, such as neighbourhood values, and the ways in which neighbourhoods are fluid and dynamic in that people come and go, yet the neighbourhood continues on. Further, we noted that neighbourhoods don’t exist in isolation, but in relation to the neighbourhoods around them. It seemed the perfect metaphor for our online place in this event. We named ourselves the Lime Neighbourhood, after the name of the breakout room. We created a set of values that would inform our neighbourhood, agreeing that we wanted it to be: welcoming, transparent, inclusive and collaborative. 

We went to visit other groups to see what they were exploring, and to get feedback on our developing neighbourhood. People offered suggestions to the word lime. For instance, In the USA, ‘liming’ can mean taking a vacation, while in India the colour ‘lime-green’ indicates hope and fertility. In our group, we explored this further and noted that while lime can be used to break down clay, the lime ponds in Tampah Bay are a symptom of ecological disaster. We pondered the many paradoxical meanings related to the word ‘lime’. 

A fourth member, having experienced our welcoming attitude and learning about our values, joined the group. To further our sense of being a neighbourhood we agreed to each have the same virtual background image, one which I had drawn to try and express the idea of community. It had the effect of bringing us together, giving us a visual identity. The impact of the shared background both surprised and excited us. We suddenly saw ourselves differently, and someone offered that we all looked younger. While it evoked for me the fantasy of eternal youth, it did feel that we had stumbled across something, in that the image seemed to bind us together in a way that our discussion hadn’t, locating us firmly in the same place as part of a group. Additionally, it seemed to democratise us and supported the principles of distributed leadership that we were trying to model.

We were curious about how our neighbourhood related to other groups in the event, and what purpose it served in the system overall. We found while other groups were discussing similar issues, our sense was that they lacked the cohesiveness that we experienced. One visitor to our group described our concept of neighbourhood as youthful and idealistic; a projection of a utopian vision. In discussing these comments we realised that, in the physical world, we may never have encountered one another, as we looked for different qualities in our physical neighbourhoods, be it safety or diversity, urban or coastal locale. The virtual neighbourhood enabled us to create a sense of belonging in a community. Maybe this ‘belonging’ is what was perceived as utopian, as though it is not possible in online places.

We decided to attend the final plenary of the event with our virtual backgrounds. Once there, I suddenly realised that the colour lime/green could also represent envy. By displaying our group identity, we were, in effect, in the ‘limelight’. I was surprised, in the moment, that I hadn’t previously had this association to envy, and suggest it demonstrate the experience of inclusiveness within our Lime Neighbourhood. I drew the image shown here to convey my experience of the Lime Neighbourhood. It looks like a park, with people scattered about, reading, eating or talking. I’m in the hammock, working on my laptop. The trees are strong, and firmly grounded, and may represent the values and principles which informed the way we worked, enabling a lightness and ease in the way we worked together.

In reflecting on the experience, Lime Neighbourhood members described the experience as generative, and one that they wanted to take with them. I found it to be energising, and was excited by what we had achieved, and how I could apply this learning about creating online communities in other contexts. It is particularly relevant for the group relations conference I am directing for NIODA, ‘Complexity, Creativity and Community in a Networked World’, where I look forward to exploring these ideas further.

To learn more about the conference and apply to be a member visit here

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The Lime Neighbourhood

The Lime Neighbourhood

At a recent online group relations conference, I had the opportunity to explore the concept of neighbourhoods. This blog will describe my experience and, I hope, stimulate thinking about how we create a sense of community in online places.

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Reflections on my PhD journey

Reflections on my PhD journey

Reflections on my PhD journey

As well as exploring face-to-face and online ways of working, I wanted my thesis to integrate cognitive and intuitive ways of knowing. To this end, I developed an art-based systems psychodynamic method.

Reflections on my PhD journey, NIODA Graduation 2019

As well as exploring face-to-face and online ways of working, I wanted my thesis to integrate cognitive and intuitive ways of knowing. To this end, I developed an art-based systems psychodynamic method.

Reflections on my PhD journey

For my PhD, I chose to investigate a team where members are distributed across locations, and communication is a blend of online and face-to-face. I was curious to learn how this type of arrangement might affect the experience of work. Primary research questions included:

  • How does the use of digital technology shape the nature of work and vice versa?
  • What are the impact of place and place-based cultural norms and practices?
  • How is meaning made in digitally-mediated communication and knowledge sharing systems?
  • How does a system psychodynamic approach help us to understand contemporary organisational life?

My thesis is based on a case study with a partially distributed team of therapists working with children in an Australian child protection system. I found that the dispersal of the team, use of technology, and the structural separation of decision-making and service delivery limited their
capacity to work together as a team. My thesis can be found at

I would like to share some other things I learnt through the process: managing oneself in role, containment, and coming to know.

Managing oneself in role

From the start, there was a desire by research participants for me to be part of the team, rather than in my role as a researcher. This set up a conflict for me, because I had to be ‘in enough’ to understand something of their experience, yet maintain my role so I could think about what might be happening. And, even though I was cognitively alert to the dynamics, unconsciously, I became one of the team. This experience raised questions such as:

  • What does it mean to be part of this team?
  • How ‘in’ do you need to be?
  • How is difference worked with?

This led to a working hypothesis about the experience of being part of this team and, when offered to the team, provided an opportunity to explore boundary relations. The experience highlighted, for me, the importance of managing oneself in role which, in turn, requires containment.


I cannot stress enough the importance of finding and creating structures to contain the experience of undertaking a PhD, using a systems psychodynamic approach.

As well as practical things such as participant information statements and consent forms, and institutional processes such as gaining ethics approval, meeting with supervisors and research progress panels, I also had:

  • A research reflection group with whom I shared the ups and downs of my experience, and who offered new vantage points from which to view the research.
  • Peers and colleagues who were available to think with me
  • Weekly psychoanalytically-informed supervision
  • A physical place to which I could anchor myself as I grappled to make sense of the data
  • My family who supported me with cups of tea and hot dinners, and heard me say too many times, ‘I can’t, I have to work on my PhD’

Coming to know

These supports provided containment which enabled me to stay with the research. As well as exploring face-to-face and online ways of working, I wanted my thesis to integrate cognitive and intuitive ways of knowing. To this end, I developed an art-based systems psychodynamic method to explore my countertransference experience, something which was in me but of the research system.

When I was seduced by the internet to endlessly follow links to other research, or go down rabbit holes, getting further from the original focus of my thesis, it was the art-based method which helped to bring me back. It enabled me to get in touch with the experience, to transform it from some formless feeling inside me into an object that could exist outside me, and be thought about.

Dancing on the edge of knowing and not-knowing, the art-based method created a third to triangulate the data and theory, and provided depth to the exploration of underlying dynamics in the research system.

Having finished my PhD, I am drawn to further research about the artist-as-researcher, and how creative processes, together with systems psychodynamics, can be used to more deeply ‘come to know’ the experience of contemporary organisational life.

Dr Nuala Dent
Research lead & Academic staff member, NIODA

3 December 2019

Reflections on my PhD journey

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

Reflections on my PhD journey by Dr Nuala Dent

Trust at work

Trust at work

Trust at work

Experiential knowing is the basis for all forms of trust. Systems psychodynamics enables a systemic understanding of the conditions that lead to or inhibit trusting relations.

Trust at work

Contemporary workplaces tend to be flatter, more collaborative and more distributed and, as such, require leaders and managers to develop trusting relationships with staff and stakeholders. But how do we define trust? This article draws upon different models of trust at work, to develop an understanding of trust from a systems psychodynamics perspective.

How do we define trust?

Schein (2009), in his analysis of the social and psychological dynamics of helping relationships, proposes that people develop trust by helping each other, in turn increasing organisational effectiveness. Ancona and Bresnan (2007), drawing on years of research that examined teams across many industries, suggest the best way for a team to develop trust is to work together on a shared task. This is supported by research from Plotnick et al. (2009) who identified three dimensions of trust; personal, process and expertise, where personal trust is linked to experiential knowing and process trust relies on presentational knowing.

Personal trust


A form of trust linked to experiential knowing (learnt from direct lived experience) and based on the experience of other team members. 

Process trust


This form of trust relies on presentational knowing (the words, images and metaphors used to articulate experiential knowing, shaping it into a coherent, communicable form) and is based on inferences made from the experience of working with other team members

Expertise trust


This form of trust is based on a trustor’s judgement of the trustee’s experience

What does it mean to know?

To further investigate what it means to trust requires an exploration into ways of knowing. Heron and Reason (2007) advise that presentational knowing is underpinned by experiential knowing which, in turn, is the platform for all other forms of knowing. Rajagopalan and Midgely (2015), in their research on extending ways of knowing, develop this further and claim that formal and reflective thinking are inadequate on their own. They developed a four-part framework that describes ways of knowing, adding practical knowing to the three forms of knowing identified by Heron and Reason. The framework, comprising experiential, presentational, propositional and practical ways of knowing, is summarised below. 

Personal trust


Experiential knowing

A form knowing through participative, empathic resonance with an ‘other’, so that the knower is both attuned and distinct from the other

Process trust


Presentational knowing

A form of knowing that emerges from and is grounded in experiential knowing and reveals the underlying nature of things

Expertise trust


Propositional knowing



Practical knowing

A form of knowing carried by representational forms, expressed in statements and theories, and grounded in experiential knowing


A form of knowing how to do something, demonstrated in a skill or competence. It presupposes a conceptual grasp of theory, evident in presentational form and grounded in experiential knowing

Based on the work of Rajagopalan and Midgely (2015), I argue that experiential knowing is the basis for all forms of trust. As such, it can be explored through object relations theory (Klein, 1985) to understand relations between self and other. Further, in systems psychodynamics, the additional attention to group processes, system structure, processes and boundaries, and contextual elements enables a systemic understanding of the conditions that lead to or inhibit trusting relations.

Experiential knowing and the development of trust

A thesis by Harding (2006) proposes that, from a systems psychodynamic perspective, mutual relations are reliant on ‘good enough’ management of projective processes, as a pre or synchronistic condition. In mutual recognition, each person has a need for recognition and has the capacity to recognise the other in return. ‘The subject declares “I am, I do” and then waits for the response, “You are, you have done” (Benjamin, 1988, p. 21). Mutual recognition involves simultaneous connection and separation, creating a tension between recognising the other and asserting the self. Inherent in intersubjectivity is a fundamental paradox. Benjamin (1990) expresses it in this way:

In the very moment of realising our own independent will, we are dependent on another to recognise it. At the very moment we come to understanding the meaning of I, myself, we are forced to see the limitation of that self. At the moment when we understand that separate minds can share similar feelings, we begin to find out that these minds can also disagree (p. 39)

It is the now moment of ‘knowing and being known’ that brings coherence of wholeness to the system, increasing its capacity for complexity. Sander (2002) writes that the complementary structure of intersubjectivity and the subsequent move to mutual understanding results in power being dissolved rather than transferred back and forth in an endless cycle, and thus supports trust between self and others. This is in line with Sievers (2003), who writes that trust cannot be engineered, and instead, attention must be paid to the undercurrents of organisational life, such as uncertainty, hopelessness and despair.

Given that no two people ever see an event in the same way, Sievers argues that ‘the challenge is to learn new ways of creating trust between partners who do not necessarily share the same goals and values’ (p. 32). This is reliant on the creation of a reflective space (Krantz, 2013) to explore the group’s culture and unconscious dynamics, leading to mutual recognition and paving the way for trusting relations.

Systems psychodynamics provides a framework for understanding how trust is developed, however, the only way to ‘know’ the theory is to experience it. NIODA provides academic programs, workshops and group relations conferences which are designed to provide experiences which enable an exploration of the dynamics of trust.

Dr Nuala Dent
Academic Staff Member, NIODA

17 October 2019

Trust at work

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


Ancona D and Bresnan H. (2007) X-Teams: How to Build Team That Lead, Innovate and Succeed, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Benjamin J. (1988) The First Bond. The bonds of love: psychoanalysis, feminism, and the problem of domination. New York: Pantheon Book, p 11-50.

Benjamin J. (1990) An Outline of Intersubjectivity: The Development of Recognition. Psychoanalytic Psychology 7 (Supplement): 33-46.

Harding W. (2006) Intersubjectivity and Large Groups: A Systems Psychodynamic Perspective. Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship. Melbourne: Swinburne University of Technology.

Heron J and Reason P. (2007) Extending Epistemology within a Co-operative Inquiry. In: Reason P and Bradbury-Huang H (eds) The Sage Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and practice. ProQuest Ebook Central, SAGE Publications.

Klein M. (1985) Our adult world and its roots in infancy. In: Colam AD and Geller MH (eds) Group Relations Reader 2. Washington DC: A. K. Rice Institute.

Krantz J. (2013) Work Culture analysis and reflective space. In: Long S (ed) Socioanalytic Methods: Discovering the Hidden in Organisations and Social Systems. London, UK: Karnac Books, 23-44.

Plotnick L, Hiltz SR and Ocker R. (2009) Trust in Partially Distributed Teams. 30th International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS). Phoenix, AZ.

Rajagopalan R and Midgely G. (2015) Knowing Differently in Systemic Intervention. Systems Research and Behavioural Science 32: 546-561.

Sander LW. (2002) Thinking Differently Principles of Process in Living Systems and the Specificity of Being Known. Psychoanalytic Dialogues 12: 11-42.

Schein E. (2009) Helping: How to Offer, Give and Receive Help, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Sievers B. (2003) Against All Reason: Trusting in Trust. Organisational & Social Dynamics 3: pp 19-39.

How to coach leaders for a networked society

How to coach leaders for a networked society

Our workplaces and home life are becomingly increasingly networked. Through the use of technology, people are able to connect just as easily with people who are geographically distant as they are with people in their local area. In addition, our definition of the ways in which work is contracted and conducted has changed. The gig economy is on the rise, and many individuals and organisations are capitalising on the flexibility of remote working. The boundaries between where, when and with whom one works can be fluid and dynamic, and our networks are becoming increasingly important to the ways in which we lead and influence. As coaches, we need to consider how to coach leaders for a networked society.

To develop my knowledge and skills in this area, I attended an Advanced Coach Training workshop in the Analytic-Network Coaching System (A-Nc), developed and facilitated by Simon Western, and offered in Australia in partnership with NIODA. The A-Nc approach to coaching integrates theory on coaching, organisation dynamics and the networked society. The framework brings together five frames of reference to offer an analytic, systemic approach to coaching leaders in contemporary organisational life. These frames can be summarised as follows:

  • Depth Analysis: Coaching the inner-self
  • Relational Analysis: Coaching the relational self
  • Leadership Analysis: Coaching the leader-within
  • Network Analysis: Coaching the networked self
  • Strategic Analysis: Coaching the strategic mindset

These frames build on each other, and at any one time, a coach might focus on a particular frame or move fluidly between frames. While in many ways the approach is similar to the Organisational Role Analysis approach (Borwick 2006) or the Transforming Experience Framework (Long 2016), the A-Nc extends our capacity to think about and coach leaders in a networked society.

The workshop model comprised seminars, experiential practice of coaching and being coached, reflective dialogue and associative matrices. The principles and instructions provided for working with each frame were helpful and offered an opportunity to coach in ways that might be different.  For instance, in the depth analysis frame, using disruption as an intervention, we asked our clients ‘What is your desire?’ which created the opportunity for an in-depth exploration. In the relational frame, we identified patterns of behaviour and considered what might be the pleasure in the displeasure, or how this pattern might create feelings of comfort or safety, generating useful insights for the client. The Western Indicator of Leadership Discourses, also known as the WILD Questionnaire, was a useful starting point for the leadership analysis frame. It enabled the coach to consider with the client their concept(s) of leadership, how it showed up in the way they took up authority, and to identify opportunities to try different ways of leading. The network analysis frame offered a powerful mapping exercise which was used to explore the client’s network and look for both the known and unknown connections, and any gaps that might need to be addressed. Finally, these frames could be considered as a whole in the strategic analysis frame, which enabled the client to set a strategic direction.

In addition to learning about and gaining practice in coaching using A-Nc, participants had an opportunity to be coached themselves, and think in depth about their own ways of leading and following. I got in touch with my own desire, gained new insights about my patterns of behaviour in the context of vertical and lateral relations, explored leadership discourse(s) and my preferred ways of leading, and considered the strengths and weaknesses in my network. When brought together, this information enabled me to think strategically about areas I would like to develop and to identify next steps towards that.

A key insight for me is that network relations exist between and within each of us. By this I mean that we are each in the network, and the network is in each of us. This theme, which reverberated throughout the workshop, has significance for thinking about how we coach leaders. Simon coined the term ‘Eco-leadership’ to describe a discourse wherein leadership is not located solely with a ‘Leader’, but distributed within and across organisations and networks. Simon’s book on leadership (Western 2013) outlines a history of leadership discourses, and makes a strong argument about the need for organisations to invest in Eco-leadership to meet the demands of an increasingly digital, automated and networked world.

The workshop also enabled me to (re)connect with colleagues across my local and global network. There were thirty participants at this inaugural Analytic-Network Coach Training in Australia. All are experienced practitioners, and together created a wonderful learning environment. I am delighted to be joining a growing community of Analytic-Network coaches committed to the development of ethical leaders, for the good of our workplaces and our networked society.

Ms Nuala Dent

Academic Staff Member & Principal Researcher NIODA

Featured image © Nuala Dent 2019

How to coach in a networked society references: 

Borwick, I. 2006. ‘Organisational Role Analysis: managing strategic change in business settings’ in J. Newton, S. Long & B. Sievers (eds) Coaching in Depth: The Organisational Role Analysis Approach. Karnac Books, UK

Long, S. 2016. ‘The transforming experience framework’ in S. Long (ed) Transforming Experience in Organisations: A Framework for Organisational Research and Consultancy. Karnak Books, UK

Western, S. 2013. Leadership: A Critical Text (Second Edition). Sage Publications, UK

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