Tara Nolan’s The Game of Teams: A Conversation with Dr. Brigid Nossal

Tara Nolan’s The Game of Teams: A Conversation with Dr. Brigid Nossal


In this episode of Game of Teams with Tara Nolan, Brigid explains what is meant by Applied Systems Psychodynamics and her approach with clients and especially teams. She shared an important framework that is readily available online by The Grubb institute called the Transforming Experience Framework. Essentially what presents as an issue on teams is really a symptom masking important other considerations such as context, the system and an individual’s experience of their role.  Brigid talked about structural defences, anxiety, role clarity and what might be unconscious to a team.

Listen on Apple Podcasts here

‘An unexplored continent’: What can dreams tell us about society?

This article was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald, June 5 2020, by Felicity Lewis: https://www.smh.com.au/national/an-unexplored-continent-what-can-dreams-tell-us-about-society-20200604-p54zcs.html 

Many of us have had vivid dreams during this pandemic. What are we dreaming about? What subterranean zeitgeists might they reveal? And what is the point of knowing?

It was January in the northern Italian city of Turin and Franca Fubini, a psychotherapist and organisational consultant, was unsettled. She had been engaged in a long-running project where people share their dreams – a practice called social dreaming. But this group had spoken of nightmares: an asteroid hurtling towards Earth; a truck falling from the sky; people jumping from the balconies of a skyscraper …

“In January we didn’t know yet,” says Fubini of the coronavirus pandemic. “It was moving in the Far East, it would not touch us. But the dreams were all talking of losing control, of unexpected disaster of major magnitude.”

By February, when the Italian government had declared a state of emergency, the social dreaming group was a different mix of people but “that thread, which started to be woven [in January], was there”, says Fubini.

In the following months, with Italy in lockdown and COVID-19 sweeping the country’s north, other dream themes emerged: genetically modified insects, alien attacks, disconnected body parts, locked-up eyes and legs, dreamers unable to recognise themselves in mirrors – white-haired or unkempt, all dressed up but in ill-fitting clothes.

“They take a life of their own,” says Fubini of the dreams, “and we are no longer in control, [in the same way that] we are not during the pandemic.”

Since ancient times, cultures have tuned into dreams as messages from the gods, nature or their souls; since last century, dreams have been viewed as a coded language of the psyche; and today, some doctors, scientists and citizens also collect people’s dreams as data on, among other things, how we share responses to significant events and widespread crises such as this pandemic.

Trump dreams are a genre. Brexit dreams have been documented. And, in recent months, COVID dreams have become virtual-watercooler fodder. You only have to look on Twitter to see a sample of postcards from the land of nod (#CovidDreams), or you can add your own to citizen dream collection project idreamofcovid.com.

What does it all mean? How is dreaming a social activity? What glimpses of subterranean zeitgeists might a group’s dreams offer? And what would be the point of knowing?


What is social dreaming?

It’s a Sunday evening in Australia and 65 (mostly) strangers from Europe, South Africa, the US and Asia are gazing out of their little square computer screens for a meeting on Zoom. After a brief introduction, participants turn off their video cameras. There is a sea of black squares. “The matrix is now open,” says a woman’s voice. “And what will be the first dream?”

In the dystopian science-fiction film The Matrix, humans unwittingly exist in a simulated reality. In this matrix, humans are well aware they may be in the dark about the desires and impulses that move cultures and the systems in which they operate – but, through creating a network of associations about one another’s dreams, they can start to see a bigger picture.

One social dreaming expert likens this network to mycelium, the delicate filaments that underpin fungi and transmit nutrients and information across vast forests. Another adds that “we’re talking about deep, subterranean, murky, in-the-mud sort of stuff.”

What will be revealed tonight?

Over the course of this hour-long matrix, the Roosevelts appear twice (New Deal or new normal?); a dreamer is annoyed to discover she is married to pop singer Ed Sheeran (intimacy can be problematic during a lockdown); another dreamer is in the ocean trapped in a plastic bag full of water (a bit like a goldfish for sale, a bit like all of us during this pandemic, blinking out from our self-contained little worlds).

One of these goldfish is Mannie Sher, an executive coach and change consultant with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. The London institute has been at the cutting edge of research into group dynamics since World War II when it helped the British Army improve relations between officers and soldiers in the lower ranks. Central to its thinking is that a group, as well as an individual, has a life of its own.

“Social dreaming is like a megaphone from another world and we ought to listen to it,” says Sher. “It’s not miraculous, it’s not mysterious. The unconscious is an unexplored continent and there are links and connections that float around, looking for dreamers.”

Sher, who trained as a social scientist and psychotherapist, has used social dreaming as “a diagnostic tool” for years, including in boardrooms and at conferences to loosen minds – after all, the focus is on the dreams and not the dreamers.

“If the matrix is run skilfully, you’ll find that it’s not just the dreaming that gets freed up … the organisation too somehow gets freed up to think new thoughts. And that’s what we’re after.”

Now he and colleagues in social dreaming around the world, including in the Social Dreaming International Network, are watching for patterns in dream matrices as this pandemic makes “social trauma” a “global trait”.

At first blush, the dreams and the associations from matrices run by the Tavistock Institute read as a jumble of signs and symbols: tigers and Tiger Kings; an exploding Brooklyn Bridge and every fifth person evacuated from Manhattan Island; a lieutenant on the Western Front with “Trump-like red hair that looks fake”, and, in June, a house that looks beautiful on the outside but has no “bone structure” within – just a rear room wall-papered all over with the face of George Floyd, the man whose death at the hands of police has sparked riots across the United States. 

Over time, the dreams begin to kaleidoscope into a chronicle of the milieu in which they were dreamt. “Dreams can mean many, many things,” says Sher, and in social dreaming, a group’s free associations about the dreams are as important as the dreams themselves. “What we’re looking for is the drift. What direction is it going? What’s emerging out of the associations – rather than saying ‘your dream means this or that’.

“People don’t come to social dreaming because they’re having bad dreams or difficult lives,” he says. “They’re invited to join what you might call a social experiment – namely, what are our dreams able to tell us about the society we’re in?”


So, what are our dreams able to tell us about the society we’re in?

This was the question for Scottish sociologist, organisational consultant and educator Gordon Lawrence when he developed social dreaming as a tool of organisational dynamics in the early ’80s after reading the work of Jewish journalist Charlotte Beradt, whose book The Third Reich of Dreams made his “skin tingle”.

Beradt covertly collected 300 dreams from Berliners from 1933, when the Nazis came to power, until she fled Europe in 1939, and details some of them in her book. A factory owner, for example, dreams he is visited by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels; as he lifts his arm in the Nazi salute, his back breaks. Another man sees only rectangles, triangles and octagons in his dreams because dreaming itself is “forbidden”.

It was not personal issues that fuelled these dreams, Beradt contends, so much as “conflicts into which these people had been driven by a public realm in which half-truths, vague notions and a combination of fact, rumour and conjecture had produced a general feeling of uncertainty and unrest”. The dreams, collected before war had broken out, offered the warning “that totalitarian tendencies must be recognised before they become overt”. Beradt’s book, now out of print, has quite possibly been referenced more in the past few months in discussing COVID dreams than at any time since it was first published in the 60s.

Both Fubini and Sher worked with Lawrence. Over the years, Sher and his colleagues have collected dreams during a range of major events: from tent dwellers during the London Occupy Movement (“murder, cutting up bodies, rotting bodies – awful stuff”); at public sessions in a library during Brexit (“parents divorcing, chaos, the piling up of rubbish”) and after the election of Donald Trump (“triumph of the win, not binding together, insulting a woman”).

But while the pandemic has focused attention on dreaming en masse, dreams can also shed light on smaller group dynamics – including in the workplace.


What happens when you take dreams to work?

Dame Ruth Silver had been the principal of Lewisham College, in London’s south-east, for several years when she offered social dreaming sessions to staff at the start and end of each term. A trained psychologist (twice honoured for her services to further education), she regards dreams as data that offer “the opportunity, among other things, to construct an agenda for change”.

“The challenge for me, as the principal, was to say, ‘How do I keep on supporting the staff to be creative in raising students’ success?’”, says Silver. “We had dreams of … lost staff looking for students, students looking for staff, people not getting the right textbooks. 

“There was a whole system of dreams that talked about, actually, we need to do more, forward. There were also things going on in society – black kids getting beaten up, the Stephen Lawrence murder [in south-east London in 1993]. What we were doing was terrific curriculum learning but actually it didn’t help them deal with the issues in their housing estates so colleagues encouraged and legitimised social justice work from students, not just to them. 

“So it’s how the dreams are made meaning of by the institution – and that wasn’t for me alone to do, it was for all of us, saying, ‘What do you think that’s about?’ and, ‘If it is about that, what could we try?’ So, to authorise teachers to be free experimenters, not just experts.” 

After the dream conversations, the college set up a sector first: a “quality unit” with a data analyst, researcher and head of learning and development for all staff. Out of that came a confidential teacher’s help desk that was “off system” so staff could flag issues without fear of their appraisals being affected. “They had a place to go that was for increasing and sharing their expertise because that helped the students,” says Silver. “We prototyped a lot of new structures that are still around.” 

Silver, who now runs a think tank and sits on the board of the Jamie Oliver Foundation, has advised prime ministers on further education but stopped short of conducting a dream matrix at No. 10. “[Tony] Blair had a curiosity about it but he didn’t manage to do it,” she laughs.



What’s next?

It seems the US riots are now looming in our nocturnal visions. And dreams of (second) waves, and of nature, are emerging in local and international social dreaming matrices, says Susan Long, research director of the National Institute of Organisation Dynamics. Whether in Italy, Israel, England or the US, says Long (who also co-edited Social Dreaming: Philosophy, Research, Theory and Practice), group’s dreams are showing that they have not forgotten the plight of the natural environment even as the pandemic has eclipsed talk of it.

If dreams can act as stealthy reminders of our abiding concerns, Long also contends they can be “memoirs of the future” – not in a psychic way but in the sense that they help us to imagine what’s next. “In our daily lives we constantly anticipate what we will do in the future, whether in the next hour or the next year,” she says. “Our dreams do this also but they do it from an unconscious level. Social dreaming brings together the unconscious anticipations of all the participants and allows thoughts that we individually would not dare to think in our waking lives because they seem weird, risky or dangerous – but are there in the back of our minds.

“The associations of others turn the oblique and dissociated ideas in the dreams into comprehensible narratives, linked to everyday experiences.”

In London, Sher says talking about dreaming together enables new things to happen, even if, in organisations, these are mostly in the form of “baby steps”.

But it seems that making sense of our COVID dreams, or of any dreams for that matter, will take time; there’s a slow-burn aspect to the epiphanies they offer.

“You go to a matrix, you hear these dreams, and you can’t make sense of them,” says Sher. “That’s a state of mind that you have to accept, that sometimes you just don’t know what’s happening. Later on, you may find out, oh, we did know something – but we refused to acknowledge it.”

Kate Dempsey Sorry Business Seminar

Kate Dempsey Sorry Business Seminar

Sorry Business Seminar: Dr Kate Dempsey

Sorry Business: A Kleinian perspective on Apology and Reparation seminar

‘Sorry business’ is a term used by First Nation People’s of Australia to encompass the rituals and ceremonies associated with death and grieving. But Australia has a sorry business, left unattended and unacknowledged. Colonisation in Australia (as elsewhere) has left a legacy of inequality, trauma, shame, guilt, and exploitation. In Requiem for a Nun, Faulkner writes the famous line that ‘the past is never dead. It’s not even past.’

In this paper, I argue that the past is still with us all (whether colonist/settler, migrant, dispossessed, white or black) and that lack of apology and reparation means wounds of the past do not heal. As a white Australian, I can’t say how, when or why apology is acceptable but I want to explore why apology is complex in a social context and how cultural forgetfulness negatively impacts on reparation.

I look at attempts to say sorry, from a Kleinian perspective, incorporating her idea of reparation and I use restorative justice principles – most often employed in the criminal justice system – as a guide to enacting apology. Klein deals with personal relationships, not whole societies or cultures and not with formal apologies given by governments or organisations on behalf of large groups for the deeds of those who came before. But perhaps illumination can occur by examining her ideas. She notes that the move to a depressive position comes first from the one who has done wrong, realising this truth, mourning loss and wanting to repair.

But if apology has an unspoken aim to triumph over a past, or has a sentiment of grievance, anger, or guilt at its heart, it is ‘manic reparation’ (Klein 1935). This is the fantasy desire that the division being experienced should go away. It is the belief that by simply apologising we can return to a place of oneness, to have the other stop complaining or have the feeling of guilt for damage done, assuaged. It is fantasy and therefore manic because the damage has in fact been done and the prior state can never return. Relationship with the other is damaged by past events and apology is only true when this brokenness is acknowledged and responsibility accepted.


Seminar, recorded via Zoom

Reparation is an embodied, enacted and relational process. Without reparation, we cannot move as individuals or as a nation to a mature (depressive) position. The task is to find the liminal space so that growth can occur, rather than all parties feeling either overwhelmed by what we cannot fix or defensively assuming all will be well following apology.

Finally, I discuss the term Dadirri (Ungunmerr 1988) from the Daly River People (the Ngangikurungkurr) as a way for white settler descendants to begin to come to a place of remembering and mourning that offers both an internal maturing in the depressive position, but also an outward enactment of reparation. It is a term that has no comparable meaning in English. But it points the way to quiet listening and deep understanding of the other, which is a good place to start.

Klein, M. (1935/1975) ‘A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States’ Writings Vol 1. Free Press (Macmillan) NY. Available at https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-

Ungunmerr, MR. (1988) Dadirri: Inner Deep Listening and Quiet Still Awareness accessed 2.02.2019 from www.miriamrosefoundation.org.au


Dr Kate Dempsey

Dr Kate Dempsey (PhD) is an organisational consultant who has successfully operated her own business, Kate Dempsey & Associates, for more than two decades. She assists businesses with change management and organisational review.

Prior to her consulting work, Kate held a number of positions in the public sector and throughout her career, she has been involved in many Boards and Committees – either appointed or elected to represent constituents.

In addition to her consulting work, Kate is an academic who has taught Leadership and Managing Change to Masters level students at Monash University and Latrobe University and also to Bachelor of Business students at Swinburne University since 2006. She has a PhD in the psychology of leadership.

Dr Dempsey is a member of the NIODA Academic Board of Governance.


The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research, 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.



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The Authority to Profess

The Authority to Profess

The Authority to Profess

The recent appointment of Susan Long to the rank of Professor at NIODA follows her more than 50 years of rigorous scholarship as she has grown her own distinctive practice as a thinker, author, teacher and action researcher.

The authority to profess Susan Long

The shorter Oxford dictionary defines a Professor as a public teacher of the highest rank in a specific faculty or branch of learning. The title designates one who is accorded the authority to profess their thoughts, understanding and sentiments to a public that should be willing to listen and be influenced by the Professor’s erudition.

The recent appointment of Susan Long to the rank of Professor at NIODA surely accords with this definition following as it does her more than 50 years of rigorous scholarship in the fields of psychology, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, clinical practice, group relations, social dreaming and education, each discipline informing the other, as she has grown her own distinctive practice as a thinker, author, teacher and action researcher. Her curiosity about, and respect for, the ‘unconscious’ has led her to explore it from many angles including the historical, the here and now, and the prospective. Her recently conceptualised differentiation of the ‘associative unconscious’ from Freud’s notion of the repressed unconscious is breathing new possibilities into our understanding of creativity as social process. She is a restless inquirer.

Students of Organisation Dynamics learn that the concept of ‘authority’, whilst essential to the process of reliable organising, regulating and acting, has many vicissitudes.

In society today there is much concern about whether our authorities can be trusted. And as long ago as the 17th century the philosopher John Locke so wisely warned that every error known to mankind has had its professor. In this case, we can rely on the fact that Susan Long has previously held professorial appointments at two universities, Swinburne and RMIT, has many peer-reviewed publications and research grants, and has been elected, by her peers, as President of both local and international professional associations. Her ‘top-down’ authority is assured. But what about her ‘bottom-up’ authorisation? Are students and clients still willing to listen? Well, her supervision to completion of 22 PhD students, so far, helps answer that question. As does the number of requests for her service as an examiner and consultant, along with the ‘sold out’ status of her writing workshops, the repeated invitations she receives to work on the staff of group relations conferences in Australia and overseas, and the applause from many current and past students at the news of her NIODA appointment. The key to this respect, I think, is Susan’s profound understanding that authority which cannot be questioned is just power. She always invites others, students, colleagues and clients alike, to question their experience, including their experience of her, in order to think together about how emotional currents are shaping their views of reality, the possibility of collaborating, and the ethics that will guide their behaviour.

NIODA is honoured and enriched by Susan’s appointment and her continuance in the role of Director, Research and Scholarship. Long may she continue to profess and to guide NIODA’s students in the making of good authority for an uncertain world.

John Newton

Prof John Newton
Chair Academic Board of Governance, NIODA

1 May 2020

The Authority to Profess – Susan Long

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

The Authority to Profess by Prof John Newton

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

We are all in this together

We are all in this together

We are all in this together

‘We are all in this together’ has become a worldwide slogan for the fight against COVID-19. The slogan attempts to unify peoples and countries by indicating that anyone can get the virus, that the virus knows no borders and that the world is interconnected and we can ‘all do our bit to flatten the curve’. A good message. But who are the ‘we’ in this formulation and how might different groups identify with such a ‘we’?

We are all in this together – Between Basic Assumption Me and Basic Assumption Oneness

‘We are all in this together’ has become a worldwide slogan for the fight against COVID-19. The slogan attempts to unify peoples and countries by indicating that anyone can get the virus, that the virus knows no borders and that the world is interconnected and we can ‘all do our bit to flatten the curve’. A good message. But who are the ‘we’ in this formulation and how might different groups identify with such a ‘we’?

This can be looked at from both rational conscious and covert and unconscious perspectives.

First consider, at the conscious level, what ‘we’ are hearing on the news. According to the statistics, yes, the virus is a global pandemic affecting people in 213 countries and territories (updated July 6 2020 on https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/countries-where-coronavirus-has-spread/). ‘We’ if we count this as the world’s population, are all in it.

Nonetheless, within those countries ‘the virus is already disproportionately impacting the poor in wealthy countries, where the most known cases are concentrated’ (https://www.globalcitizen.org/). It is expected that poorer third-world countries will be affected severely. So, no, many of the wealthier segments of society with robust medical systems and a capacity for citizens to self-isolate are not ‘in it’ in the same way as the poor, the homeless, the overcrowded and the unemployed; not to forget the front-line workers in health and other roles that expose workers disproportionately to the virus.

If the slogan means that we should all be ‘doing our bit’ to help slow the spread of the virus, then perhaps, yes, the ‘we’ might be more inclusive. Those who can continue to work in a reasonably safe environment, or from home or at a distance can help. But again, there are many who are unable to stay home, or stay at a distance from others (for instance the crowded cities of India), or who have cultural or religious beliefs that prevent them taking such measures, let alone the deniers, who are not part of the ‘we’ in the attempts to slow the curve; not necessarily by choice but more by circumstance.

Does the ‘in this together’ mean economically? Country economies are facing the biggest recessions since the great depression, and may well suffer far beyond that grim milestone. Households are being affected by unemployment. Many small businesses are closed. Larger industries also affected. And, yes, government economic packages across the globe are to be distributed to many. But there are limits and once more the wealth divide shows disproportionate effects. In Australia, for one small example, many casual and itinerate workers will miss out on government job-keeper support. Countries will sustain large debts and the ‘we’ who must pay may refer more to the younger working generation in years to come, than current mature workers.


But let me now come to a consideration of some more unconscious dynamics amongst groups.

‘We’, that is those who study unconscious dynamics in groups and societies, attempt to discern the unconscious basic assumptions that groups hold. These are collective ideas that guide thinking, behaviour and emotion in groups; those ideas that are part of the culture, not really closely examined taken-for-granteds. Two such assumptions that are of interest here are Basic Assumption Me (BAMe) and Basic Assumption Oneness (BAOneness), both described well in the group relations literature. The former assumes that a group is simply a collection of individuals, each out to satisfy their own needs, joined by a common interest but basically from a narcissistic stance. The latter assumes that a group is a unity with little differentiation between members – all caught together in a common need and with common responses. Perhaps these, in extreme, underlie capitalism and communism respectively. What then is the ‘we’ in BAMe and in BA Oneness? This is a question that has implications for moral responsibility – an issue at the heart of the emotional message in ‘we are all in this together’.

In BAMe ‘we’ means a collection brought together in the interests of personal survival, growth or gain. We are all in this together means if we each individually want to survive with our health and wealth we had better collaborate. Basically, in this form of ‘we’, personal responsibility is primary as well as individual gain. Shared responsibility is the result of agreements more or less loosely held. In the long run, the individual will look after his or her interests above those interests of the group as a whole. Fear and terror may instigate this basic assumption. I applaud the decision of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern’s Government to reduce the wages for politicians and senior government officials at this time when many are losing their jobs. This shows a leadership not caught in BAMe.

In BAOneness, ‘we’ means the group itself with little differentiation between individuals. The group holds together for the protection and benefit of the whole and its identity – sometimes this is at the expense of the individual. Collective responsibility as a whole is foremost, implying that the group itself is a moral agent – an idea with many difficulties, especially in terms of the law. Often, though the collective responsibility is such that a whole collective may be seen to be blameworthy, such as is seen in racism. The message that President Trump of the US gives his country in withdrawing funding from the World Health Organisation indicates his mindset of the US being in a oneness against others – those to blame.

A position between BAMe and BAOneness is needed: one where ‘we’ is contingent on the work needed to be done by the group. On the one hand, differentiation between individuals and their roles is needed: different sub-groups have different responsibilities and authority, ‘Them’ and ‘us’ need to be distinguished. Not in a destructive and blaming way, but in a creative and task-oriented way: an appropriate division of labour. ‘Them’ and ‘us’ has taken on a bad name. On the other hand, Individuals need to collaborate, make agreements and at times personal sacrifices. My concern is that the growing interdict to avoid any distinction – any talk of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – may become the new political correctness; likely to deny the fact that ‘we are all in this’ in different ways.

The position in between BAMe and BAOneness is said to be the work group – perhaps the good- enough work group: Basic Assumption Collaboration with distinct differences between different groupings that can work across the boundaries, not dissolve and deny them. ‘We are all in this together’ but let’s not forget that we are in this in different ways and they need recognition.

Prof Susan Long
Director of Research & Scholarship, NIODA

16 April 2020

We are all in this together – Between Basic Assumption Me and Basic Assumption Oneness

ps Are you a leader or manager and would like to learn more about both rational conscious and covert and unconscious perspectives? Have a look at the NIODA Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course.

We are all in this together – Between Basic Assumption Me and Basic Assumption Oneness by Prof Susan Long

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