What does it take to be vulnerable online?

Thomas Mitchell

What does it take to be vulnerable online?

I find myself wondering about this again and again. The question hits me as if it were the question of the week, the year even. I look around as if it has been boomed out over loudspeakers to a crowd who have all been stopped in their tracks by the sheer brilliance of it. In my fantasy, they collectively think, ‘Ah… yes, that is the question,’ and then they rush off home and do something with this information and, miraculously, things get better. In reality, however, there are no crowds, no recognition of the manner in which being a little more vulnerable might help an online group or community operate differently, or release some of the anxiety it is holding, or spark some creativity.

It is 2021 and in Victoria, Australia we are in the midst of another lockdown. We are only allowed outside our homes for one of 5 reasons. For the vast majority of us, this does not include going to work. There is a curfew between the hours of 9 pm and 5 am. The days can lose definition. Time seems a little out of whack, how is it that late in the day? How is it September? Clips of politicians talking about case numbers, restrictions, and ducking and weaving in and out of veiled blame games are being played on high rotation. One day bleeds into another.

Without a day punctuated by the physicality of movement and vociferous and lively interaction outside the home, it all becomes a bit of a haze, a little fuzzy, not just around the edges, but through and through. The recent introduction of the curfew in Melbourne took me by surprise and is the thing that shook me out of the fuzziness. The announcement came in the middle of the day, it was to be introduced that evening. I had plans, that evening. I learnt that I needed to cancel my plans through a work meeting. As I entered the Zoom room, colleagues were talking about the curfew and what it meant. As it became clear to me what my colleagues were talking about, I felt a deep anger at the imposition of what felt to be a draconian law.

More media connections, less human connections

Focus on work tasks grew over the following days, more Zooms, more reports, more things, more media connections, less human connections, less reality. My team slipped into, for a short while at least, basic assumption dependency (Bion, 1961). We looked to the leader as some sort of seer who would, without any substantive input from us, make decisions. As a part of this same dynamic, we created an inadequate member, an object of care within the group (Lawrence et al., 1996). In this environment, I became more and more anxious about the morning ritual of watching the email inbox expand to a sea of unread mail each time it refreshed, of clicking open the first Zoom screen and seeing myself in reverse, of negotiating with a supplier, a potential supplier, and my boss. One day I found myself, metaphorically, wondering/wandering somewhat confusedly around between workspaces, one online Zoom meeting after another.

Creating Community

In this confused state, I participated in an early morning, online meditation session. This is part of my daily routine. Apart from the voice of the person leading the session, the meditation space is silent. We do not talk or engage in overly lively or obvious forms of ‘community’ interaction. For the 30 minutes we are together each morning, however, we are together. We are communing, we are connecting in an intentional, synchronous practice. Creating community. In silence, we let each other in. I compare this with my experience of the online team meeting which is loud and seemingly engaged. It moves quickly, tasks to discuss, to track, to complete. My experience is not one of communion, or of community. If there is an invitation to create together it is hard to hear, and harder still to action, in this environment.

Moving between these realities offered the opportunity to reflect on the environments, to ponder the differences and to wonder, what does it take to be vulnerable online? My most recent experience tells me that it’s ‘simple’, I needed to let the humanity back in. I needed to scratch the Zoom surface to get a glimpse, to give a glimpse, of what is behind the camera. One day, I loosened my grip just enough and admitted to my colleagues that ‘things are tough’ and that I was struggling with the latest restrictions. Collectively, we started talking about our anxieties, not just those related to the pandemic but also those about the work tasks filling up our inboxes. As Leonard Cohen (1992) says,

“Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”.

As the light began to seep in, we began moving toward creativity and it became possible to talk to each other, to ask questions, to admit to not knowing. As we let the humanity into the Zoom room, we also gave rise to the possibility of the basic assumption group encountering the creativity of the work group. A shift occurred, there was a tickle of connection, of resourcefulness, of creation. It is tender and new and imperfect, let’s hope it continues.

Mr Thomas Mitchell

October 2021

What does it take to be vulnerable online?

Bion, W., 1961. Experiences in groups, and other papers. Tavistock/Routledge, London.

Cohen, L., 1992. Anthem [WWW Document]. MusixMatch. URL
https://www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/Leonard-Cohen/Anthem (accessed 8.25.21).

Lawrence, G., Gould, L., Bain, A., 1996. The Fifth Basic Assumption. Free Associations 6, 1–20.

Mr Thomas Mitchell

Thomas Mitchell

Academic staff member, NIODA


BA, MA(HPS), MLM(OD)  Over the last several years Thomas has enhanced his extensive professional experience by learning from, and working with, leaders across the executive coaching, group dynamics, and systems psychodynamics fields. A graduate of the NIODA Master of Leadership and Management – Organisation Dynamics, Thomas combines a deep understanding of working in large organisations with a passion for supporting others as they work toward achieving their goals and gaining deeper awareness of their actions and drivers. Highly skilled in creating a safe environment to support participants explore their roles, Thomas manages the balance between empathy and candour allowing participants to feel secure whilst having their assumptions challenged.

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
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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.

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