Tavistock Consulting was set up in 1994 and is a trading division of the Tavistock and Portman. Its purpose is to provide organisational and leadership development to organisations in a range of different sectors.

This work first began during World War 2, when Wilfred Bion pioneered the study of groups and organisational dynamics, and since then has been inspired by the work of Bion, Eric Miller, Eric Trist, Harold Bridger, Isabel Menzies Lyth, David Armstrong and others. Working at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, blending theories from social science, psychoanalysis and open systems thinking, these pioneers explored the organisational challenges facing post-war Britain. The resulting body of knowledge forms the basis of the ‘systems-psychodynamic’ approach.

Essentially this is the application of three overlapping epistemological traditions:

  • psychoanalysis
  • systems theory
  • group relations thinking

as applied to organisations.

Isabel Menzies Lyth in her ground-breaking paper ‘Social systems as a defence against anxiety’ developed an understanding of how unconscious processes impact on everyday organisational life. Miller and Rice in their study of socio-technical systems demonstrated how organisational design, the structure of work and the nature and use of resources, affect how people work and how effective an organisation can be. The third element, an understanding of group behaviour and the dynamics of working groups was developed through the experiential learning of group relations conferences, building on the early work of Bion.

In the 1980s a series of workshops and scientific inquiries held at the Tavi progressed this thinking under the leadership of former Chief Executive Anton Obholzer. This work, and the bodies of knowledge it developed, form the basis of the Tavistock’s D10 Masters programme ‘Consultation and the organisation: psychodynamic and systemic approaches’.

In parallel, colleagues at the Grubb Institute were working on their model of role consultation and David Armstrong developed his concept, ‘organisation-in-the-mind’, to better understand the means by which the unconscious processes in organisations become manifest in individuals and expressed in behaviour.

In 1994 the Tavistock Consultancy Service, which later became Tavistock Consulting, was established as a unit within the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust. Under the leadership of Jon Stokes, the original staff group included Clare Huffington and David Armstrong. This year also saw the publication of the seminal text The Unconscious at Work, edited by Anton Obholzer and Vega Roberts.

Since that time, Tavistock Consulting has developed systems-psychodynamic thinking through creative application and innovative design by considering the individual in the system and the system in the individual, in depth. Its domain is working across boundaries and ‘below the surface’ of organisational life, helping people to make sense of ‘what is really going on’. Whether it’s running reflective practice groups for clinicians, developing the board of a charity or working one to one with executives in a global manufacturer, its consultants help clients to face and solve often complex organisational challenges. Tavistock Consulting aims to enhance self-awareness, effectiveness, and the ability to navigate and influence the complex landscape of contemporary organisational systems.

Over the last 25 years Tavistock Consulting has been led by four directors: Jon Stokes, Claire Huffington, Judith Bell and most recently, Tim le Lean. Each brought their own particular expertise, adding to the successful development of the business, responding to the contemporary challenges of organisational life as this has evolved over the last quarter of a century. Their core team of consultants, working alongside a group of associates, bring a diverse and potent mix of experiences. Adapting their delivery model to meet the changes in how organisations, networks and partnerships operate, they continue to provide opportunities for organisations to develop a capacity for sense-making, creativity and collaboration.

Alongside consultancy, Tavistock Consulting provides a portfolio of executive education programmes including their internationally renowned executive coaching programme, leadership seminar series and three day experiential learning events on leading change and decoding group dynamics.

Alongside consultancy, Tavistock Consulting provides a portfolio of face to face and online executive education programmes including their internationally renowned EMCC-accredited Executive Coaching Programme, Advanced Coaching Practice Online, leadership seminar series and three day experiential learning events on leading change and decoding group dynamics.

In terms of the history of the Tavistock and Portman, Tavistock Consulting provide a link for the Trust back to the innovative group and organisational work of its past, but it is also one of the key ways that we look at leadership, performance, and self-development in the wider context of work in the real world. For more information about Tavistock Consulting visit: https://tavistockconsulting.co.uk

Article first appeared in In Mind magazine, 2019