On being a good groupie

Look at the numerous rows and scandals the news reports – especially for this post, endless troubles in the UK National Health Service. Really, really apparently disastrous, but if I am ill, that is exactly where I will go, as many of the rest of us here will go – and I think I will be well cared for. The achievements of the British Health Services far far outweigh the scandals and disasters. So what on earth is going on? Well I don’t claim knowledge, it just gives me the excuse to talk a bit more about groups. [I could talk about NSA instead, but the media seems to want to talk about Snowden and where he will run to, another what on earth is going on? Isn’t the spying more important than the spy?]

Everyone is saying stuff like “we need to change the culture“. Well, quite, but how, and how is the culture the problem, or contributing to the problem? [if you are not in UK a quick visit to BBC or any UK newspaper site will update you]. Is ‘culture’ what people are in collectively? I think we forget that we often subscribe, and can be aware of, many cultures simultaneously, we agree with some, not with others. We are comfortable following some, not comfortable when we try to get away from another. etc. etc. We suffer ‘culture shock’ if we are in a context where too much is unfamiliar, whether or not we agree with it. We suffer stress if stuff changes around us, too fast or too suddenly, or if there are too many demands made at once. We are different in our resilience, as well as in our capabilities.

I know I have been called naive, but I do happen to believe that most people try to do their best, but are often “going along to get along”, not able to deal with the discomfort or dilemmas which arise. Switching off awareness is an unconscious response so that we survive. We then function, but minimally.

Maybe we could be more aware of what might be unconscious.

The unconscious is not rational! It allows all the muddles and contradictions to co-exist. From the biology – not separate from emotional life – both built and founded on the many thousands of nature nurture combinations experienced in moment after moment of life.

Here we are with society and its cultures and institutions, all sorts of groups. All sorts of differences. All sorts of histories.

All sorts of reactions (unconscious) and responses (thought about in awareness).

In a previous post I said that unconscious group functioning [what happens – not what culture] was a combination of WORK-GROUP ACTIVITY (what the group or organisation is meant to be doing) and BASIC ASSUMPTION ACTIVITY, one of three basic assumptions: dependence, fight/flight, or pairing (which might or might not be what the group is meant to be doing). Another word might be ‘groupiness’ the kind of atmosphere, now you feel it, now you don’t, but somehow it helps or hinders each of us in the group.

An organisation or group which works well – rather than merely functions – has a conscious leadership, or structure, where the unconscious “groupiness” is in pretty good agreement, most of the time, with the kind of job it has to do. A health service is going to have to deal with people who are ill. Surprise Surprise, for the moment these people are dependent, they need others. [This doesn’t mean they have given up their adulthood, it means they are indeed adult and can see the context in reality, the way it actually is, rather than the way they wish it was.] A useful structure would make the entry into dependence simple and also would manage the return to separateness.

BUT – since the MARKET LED utter rubbish one-ideology-fits-all notions of economy took hold of Thatcher, NO16Reagan, economics, world banking policy, and even the rise and rise of many MBA management training worlds, surprise surprise, organisational planning is all aimed to fit into a different kind of unconscious groupiness. For far too many years, the groupiness in all our national structures has favoured the competitive, the stand up and choose, the DO NOT LET YOURSELF DEPEND ON SOMEONE ELSE. And, if you are the one on whom someone needs to depend, you are told you are being unprofessional to let that happen, they should be standing more on their own feet … too ill to stand… oops

The unfortunate workers within the health services (from ‘lowly’ cleaners and porters through to all the varied professional disciplines and managers) are all caught in an unconscious which goes totally against the grain of the needs of the job. A health service needs a structure which allows ‘dependence’ and which also allows a switch to the ‘pairing’ groupiness. The latter is the one which enables people to take on board the uncertainty in the future. More of that in another post maybe, but for now it is enough to try to say that ‘dependence’ does not mean get what you want in an endless cycle of demand. [If you are ill the future may mean you die.] A good use of ‘dependence’ means be helped to deal with what is real.

I am not advocating another major change from the top! NO05

Instead, let each in their own place notice when what happens seems to have a fight/flight groupiness, say it is ‘competitive’ like target setting, or criticism. Let that quietly die. If they notice something that is helpfully dependent, let that become more common practice. Stop making assumptions, become more aware.

I would welcome comments – I want to write about this stuff, but it is hard to find a way to convey the meaning without a lot too much wordiness.


One thought on “On being a good groupie

  1. I have a close relative in the UK Health Service, who was leading an efficient team dedicated to the concept of the best service to the public with the most efficient and cost-effective delivery. He was totally demoralised by the various ‘reorganisations’ and an influx of ‘suits’ and the department is now a shadow it its former self.


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