“We better get more familiar with the unconscious in organizations”
The third Leadership, Contact & Conflict Leadership Conference will be organized from 12 until 17 April. Working beneath the surface is the sub-title. Participants can explore in-depth their leadership role in contact and conflict situations. An interview with conference director Martha Mens and co-director Bruno Chevolet. You can either read the interview or watch the video.
It is already the third time that the Leadership, Contact & Conflict (LC&C in short) Conference will be organized. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it had to be postponed twice. Now we aim to organize it in autumn next year, from 12-17 April 2021 in Vlodrop in the Netherlands.
LC&C stands in a rich tradition of group relations conferences, started in the nineteen fifties by the Tavistock Institute of Human relations in the UK. They are (mostly) residential conferences, centered around experimental learning, in which participants can explore in-depth their leadership roles.
When you attend a group relations conference for the first time, they give you an overwhelming experience, remembers Martha Mens: “I was a teacher and a dynamic at the playground struck me. If the playground is not fenced there, children do not use the full space of the playground. They stay close to the teachers. For me, it became clear that there is “No space without a boundary “. My being overwhelmed in organizational dynamics had to do with not to be aware and work with the connection between space and boundaries.”
Martha is in daily life a psychologist, lecturer at Utrecht University, and senior consultant Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. It is for her the third time that she directs the LC&C conference together with Bruno Chevolet, this time Bruno is in the role of Associate Director. Bruno is in daily life a certified consultant in institutional transformation and Managing Partner of TeamMotivation, a Belgium consulting firm.
Also, Bruno vividly remembers his first group relations conference: “I was a European steel industry manager when I went for the first time to an 8-days long residential conference. Liked many engineers I used to be a very rational and analytical guy, especially when it came to dealing with painful matters. Well into my forties I discovered there that I did have a good empathy! It was the first step in my personal transformation journey. At the end of that first conference, I decided I would for sure return the next year!”
You refer to ‘Leadership, Contact & Conflict – working beneath the surface’ as a “Group Relations conference”. What are “Group Relations Conferences” and what makes them unique?
Bruno: “Group Relations conferences can be defined as temporary organisations, where you can learn in a safe way to understand and deal with the conscious and unconscious dynamics of leadership and management in organisations.”
Martha: “There are clear tasks and several different fenced spaces where you can work on themes that are important for you. It is especially designed to study and explore organisational life as it happens here and now. There are no lectures, there are no teachers.”
In this conference you connect leadership to contact and conflict, why is that relevant?
Martha: “A lot of working dynamics in organisations have to do with making contact and connection with people. It is a very important part of everybody’s job. This working with differences does not happen automatically. It takes personal and collective leadership to do so.”
Bruno: “Conflicts are a very interesting type of contact, which we can address or avoid, just like we can take up a role or evade the challenge of taking it up. Leadership is also about confronting oneself with our challenges first, in order to be able to face conflicts in a constructive way.”
It seems there are two conferences in one: Application and Developing, what is the difference?
Bruno: “Both sub-conferences – Application and Developing – are intertwined and they have both common and distinct work sessions. We have added the Application sub-conference for those participants with enough previous experience of such conferences, who either wish to start learning intervening as a Group Relations consultant or who would like to discover new approaches for their work as a consultant or a coach. By design, the Developing sub-conference is for all other participants.”
Why do you maintain a physical conference while everybody has moved to “online” activities these times?
Bruno: “This pandemic will eventually finish. For sure it has triggered major work-life transformations for all of us, but we are social animals, and we are still craving physical encounters. Group dynamics will remain a major topic for all people and organizations. Most of the essential aspects of group psychodynamics can only be learnt through feeling, sensing, observing and experiencing live.”
Focus on the unconscious
There is quite some focus on the unconscious, what has that got to do with leadership?
Martha: “This is a very important notion. Why do things happen in organizations or in life? Those are real questions, where do you search for the answers? Only what you can see, or also in places that you are not aware of directly? You might call that the unconscious. Why is that important? I can illustrate that best with the quote of Carl Jung: ‘Why should we listen to the unconscious? Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate’.”
Bruno: “The adjective ‘unconscious’ has recently become more fashionable because many organisations have introduced the concept of ‘unconscious biases’ in their efforts to increase inclusion and diversity or gender balance. Before that, in most corporate environments it was not done to talk about the unconscious! But it has always impacted our mindsets, our behaviors, and our actions. We better get more familiar with that crucial part of ourselves!”
From CEO's to nursus
Who should attend such an experiential learning conference?
Bruno: “Absolutely anybody! Whether you are the CEO of a large multinational company, a young hospital nurse, a senior administration team leader, a consultant or a factory production manager doesn’t make any difference: as a human being, you will learn as much as anyone else in this conference. The diversity of backgrounds and experiences of the participants reinforces the depth of the learning experience!”
Drs. Martha.C.M. Mens MPC; psychologist, senior consultant Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, co-program developer, supervisor and study group consultant Inside Dynamics in Organisations, Utrecht University School of Governance (USG); the Netherlands.