Courage to Connect: Navigating the Complexities of Organisational Life - a Group Relations Conference

Conference overview

We live and work in complex formal and informal organisational contexts. The liveliness, energy, interest and respect that we can bring to each other and to our work is part of what takes collective efforts forwards into new ways of thinking and working together. This can be hard to keep hold of when the prevailing climate of our social world is so filled with open and hidden conflicts, stalemate, and a growing threat of intolerance and ruthlessness in social life. What do we do with our care and commitment, and with our interest in different perspectives, under these kinds of pressures?


It can be difficult in organisational contexts to stay connected to the shared qualities in all of us, wherever we are located in terms of role, level of organisational authority, or our area of responsibility, whatever our background. It can be easier to see  and hear only those aspects of each other that fit with the easy explanation for other people’s different ways of  being. or of undertaking their work. Finding the courage to  join up with others, to try and discover what we don’t yet know, can be a painful and unsettling  discipline – but without it, we can end up isolated and vulnerable, and can lose the possibility of being able to connect as a whole. And in disconnecting, we not only waste energy that could take the work of the collective forward, but we also risk losing hope, aspiration, and the capacity to challenge in the interests of growth and change.

Our organisations need us to remain connected  and eager to explore; alert to the impact we have on each other and on the system in which we work, aware of the unconscious as well as the conscious judgments we make and the actions we take.

In this 5-day Group Relations Conference,  there will be the opportunity to discover more, as a group, about the challenges and rewards of remaining connected by working in an immersive environment as a ‘temporary organisation’. In other words, the whole conference, including members and staff, will be focussed on the task of trying to learn more about organisational processes by learning from the work of the group itself. There will be opportunities to look differently, to listen with imagination, and to understand the impact when this isn’t possible.  As with any organisation, this ‘temporary  organisation’ will present the tensions of working in particular roles, in different levels of authority, and with differing assumptions about the task and about each others’ capacities to lead and to actively follow. At the same time, we hope that there will be the opportunity to explore the possibilities for remaining connected even when it takes courage and entails the risks that can come with  exploring the  unknown.  

Conference plenaries involve the whole membership. The opening plenary invites  members and staff  to share their experiences of ‘crossing the boundary’ into the  conference ie what is desired or feared, what left behind?  The closing plenary will be an opportunity to reflect as individuals on what has been experienced and what might be taken from this experience.

Small study groups are an opportunity to work in a group of no more than 11 people, in order to better understand small group processes as they occur.

Large study groups are where all members come together to experience and learn about the interpersonal processes arising in a large group.

Review groups provide  a space for up to 8 members to review together  the experience of the conference, including exploration of the roles taken up and opportunities still be to explored. A central aspect of the review group is using the perspectives of  other members to make sense of individual experiences.

Application groups continue the work in the review groups,  and are an opportunity to explore links between conference experience and each individual’s experience in their own organisation. Again, making use of the experiences of   other  members is key to this.

Intergroup event  offers the chance to experience and explore relationships between groups, and the challenges and opportunities of exercising authority on behalf of others.

Organisational event explores a setting where there is a recognised management group, explicit roles and levels of authority. What kind of organisation is created, how it is experienced, and how open it is to change and development will be influenced by the conscious and unconscious beliefs brought to it.

The conference is for people in any kind of working role who are interested in understanding more about how organisations work – and why they don’t sometimes.  It is open to people who currently work or study at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, or are on any Tavistock accredited courses in the UK, and to those from settings external to the Tavistock.  A range of backgrounds will be represented including social work, educational psychology, child psychotherapy, systemic family therapy and psychiatry, and organisational consultancy.  

‘It was an honour for me to be given the opportunity. And I both enjoyed the privilege to attend and learnt from the hard experiences’ – Member

‘Fascinating and memorable experience! Thank you!’  - Member

‘I would do it again and recommend it to others’. – Member

‘A highlight was the chance to really explore one’s own motivations and behaviours, and check that the self-dialogue one gives oneself is honest,  and really seek a deeper level of understanding of self and others’ – Training Group member. 

‘There was a lot in the conference, which will undoubtedly digest and marinate over time.  The highlight was the in- between position, really incredibly hard to hold at times, with the wish to be staff or at times the wish to join the members.  However, I have to say that the Review and Application groups did so much to unpack the experience in relation to the organisation and self’. – Training Group member

‘I valued being part of the TG working; particularly the continuity of working together throughout the conference and grappling with our role as the TG; being in between staff and members. It helped me to think about leadership and my own middle management issues at work as well as putting me back in touch with my own ambition’. – Training Group member

  • Full Training Group fee: £880
  • 20% discounted Training Group fee for Tavistock staff/students:  £705
  • Trust Staff if sponsored: £55

Training Group (applications open end of August)

  • Full Training Group fee: £880
  • 20% discounted Training Group fee for Tavistock staff/students:  £705
  • Trust Staff if sponsored: £55

Wider membership (applications open end of September)

If  you are a student here, please check with your course to see if the GRC fee is covered by your course fee. If not, the fees are:

  • Membership fee £750
  • Tavistock staff and students entitled to 20% discount ie £600

There may be a limited number of sponsored places available to Trust staff.  For more information on fees please contact the conference administrator at

Applications are open now. Please apply by Friday 6 December 2019.

(Training Group only – Sunday 15th pm)

Whole membership (including Training Group)

Monday December 16th  9.45 am to 6.15pm (Registration from 9:00)

Tuesday December 17th  9.30am to 6.30pm

Wednesday December 18th 9.30am to 6.30pm

Thursday December 19th  9.30am to 6.30pm

Friday December 20th  9.30am to 4.15pm followed by drinks

To maximize the conference learning for you and other attendees, we ask all members to commit to attending the whole of all five days.

NB Training Group members need also to commit to  the initial meeting in the afternoon of Sunday 15 December . The TG timetable may also entail commitments beyond the timetable for the wider membership.

Conference Director

Lydia Hartland-Rowe is Portfolio Manager (Psychological Therapies) at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, and currently the delivery lead for the Tavisock’s Add I Wellbeing project working with SME’s to provide organisational support  in relation to workplace well-being. Originally trained as a psychoanalytic child and adolescent psychotherapist, she has been involved in applied  and clinical trainings at the Tavistock for over 15 years, and was a Cohort Director on the    Elizabeth Garrett Anderson NHS Leadership Academy MSc.  She has been involved a range of  roles in group relations since 1999.

Conference Associate Director 

Dr Kathy Harrington is Principal Lecturer in Educational and Professional Development at London Metropolitan University and an organisational consultant in private practice. She is also an Honorary Psychotherapist at Camden Psychotherapy Unit, and has been a Visiting Tutor at the Tavistock on the Masters in Consulting and Leading in Organisations and the Professional Doctorate in Child, Community and Educational Psychology.


Training Group Director

Mary B. McRae is a retired New York University professor of Applied Psychology, where she taught courses in Group Dynamics and Multicultural Counseling for 27 years.  Her scholarship involves a psychoanalytic and systemic study of authority and leadership in groups and organisations with a focus on issues of difference related to social identities (race, ethnicity, gender, social class, sexual orientation and culture) and occupational roles. She currently is in private practice as a psychotherapist, coach, and group facilitator. 

The conference also offers the opportunity for a group of no more than 12 members with previous group relations membership experience to work in experiential as well as consultative roles. The training group has its own additional schedule and events. Early application is recommended as places are allocated on a competitive basis.

  • Applicants for the Training Group need previous membership experience of at least two Group Relations Conferences to be eligible to apply.
  •  The Training Group schedule will involve time on the afternoon of Sunday 15th December and may entail earlier start and later finish times than the wider membership.

The Tavistock Centre, London
16 December 2019 11:11 to 20 December 2019 11:12

Applications closed

Download the application form