Consultancy and action research

In the early 1990s I was convinced of the value of doing Social Dreaming in organisations as part of a Consultancy or Action Research project. I wrote a paper in 1994 with the title Social Dreaming and Organisations: The Potential”. The value of doing Social Dreaming I thought would be self evident and I concluded the paper by writing “The rewards are waiting”. I was wrong for reasons I will come to later in this section, but first I want to describe the first experience of using Social Dreaming in Organisations, in Australia  which led to my conviction about its value.

“Organisational Dreaming" was used for the first time in Australia as part of a consultancy project with the Wasley Institute Management Group in Perth, Western Australia in April 1994. We didn’t have the words “Organisational Dreaming” at the time but used instead the generic description of “Social Dreaming” to refer to what we were doing. The Task of the consultancy was “To develop the commitment necessary to form a Trust to run the organisation”. During the first day of the consultancy it was evident that there was some ambivalence among the six members of the Management Group about this, and the form it would take. At the end of the day I suggested that we start with a Social Dreaming Matrix the next day, and I gave an explanation of what it would mean. There was agreement and some enthusiasm. The dreams that were offered by members of the group on the second day of the consultancy, together with associations, illuminated a shared unexpressed known that the members of the group all felt “illegitimate” in various ways. 

This “illegitimacy” was precluding them from “owning” what they were doing and acting with authority in their roles in the Management Group. The dreams, associations, and connections helped bring into shared consciousness the dilemmas and opportunities that were present, and provided members of the group with the opportunity of developing another space for themselves. Later in the day the Management Group met formally to propose, sanction, and implement the decision to form a Trust. In organisational dreaming the dreaming is generated, and held, within three containers:

  1. The Task of the Matrix: “To offer dreams, make associations to the dreams, and to make connections between the dreams”.
  2. The Task of the Project: In the case of this consultancy “To develop the commitment necessary to form a Trust to run the organisation”.
  3. The Task of the Organisation. In this case, the Wasley Institute primary task which was to do with providing psychological services, education and training programs for individuals and organisations.

 

The task of Consultant is to draw attention to possible connections between dreams, links to the task of the consultancy, and offer hypotheses about dynamics.

Within organisational dreaming these three containers help shape the dreams that are offered, and provide a vertex for the associations that are made to the dreams, and for exploring the meanings of the dream. The focus in organisational dreaming is not on the meaning of the dream for the individual dreamer (that is left to the dreamer), but on what may illuminate organisational realities. An organisational dreaming matrix uncovers often unexpressed knowns about organisational realities, and through the work and imaginative play with others developing and making shared organisational meaning”.

A fuller description of Organisational Dreaming can be found in The Organisation Containing and Being Contained by Dreams: The Organisation as a Container for Dreams” (Bain, 2007). This article describes an action learning project carried out between September 2002 and September 2003 by the Australian Institute of Socio-Analysis. The Consultants working on the project were Brigid Nossal, Christopher Falkingham and the author.

The Dreaming Matrix at one stage ran foul of the CEO who wanted to interfere with the process. The Matrix resisted this pressure and voted to continue meeting. I began to realize how the democratizing aspects of the Matrix threatened the established authority modes. While organisational dreaming has been used successfully in consultancy projects with schools, and Workshops with the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, Telstra, PIFA, and Victoria Police, it has not become a methodology favoured by far seeing CEOs as I thought it would in 1994.  I would suggest that the reason lies in the democratizing threat to the established organisational hierarchy.

While there have been valuable action research and organisational consultancies using organisational dreaming the tendencies from the growth of dreaming in Australia – the spiritual, taking authority for task and self, the absence of hierarchy, authority derived from Sangha, people on the same path - are at an angle pointing away from the “Corporate” –  or perhaps at such a sharp angle towards the “Corporate” to be felt to be threatening and   to cause pain.

The more general observation is that social and organisational dreaming is subversive of the establishment order – whether the “order” is the individual mind, the relationship between individual and group, organisational hierarchy, the nature of authority, or views about the nature of dreams (see Bion, 1970, pp 112-113 for a discussion of the concept 'Establishment'). Social and Organisational Dreaming share this subversive tendency with other socio-analytic methodologies which are concerned with the exploration of psychological truth.


References

Bain, A. Organisational Dreaming , Article in PACAWA Newsletter, February, 2006, No. 35.

Bain, A. “The Organisation Containing and Being Contained by Dreams: The Organisation as a Container for Dreams (1)" in Infinite Possibilities of Social Dreaming Ed. W. G. Lawrence, Karnac Books, London, 2007.

Bion W. R. Attention and Interpretation. Tavistock Publications, London, 1970.


Comments