This Glossary was originally published in 'Working Below the Surface: The Emotional Life of Contemporary Organizations', edited by Clare Huffington, William Halton, David Armstrong, and Jane Pooley (published by Karnac Books in 2004), and is reprinted with kind permission of Karnac Books.


Action research:

Research model derived from the work of Lewin where insight into a process is gained by creating a change and then observing the variable effects and new dynamics.


Attachment Theory:

Theory pioneered by John Bowlby (1907–1990) studying infants’ instinctive responses to separation from their primary care-giver and the nature of their tie to them.


Authority and power:

Power is an attribute of persons or of groups. It refers to the ability and readiness to act upon others to achieve a given result.  Authority is an attribute of systems.  It refers to the right of persons or groups to make and accept accountability for decisions which are binding on others, without reference back.  Power without authority raises questions of legitimacy; authority without power raises questions of effectiveness.


Basic assumption:

Term introduced by Bion (1961) to refer to one of two omnipresent modes of mental functioning in groups, in which members behave as if they shared unspoken and unconscious assumptions about the group, its task and leadership.  Bion identifies three variants of basic assumption functioning:


Dependence: The group is dependent on a leader, experienced as the source of all knowledge, health and power.


Fight–flight: The group is in fight or flight from an “enemy” (object or idea) and the leader’s role is to mobilize fight or flights so as to preserve the group.


Pairing:: The group looks to the pairing between two members (or equivalents) to generate the new “saving” idea.  Later authors have added other assumptions to these three, e.g. One-ness (Turquet, 1975) and Me-ness (Lawrence, Bain, & Gould, 1996).


Complexity theory:

A systems theory of organizations that draws on the idea that interacting components of the organization will self-organize to form evolving structures and an emergent set of organizational properties.



A highly generalized concept formulated by Bion (1962, 1970) to designate a state of integration in terms of a reciprocity between two functions; a containing function and a contained function; for example, between a baby (contained) and its mother (container) or between an individual (contained) and the group/organization (container).  Catastrophic anxiety about survival is stirred up if the containing function breaks down or when it has to be substantively transformed through a forceful explosion of growth in the contained.


Defence against anxiety:

A phrase implying that a mental mechanism, and by extension an organizational configuration or behaviour, is being used to keep anxiety at bay.


Depressive position:

A term introduced by Klein to refer to a state of psychological integration of love and hate towards another person or object seen realistically as having good and bad aspects.


Ecological perspective:

Term used to refer to understanding the impact of the social, political and economic environment on an organizational system.


Enactment; Inactment:

Enactment refers to the projection (placing) of internal needs and defences on to an external environment that appears to mirror them.  Inactment means unconsciously responding in feelings or behaviour to stimuli coming from the external environment.  The difference lies in the point of origin.


Envy, jealousy and rivalry:

Envy refers to the desire to spoil something good simply because it is good, but does not belong to the self.  Jealousy is a hostile feeling at being excluded from a relationship with a loved person.  Rivalry is a feeling of competition with another person for a desired object.


Failed dependency:

A state of mind in which individuals and/or groups feel let down by the failure of an institution to meet their needs.


Force field analysis:

Analytic technique developed by Lewin to understand what forces will enable change to occur and what forces will be barriers against change.



Term used by Erikson (1963) to refer to the middle stage in life where there is an active participation in productive and creative areas of life, particularly showing concern for the welfare of ensuing generations.


Good and bad objects:

A shorthand way of referring to the separation of conflicting aspects of objects in the paranoid–schizoid position, as if good and bad aspects belong to different people or objects.


Group relations model:

The theory and method developed by the The Tavistock Institute and associated bodies, including Tavistock Consulting, for understanding and exploring the dynamics of intra- and intergroup behaviour, drawing on the pioneering studies of Wilfred Bion (1948–1951).



An environment that is experienced as emotionally containing.  One where significant others are able to accept and consider intense feelings without being compelled to act out a retaliatory response.



A mental mechanism of the paranoid–schizoid position that unrealistically exaggerates the good aspects of an object to the exclusion of any deficiencies.



A psychological mechanism for assimilating self and object.  It can operate by introjection or by projection: introjective identification by which the object’s characteristics are ascribed to the self and projective identification by which the self’s characteristics are ascribed to the object.


Inner world:

A Kleinian concept of an unconscious internal psychic space in which internal objects interact with each other.


Input–conversion–output model:

The model used in open systems theory to refer to the processes on which the organization and its component parts depend to maintain their viability in a given environment.


Institutional or organizational transference and counter-transference:

A variant of transference and counter-transference (cf. below) where the relationship transferred and elicited has an institutional significance or meaning; e.g. a consultant experiences the feeling of being placed in a role in the client’s organization-in-the-mind.



The act of giving a meaning different to the intended meaning or literal meaning of thoughts, words or actions.


Large group process:

The conscious and unconscious patterning of behaviour in large groups, usually related to the preservation of identity (Turquet, 1975).


Learning organization:

An organization that learns and encourages learning among its people.  It promotes exchange of information between employees, hence creating a more knowledgeable workforce. This produces a flexible organization where people will accept and adapt to new ideas and changes through a shared vision.


Leicester conferences:

A series of residential educational conferences held at Leicester University by The Tavistock Institute since 1957, designed to explore group dynamics and leadership through experiential learning (Miller, 1990).



A concept with a complex technical history that broadly means being in love with oneself at the expense of relationships with others.


Oedipal phantasies:

Phantasies derived from the Oedipus complex in which the self feels like a child excluded from the parental sexual relationship.


Organization and enterprise:

An organization is a collection of individuals organized into a social arrangement where they interact with one another in pursuit of common goals.  An enterprise is a distinctive practice or set of practices that embody an organization’s implicit or explicit concept of the work it does.


Organization as system:

Refers to ways of understanding how organizations function as systems and how what happens in any one part cannot be separated from what is happening elsewhere.


Osmotic boundary-keeping function:

The system is dependent on the wider environment for its needs to be satisfied and in order to survive and keep its function the system has to constantly adapt as it interacts across a boundary with an environment that may be continuously changing and increasing in complexity.


Paranoid–schizoid position:

A term introduced by Klein to refer to a state of psychological splitting in which conflicting emotions are kept apart and good and bad aspects of people or objects are also kept separate.


Person–role–system model:

Term used to understand the interrelatedness between the individual as a person, the individual in their role, and the organization as a system.



Phantasies is a term used to distinguish unconscious imaginings from conscious fantasies and daydreaming.


Primary process:

The emotional undercurrent elicited by the nature of an organization’s work that may interfere with its performance.


Primary task:

Term used by Rice to mean the task that the organization “must perform to survive”, which was later developed by Lawrence and Robinson (1975) to distinguish between the normative primary task (what the organization ought to pursue); the existential primary task (what members believe they are doing) ; and the phenomenal primary task (hypothesis about what members are engaged in and of which they may not be consciously aware).


Process consultancy:

Style of consultancy described by Schein as being less concerned with the content of a problem and more with the process by which the individual, group, or organization identifies and solves problems.



A term used to refer to a neglected function of “containment”: establishing a sense of lively engagement with an “object” person or thing.


Psychotic anxiety–paranoid/persecutory anxiety:

Psychotic or paranoid anxiety is part of the paranoid–schizoid position in which the principal anxiety is the destruction of the self by imaginary bad objects.  Persecutory anxiety may also refer to painful feelings in the depressive position about damaging or losing good objects.



Technique used by consultants when giving feedback to the client in the diagnostic phase to reframe a problem or issue so it can be seen from a different and more positive perspective.



Resistance implies a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept reality for emotional reasons.


Secure base:

Concept developed from Bowlby’s work on physical separation that focuses on the primary care-giver’s availability (sensitivity and responsiveness) to the infant.  A child that experiences this emotional availability (secure base) is able to venture out appropriately and explore their environment.


Selected fact:

Term used by Bion to describe a sense of discovering coherence through an emotional or cognitive synthesis of disordered elements.


Social systems as a defence against anxiety:

A theoretical perspective that highlights the way in which organizational structures and patterns of behaviour are designed to protect the individual against anxiety.  The anxiety may arise from the nature of the task, the patterning of the environment, the gradient of change, etc. (cf. Enactment: Inactment).



An internal parental function that can be experienced as helpful or punitive.



Activities and relations with a boundary. Systems may be open or closed. Open systems are those that are dependent for their survival and growth on continuous exchange with their environment, across their boundary. (Note: open systems, however, may on occasion behave as if they were self-sustaining.)


Transference and counter-transference:

Transference occurs when the client brings into a relationship with a consultant something that belongs elsewhere.  Counter-transference is the response in the consultant, which may take the form of a feeling, or of a pressure to take up a particular role, that gives the consultant information about the emotional state of the client or of the client’s organization.



An individual’s propensity to take up a particular role in a group or to adopt a particular type of basic assumption.


Work group:

The counterpart to basic assumption functioning (cf. above), in which members cooperate around an overt task with due regard to external and internal realities and a capacity to learn from experience.