Tavistock Consulting - Implementing Change



Tavistock Consulting was established in 1994 to innovate around a long Tavistock tradition of leadership and organisational consultancy.

Our ‘systems-psychodynamic’ approach is essentially the application of three overlapping epistemological traditions: psychoanalysis, systems theory and group relations thinking as applied to organisations.

1920s The Tavistock Clinic was founded to offer a therapeutic service to returning servicemen. One of its founders, Wilfred Bion, pioneered the study of leadership and group and organisational dynamics – still a strong influence on our work.

1940s Bion and John Rickman conducted the ‘Northfield Experiments’ into group dynamics. After the Second World War Tavistock staff began working in an advisory role on recruitment to certain large companies. When the NHS was founded in 1948, the organisational ‘arm’ became the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, an integral part of the enterprise.

1950s Radical Tavistock thinkers embarked on action research projects. One study by Eric Trist led to the discovery of self-regulating work groups in a coal mine and from this emerged the new paradigm – ‘socio-technical systems’.

1960s Following the publication of Isabel Menzies Lyth’s seminal work "Social Systems as a Defence against Anxiety", which developed our understanding of how unconscious processes impact organisational life, the 1960s saw many studies looking at social dynamics in various industrial settings. Eric Miller and A.K. Rice’s "Systems of Organisation" demonstrated how the structure of work and the nature and use of resources affect how people work and how effective an organisation can be.

1970s Working at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, Wilfred Bion, Eric Miller, Eric Trist, Harold Bridger, Isabel Menzies Lyth and David Armstrong blended theories from social science, psychoanalysis and open systems theory, which still form the basis of Tavistock Consulting’s approach.

1980s A series of workshops and scientific enquiries at the Tavistock Clinic, under the leadership of Anton Obholzer, progressed this thinking and formed the development of our Masters programme: "Consultation and leading in the organisations: psychodynamics and systemic approaches (D10)".

1990s In 1994 the Tavistock Consultancy Service was established as a non-profit business unit.  Part of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust and under the leadership of Jon Stokes, the original staff group included Clare Huffington and David Armstrong.  The strong impetus behind the establishment of the Tavistock Consultancy Service was the continuation within the Trust of the ‘Tavistock Enterprise’ (Armstrong 2012), in working with organisations and contributing to thought leadership in the field.  1994 saw the publication of the seminal text ‘The Unconscious at Work’ (Obholzer and Roberts).

2000s Since 2000 the business continued to flourish and remains an integral part of the (now) Foundation Trust.  In 2004 ‘Working below the Surface: The Emotional Life of Contemporary Organisations’, authored by staff consultants Clare Huffington, David Armstrong, William Halton, Linda Hoyle and Jane Pooley was published.  Our client base expanded as we applied our approach to more commercial organisations and across a wider range of health and public sector bodies.

2010s Our team of core staff has grown to eight and we extend our reach nationally and internationally with an active group of associate consultants.  Our high-profile events include a hugely successful international symposium on the theme of ‘The Future of Work’ for the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations and a scholarly symposium to consider the contemporary application of social systems as a defence against anxiety.  In 2011 we rebranded as Tavistock Consulting with the sector focus that forms our current business strategy.  We have also extended our range of courses, developed an Executive Coaching programme to senior practitioner level and initiated an accredited professional doctorate degree, which along with the MA, is a substantial part of the Tavistock Consulting training portfolio.