1st Edition

Systems Psychodynamics Innovative Approaches to Change, Whole Systems and Complexity

By David Lawlor, Mannie Sher Copyright 2023
    420 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    420 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In the second of this three-volume series, the authors expand on the theory and practice of systems psychodynamics  – which integrates psychoanalytic thinking, open systems theory and complexity theory – in its applications to consultancy work in organisations and wider social contexts.

    Multidisciplinary and multitheoretical in nature, the systems psychodynamics paradigm develops from the understanding that no single theory or approach explains the complex nature of organisational systems. Replete with explanations of key theories, practical guidance and exercises, this book demonstrates how systems psychodynamics can be used by consultants to plan and put into action organisational changes in four main areas: change planning and management; action research and evaluation; leadership and whole systems; and professional development and next steps. In light of systems psychodynamics, rather than functioning as a leader of change processes, the role of an organisational development consultant is one of providing containment, understanding and facilitation for others to take up their leadership roles responsibly in their change processes.

    With a focus on practical application in real situations, this book will be invaluable for psychoanalysts, managers, policymakers, consultants and researchers in a wide range of professional and clinical settings.

    Foreword by James Krantz



    Part One: Change 

    1. The Vicissitudes of Change 

    2. Socio-technical Systems and Change

    With Mee Yan Cheung-Judge

    3. Socio-technical Systems in the 21st Century (Part 1)

    With Bert Painter and Carolyn Ordowich

    4. Socio-technical Systems in the 21st Century (Part 2) 

    With Bert Painter and Carolyn Ordowich

    Part Two: Action Research and Evaluation 

    5. The Application of Action Research 

    6. Evaluation of Systems Psychodynamics Activities: Approaches and Challenges 

    Dione Hills 

    7. Planning and Conducting an Organisational Development Evaluation 

    Dione Hills 

    8. Varieties of Action Research 

    Part Three: Leadership and Whole Systems 

    9. Socio-ecological: Working with Large Complex Collaborative Partnerships (Whole Systems) 

    With Camilla Child

    10. Complexity Theory 

    With Eliat Aram

    11. The Systems Psychodynamics View of Leadership 

    With Eliat Aram, Anton Obholzer and Jonathan Gosling

    12. Social Dreaming

    With Susan Long and David Armstrong

    13. Systems Psychodynamics and the Impact of Digitalisation, AI and Virtual Working on the Eco-system 

    With Olya Khaleelee

    Part Four: Systems Psychodynamics Developments, Definitions and Professional Development 

    14. Professional Development for Systems Psychodynamics Consultants 

    With Anne Benson

    15. Systems Psychodynamics: Developments and Definitions 

    16. Theoretical  Developments in the Systems Psychodynamics Paradigm 

    Appendix I: Systems Psychodynamics: Organisational Resources 

    Appendix II: Literature Review on Systems Psychodynamics


    David Lawlor is professional partner at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, specialising in research and consultancy practice; co-director on Organisational Consultancy: Working with the Dynamics; visiting lecturer at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust; group relations consultant; formerly, head of the Social Work Discipline at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust; and principal consultant at Tavistock Consultancy.

    Mannie Sher  is principal social scientist at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations; formerly, director of Group Relations Programme; formerly, chair of British Association of Psychotherapists; former board member of International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations (ISPSO); author of The Dynamics of Change: Tavistock Approaches to Improving Social Systems (2013); and editor of Dynamics at Boardroom Level: A Tavistock Primer for Leaders, Coaches and Consultants; Lawlor, D. & Sher, M. (2022) and An Introduction to Systems Psychodynamics: Consultancy, Research and Training, Routledge.

    ‘Aristotle once said, "Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work". Unfortunately, best places to work are hard to find, the testimony being the dismal figures we can find worldwide concerning employee engagement. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that throughout my life, I have made a plea for the creation of authentizotic organisations—a term derived from the Greek words authenteekos and zoteekos. Or to be more specific, the first word refers to places of work that inspire their employees through the integrity of the vision, mission, values, culture, and organisational structure. The second word—"vital to life" in an organisational context—implies that people are invigorated by their workplace and find in it a sense of balance and completeness. Although the idea of authentizotic organisations may sound utopian, executives would do well to imbue their organizations with authentizotic qualities. And without question, in this quest for the creation of best places to work, the Tavistock Institute has always been a pathbreaker. Hence, it is a great pleasure to me to recommend this trilogy of books—a testimony to the continuing intellectual contribution of the Tavistock Institute in their efforts to improve human relations in organizations.’

    Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, distinguished clinical professor of Leadership Development and Organizational Change; The Raoul de Vitry d’Avaucourt chaired professor of Leadership Development, emeritus; INSEAD - The Business School for the World

    ‘Mannie Sher and David Lawlor, with the contributors to this volume, have assembled a wealth of academic and practical information about ways in which systems psychodynamics may inform organisational change practitioners’ ways of thinking about organisations and of intervening in them. Through a series of diverse contributions, the authors sensitise us to the nature of the many challenges, not always sufficiently recognised, with which organisational change practitioners must tussle, and possible ways of overcoming them. Their rich accounts illustrate the necessity for organisational change consultants to approach their practice in ways that: are holistic and not confined to isolated interventions in particular parts of organisational systems; recognise that organisations are in a continual state of becoming rather than static objects that will respond dependably to simple, step-by-step change management methods; and acknowledge that the inevitable incompleteness of their own knowledge confines them to the role of useful facilitators rather than assured champions of beneficial change with known outcomes. This volume will prove to be a rich resource for organisational change practitioners who seek to advance, and introduce useful novelty into, their practice.’

    David Shaw, independent researcher in the philosophy of management; author of An Ancient Greek Philosophy of Management Consulting

    ‘The founding of the original Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology in 1920 became the intellectual ‘rootstock’, to use a horticultural image of the Project, and as with such a rootstock, various developments - clinical, research, publications - were grafted onto the original stem. The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations was always the core of the societal and commercial part of the Project. In this, the second volume of a trilogy on a Tavistock systems psychodynamics paradigm, the authors, David Lawlor and Mannie Sher, have excelled themselves in producing a volume that details the emergence and development of the core construct - something that is essential if one is inclined to harness the richness of the system. The word ‘Tavi’ is now so widely used that it has almost become meaningless. This, the second volume of the second Tavistock Trilogy should go a long way in highlighting the heart of the work and every serious worker and library should have this Trilogy on their bookshelf.’

    Anton Obholzer, member, British Psychoanalytic Society; emeritus senior faculty member INSEAD Global Leadership Centre, Paris

    ‘In the second volume of this most valuable trilogy, Lawlor, Sher, and the contributing authors, examine a broad range of applications of the systems psychodynamic approach. If much systems psychodynamics theory has focused on explicating the persistence of dysfunction in groups and organizations, this book reminds us that an equally important focus of this approach is its ability to cast a light on, and facilitate, the emergence of the new in social systems. The authors deploy the characteristic depth and breadth of systems psychodynamics. They pay equal attention on the psychological and social forces that shape individual and organizational behavior as they examine an emergent workplace characterized by omnipresent markets and dangerously charismatic leaders, in which relations with technology are as emergent and fascinating as relations through technology. Readers will find it most valuable to look at the emerging world of work through the lens of systems psychodynamics, to learn about how to use this approach to facilitate intentional, large-scale change, and to consider how to make sure that changes stick. I also found extremely valuable the consideration of what it means, and what it takes, to incorporate this approach in one’s work. It takes personal development to facilitate the development of others and organizations. This volume, and the trilogy it is part of, provides a much welcome map for those journeys of growth and change.’

    Gianpiero Petriglieri, associate professor of Organisational Behaviour, INSEAD