Discussion

I adopted a group-analytically informed approach, aided by a mixture of discussion exercises, creative enactments, and free, unstructured dialogue. I listened out for resonant and dissonant themes, noted patterns of group exchange (including tone, sub-groups, power-relations, etc.), noting key metaphors and storylines, seeking a "locational" view of disturbance, that is, understanding given problems and their proffered solutions within the context of definitions, history, service networks, and demands. A pre-eminently pragmatic and contextual notion, Foulkes' (1968) notion of "location of the disturbance" invites participants into each other's shoes and positions, inviting joint effort to figure out that which hinders and that which helps practice. Location is not thought of so much as like a place on a map, a fixed point, but as part of a configuration that can change and can be seen from different angles. This approach to consultation has pragmatic, therapeutic value in itself, in so far as "defining a problem" already begins to change how those things are seen and appraised. "A problem well put, is a ..."

Using perspectival understanding, it seemed that the team was torn between warring definitions of its core troubles. Each version of the "rights and wrongs" had a life of its own, associated with passionate attachments, suffering and striving (e.g., "I've suffered a lot as a result "Let's hear a bit more about that for a change", etc.). Some members emphasised a historical journey (designated as "baggage" by others), populated by themes of injury and loss, with stark contrasts between a "then" and a "now" and images of an appreciative versus a hostile world; the subjectivities, if one puts it this way, associated with this were of an angry, injured, and mournful nature and the moral themes were of "good past" and "honourable leaders" versus "bad present", and so on. One could hear this in terms of storylines (e.g., "grandeur and decline") with particular definitions of the world and the agents in it. This view was well asserted, but to others it represented a lost cause and constraint. The reference to grief in the discussion was doubled-edged: grief respects memory, reopens past pain, whilst at the same time anticipates a "letting go". Pain is a powerful constituent of memory and can become a focus of identity, constituting a wound or a "grand cause". Hardly surprisingly, an observation I ventured about a risk of being "stuck in nostalgia" must have felt like a criticism to some.

If the "loss and decline" perspective was clearly expressed, the perspective that emphasised current talent and achievement was voiced tentatively, partly explained by a senior/junior distinction in the team. In not wanting to be "held back" by past struggles, theirs was a perspective driven by the wish to "get on" and put enthusiasm to work. The subjectivities associated with this were eagerness and optimism, but also frustration when thwarted, the moral themes being ones of "lost world", "old cause", or "old guard" versus "new world/dynamic staff", and so on. The storyline suggested "world as opportunity and adventure", and was certainly forward-looking.

The scenario may point to nothing more than a polarity of perspectives, in which the dominant perspective carried a surplus of pain, too much history, as it were. And did the contrasting perspective carry too little history, even "forgetfulness" about the historical context, but also require recognition? There seemed to be a struggle of perspectival projections, the wish to hold the world to one's will: for example, one group might see the others as an old guard, clinging to the past, whilst they might in turn be seen as naive, inexperienced workers not wanting to know about the losses. Those who simply wished to "get on" represented a third, mixed perspective, presumably containing some reactive frustrations to the other two. They represented themselves as the "realists" and "level-headed", operating in a world of "opportunities and challenges".

My objective was to model and foster a spirit of inquiry and, within the constraints of one day, to respond to their requests, knowing that requests are always already refracted by struggles for definitions and power-relations (e.g., the manager has the right to authorize a consultation, and to give the "first view"). I aimed to foster different kinds of conversational and conceptual space, the objective being to help the team to identify those constraints, losses, and repetitive processes that caused suffering and were standing in the way of progress. I had no privileged viewpoint or meta-position, but tried to gather the implications and possibilities of each perspective, hopefully a more integrated view. A situation constituted by chronic conflict calls for more varied perspectives and unblocking; if group life is seen as a field of becoming, then, in a case such as this, the consultant has to keep note of which perspectives assert themselves, those that do not, and at what value and cost to all. When conflicts are articulated and valued, they may in time lose some of their potency to dominate a field of relations. At the end of the day there is seldom "one problem" to be identified, but perhaps there can be a more workable and newer nexus of relations and definitions.

 
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