Attention, Cooperation, Purpose: An Approach to Working in Groups Using Insights from Wilfred Bion

Author(s) : Robert French, Author(s) : Peter Simpson

Attention, Cooperation, Purpose: An Approach to Working in Groups Using Insights from Wilfred Bion

Book Details

  • Publisher : Karnac Books
  • Published : 2014
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 176
  • Category :
    Group Psychotherapy
  • Catalogue No : 35224
  • ISBN 13 : 9781782201311
  • ISBN 10 : 1782201319

Customer Reviews

Our customers have given this title an average rating of 5 out of 5 from 2 review(s), add your own review for this title.

Dr Andrew Taylor on 02/03/2016 10:14:32

Rating1Rating2Rating3Rating4Rating5 (5 out of 5)

This book gives a fascinating insight into the hidden dynamics that go on when a group of people get together for an intended purpose. The analysis, helped along by easy to read stories from the personal experiences of the authors, illustrates how things can go badly or can go well in group situations and gives constructive ideas about how to get things back on track when the group gets distracted from its purpose.

As a practising family doctor, I was particularly interested in the authors' description of different forms of attention - "focused" and "evenly suspended". It struck me that the skill of looking after patients depends on the doctor's ability to utilise both forms of attention. While there is a clear necessity to focus on the details of symptoms, signs and the results of diagnostic tests, without a wider, often intuitive attention to the patient's emotional and perhaps spiritual well being, it can be easy to get distracted (to use another concept from the book) from the main purpose of looking after the person. I understood my own thinking processes better as a result of reading this book.

Dr Catherine Sandler on 02/03/2016 10:13:36

Rating1Rating2Rating3Rating4Rating5 (5 out of 5)

This excellent and highly readable book is a really useful addition to the (rather sparse) literature on the unconscious but powerful dynamics that take place in working groups. The authors take as their starting point the ideas of Wilfrid Bion, a leading and highly influential psychoanalyst associated with the Tavistock tradition who wrote a ground-breaking book called Experiences in Group in 1948. They succeed in sharing, extending and illustrating his ideas in a way which makes them accessible and relevant to any reader interested in this topic.

In particular, the book explains Bion's eye-opening ideas about the difficulty that groups have in remaining focused on their stated and agreed purpose. Anyone with experience of team meetings, project meetings, committee meetings or any other kind of meeting will recognise only too well how easily groups become distracted from the task in hand! Instead, the time is filled with discussion of tangential or irrelevant activities that leads the group away from achieving its goal. In Bion's and the authors' view, this is not simply due to boredom or the behaviour of a few undisciplined individuals but is a collective unconscious response to the anxiety and discomfort evoked by the work task itself. Bion suggested that, when a group slips into this mode, its members collude "without realising it" in various forms of avoidance behaviour. What French and Simpson do so well is to bring alive these ideas with numerous examples and stories of this phenomenon, drawing on their own experience as consultants and teachers and those of their clients and colleagues.

In addition, the book adds something very important to Bion's ideas about how groups distract themselves from their work by focusing in some detail on what happens when groups are working well—when they do manage to remain focused on their purpose and pay attention to the task. This provides a helpful balance to the negative side of group dynamics and enables those who work in or with groups to understand what happens when things are going right as well as wrong. Again, their ideas are illustrated with case-studies that are enormously helpful in visualising and understanding the concepts being discussed.

Finally, I particularly like the last chapter of the book which addresses the question of how consultants or those who participate in workplace groups can develop their own capacity to pay attention to what is going on under the surface, and so learn how to help groups regain their focus and achieve their purpose

As an executive coach working with teams as well as individuals, I would highly recommend this book to all those working to help groups be as productive as possible, especially during times of organisational change when anxiety is likely to be at its highest. It will also be of interest and use to anyone who spends time in groups and who is curious to understand what makes them tick.

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