Isabel Menzies Lyth: 1917-2008

E. Forrest Christian Theory Leave a Comment

I just read about the death of Isabel Menzies. She was a major force for good in healthcare organization and a long-time member of the Tavistock Institute. She died in February of this year.

The Independent carried an obituary of Menzies Lyth.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

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  1. Although Jaques was deeply involved with Tavistock during his early years he departed from the view that a group dynamics approach to organizational development is productive. Elliott’s fundamental assertion was that one’s employer has no business involving himself in the psychology of its employees and that each employee should be required to leave his or her own psychopathology at home. His work progressed to appeal to the human condition with the underlying assertion that providing people with meaningful work, developmental opportunities, relevant feedback and context and purpose that resonated with desirable human values would allow the individual the prospect of fiunctional bahavior and satsifaction.

    With full recognition of the value associated with requisite organization I question whether there is also a place for group dynamics and human relations in the workplace. The fact of the matter is people need to work productively together and from personal experience some of the best results are obtained when there is an energized team focused on the problem. A plethora of views is often desirable when reaching consensus on the path forward. I have observed group dynamics in full motion and have experienced the electric quality that can surface in these settings. Should the development of one’s skills and knowledge not also include opportunities to explore self, resolve obstacles that interfere with personal productivity, and to gain insight on the impact of one’s behavior on the broader organization? People are accepting when there is a process of discovery and when they understand they have choice. The individual feels empowered rather than victimized in a prescriptive and authoritarian environment where he feels he has no choice.

    A productive workplace is not merely defined by the relationships between one’s manager, his MoR, and himself but also is reliant on the ability of groups of people to work harmoniously and productively toward goals that are shared and for which there is a common sense of responsibility. While there is no substitute for accountability (and RO is a system that develops accountability) accountability has at its foundation a feeling of responsibility and perhaps a circular dynamic where if I feel responsible I also feel accountable and if I am accountable I must have a feeling of responsibility. Accountability is presented in the singular context while responsibility can be shared. It seems logical that the result stands to be better in an environment where everyone feels responsible than in an environment where no one feels responsible and one person is accountable.

    The answer is probably not in the domain of “or” and is likely in the domain of “and”. It is not either group dynamics or requisite organization. Rather it is group dynamics and requisite organization. The latter might find some broader appeal among organizations who strive for excellence and recognize the essential need for systematic change.

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