Jump to content

Tavistock Institute

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Tavistock Institute of Human Relations
Formation20 September 1947; 76 years ago (1947-09-20)
FoundersElliott Jaques, Henry Dicks, Leonard Browne, Ronald Hargreaves, John Rawlings Rees, Mary Luff, Wilfred Bion, and Tommy Wilson
Legal statusCharity
PurposeTo improve working life and conditions for people within organisations, communities and broader societies
HeadquartersGee Street, London
  • Gee Street, London
United Kingdom
Servicesaction research, organisational development and change consultancy, evaluation, executive coaching and professional development
FieldsSocial Science: trans-disciplinary
Dr Eliat Aram
Parent organization
The Tavistock Association[1][2]

The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations is a British not-for-profit social science organisation, working with challenging issues for the public good: providing practical help for people and organisations to learn, lead, change and innovate, especially in difficult times.

It was formally established in September 1947. It publishes a peer-reviewed journal Human Relations with Sage Publications[3] and it hosts the journal Evaluation. The Institute is located in Gee Street in Clerkenwell, London.[4]

Current activities[edit]

The Tavistock Institute offers research, consultancy, project evaluation work and professional development programmes, based on unique methodologies drawn from social sciences and applied psychology.[3] Methods include systems psychodynamics, complexity theory, Theory of Change and Social Dreaming. The main method is experiential learning - learning through experience.

The Institute's website[5] describes its work as having a focus on how humans relate to each other and non-human systems, how people grow and learn and effect creativity and change, in groups.

The ways of working include:

  • providing safe spaces for difficult conversations
  • working with the unexpected
  • working with hidden (perhaps unconscious) factors
  • providing thinking spaces for reflection and learning
  • support with working across and between boundaries – transitional spaces
  • alternative perspectives on developing partnerships and collaborations
  • developing learning organisations

The Leicester Conference, the Institute's flagship group relations conference, held annually since 1957, is a 2 week residential conference, offering experiential learning about leadership, followership, authority and power. One person said: "Far better than conventional training for actually changing and improving leadership ability”. The approach is now used in many other Group Relations conferences and is also adapted for use in organisations and on business training programmes, internationally.

The Institute has a focus on Arts and Organisation including The Deepening Creative Practice learning programme as well as exhibitions, performances, community arts, the Organisational Aesthetics journal and oral history projects.

There are currently three main streams of activity at the Institute:

  • Research, evaluation and consultancy mostly around organisational development and change;
  • Professional development and creative practice programmes, online learning courses and executive coaching;
  • Publishing and knowledge sharing plus community building, especially amongst practitioners of Group Relations work around the world.

Research, evaluation and consultancy[edit]

Recent project work includes leadership development programmes in the NHS, work with female innovators in European sustainable fashion via the shemakes collaboration, a 5 year programme of work with women and girls’ projects in England, an evaluation of Barnardo's work with care-experienced young people, including a focus on the voices of the young people, and a study of continuing vocational education for the European Union.

The Institute's clients are individuals, teams, organisations and partnerships of organisations – undertaking work and projects in government, business / industry and the 3rd & 4th sectors at local, national and international level. The list includes organisations and sectors of all shapes and sizes, from grassroots community-based organisations to government agencies. Examples include the European Union, many British government departments, Third Sector and private clients.

In 2023 the Institute's organisation in Europe, Tavistock Institut gGmbH, based in Germany, moved its office to Berlin. The Institute has an arm in China - Tavistock Institute China.

Professional development[edit]

The professional development and training work that the Institute offers is based on 75+ years of research and practice. Programmes are led by expert practitioners in the fields of organisation development and group relations.

The Institute is developing online training with the global education platform FutureLearn. The first course with FutureLearn is called Team Working: How to Succeed.

Learning programmes are tailored and delivered in-house or online for organisations eg the NHS.

Sharing knowledge[edit]

The academic journal Human Relations is owned by the Tavistock Institute and published by Sage.

Recent books and reports published by authors linked to the Institute include a Systems Psychodynamics[1] trilogy, a book on the Theory of Change and how it can be used to support organisational development and a report on labour shortages in the European Union published by Eurofound.

History of the Tavistock Institute[edit]

The early history of the Tavistock Institute overlaps with that of the Tavistock Clinic because many of the staff from the Clinic worked on new, large-scale projects during World War II, and it was as a result of this work that the institute was established.[6]

During the war, staff from the Tavistock Clinic played key roles in British Army psychiatry.[6] Working with colleagues in the Royal Army Medical Corps and the British Army, they were responsible for innovations such as the War Office Selection Boards (WOSBs) and Civil Resettlement Units (CRUs).[7][8][9][10] The group that formed around the WOSBs and CRUs were fascinated by this work with groups and organisations, and sought to continue research in this field after the war. Various influential figures had visited the WOSBs during the war, so there was scope for consultancy work, but the Clinic staff also planned to become a part of the National Health Service when it was established, and they had been warned that such consultancy and research would not be possible under the auspices of the NHS.[11] Because of this, the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations was created in 1947 to carry out work specifically with organisations once the Clinic was incorporated into the NHS.[12] The Rockefeller Foundation awarded a significant grant that facilitated the creation of the institute.[13]

In the early years, income was derived from research grants, contract work, and fees for professional development courses.[14] During the 1950s and 1960s, the institute carried out a number of signature projects in collaboration with major manufacturing companies including Unilever, the Ahmedabad Manufacturing and Calico Printing Co., Shell, Bayer, and Glacier Metals.[15][16] They also conducted work for the National Coal Board. Particular focuses included management, women in the workplace, and the adoption (or rejection) of new technologies. Projects on the interaction between people and technology later became known as the sociotechnical approach.[17]

The 1950s also saw the institute conducting consumer research and exploring attitudes to things as varied as Bovril, fish fingers, coffee and hair.[18]

In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a notable focus on public health organisations such as hospitals. Studies examined a range of aspects of healthcare, from ward management and operating theatres to the organisation of cleaning staff.[19]

More recently, the institute has conducted work for the European Commission and British government bodies.[19]

Research units[edit]

In the institute's early years, there were four main units: Programme Groups A and B within a Committee on Human Resources; Organisation and Social Change and Operations Research Unit; and a Committee on Family and Community Psychiatry.[19]

The Human Resources Centre (HRC) and the Centre for Applied Social Research (CASR)[20] were established in the 1950s, and in 1963 the Institute of Operational Research (IOR) was established in conjunction with the British Operational Research Society.[21] The Centre for Organisational and Operational Research (COOR) was created from a merger of the HRC and the IOR in 1979.[21]

The Self Help Alliance project begun in the 1980s led to further work in evaluation and the creation of a dedicated unit, the Evaluation Development Review Unit (EDRU) in 1990.[22]

Key figures[edit]

The institute was founded by a group of key figures from the Tavistock Clinic and British Army psychiatry including Elliott Jaques, Henry Dicks, Leonard Browne, Ronald Hargreaves, John Rawlings Rees, Mary Luff and Wilfred Bion, with Tommy Wilson as chairman.[11] Other well-known people that joined the group shortly after were Isabel Menzies Lyth, J. D. Sutherland, John Bowlby, Eric Trist, Michael Balint and Fred Emery. Although he died before the TIHR was formally established, Kurt Lewin was an important influence on the work of the Tavistock: he was a notable influence on Trist, and contributed an article to the first issue of Human Relations.[23][24]

Many of the members of the Tavistock Institute went on to play major roles in psychology. John Rawlings Rees became first president of the World Federation for Mental Health.[12] Jock Sutherland became director of the new post-war Tavistock Clinic, when it was incorporated into the newly established British National Health Service in 1946. Ronald Hargreaves became deputy director of the World Health Organization. Tommy Wilson became chairman of the Tavistock Institute.[12] One of the most influential figures to emerge from the institute was the psychoanalyst Isabel Menzies Lyth. Her seminal paper 'A case study in the functioning of social systems as a defence against anxiety' (1959) inspired a whole branch of organisational theory emphasising unconscious forces that shape organizational life.[25] A.K. Rice did considerable work on problems of management, increasing productivity at one factory by 300%.[26] Eric Miller became director of the Group Relation Program in 1969, and in this function he later developed the design of the Nazareth-Conferences.[27]

The Tavistock Institute became known as a major proponent in Britain for psychoanalysis and the psychodynamic theories of Sigmund Freud and his followers. Other names associated with the Tavistock include Melanie Klein, Carl Gustav Jung, J. A. Hadfield, Charles Rycroft, Enid Mumford and R. D. Laing.[30]

Tavistock for the workplace[edit]

The techniques used to rehabilitate soldiers were believed by some researchers to be applicable to a more human-centered organisation of work in industry by empowering lower ranking employees. This agenda helped showcase the two sociotechnical scholarship attributes: the close association of technological and social systems and also, the importance of worker involvement.[31]

Focus of conspiracy theorists[edit]

The Tavistock Institute has sometimes been associated with conspiracy theories, the most common of which associate it with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Two books focusing on this are The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations: Shaping the Moral, Spiritual, Cultural and Political (2006) by John Coleman and Tavistock Institute: Social Engineering the Masses (2015) by Daniel Estulin.

The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories notes that the Tavistock Institute has been named by some conspiracy theorists as having a part in "The most extravagant anti-Illuminati conspiracy theory" of John Coleman "known as [the] 'Aquarian Conspiracy'. This totalitarian agenda culminates in the Illuminati 'taking control of education in America with the intent and purpose of utterly and completely destroying it.'" By "'means of rock music and drugs to rebel against the status quo, thus undermining and eventually destroying the family unit'."[32] Todd Van Luling, writing in HuffPost also mentioned this idea "from popular conspiracy theorist Dr John Coleman", saying that "The Tavistock Institute is a publicly known British charity founded in 1947, but conspiracy theorists believe the Institute's real purpose is to similarly engineer the world's culture." The Post looks at Coleman's claim that the popularity of the Beatles was an Illuminati plot to advance the "Aquarian Conspiracy".[33]


  1. ^ "Governance - The Tavistock Institute". 15 May 2020. Archived from the original on 15 May 2020. Retrieved 7 July 2021.
  2. ^ "Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology". 7 July 2021. Archived from the original on 7 July 2021. Retrieved 7 July 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Human Relations". www.tavinstitute.org. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  4. ^ "Contact Us". The Tavistock Institute. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  5. ^ "The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations". The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. Retrieved 29 January 2024.
  6. ^ a b A history of the Institute can be found in the publication The Social Engagement of Social Science: A Tavistock Anthology published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in three volumes between 1990 and 1997.
  7. ^ Crang, Jeremy A. (18 November 2000). The British Army and the People's War, 1939-1945. Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719047411.
  8. ^ Linstrum, Erik (4 January 2016). "Square Pegs and Round Holes: Aptitude Testing in the Barracks and Beyond". Ruling Minds: Psychology in the British Empire. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674088665.
  9. ^ Curle, Adam (1990). Tools for transformation: a personal study. Hawthorn Press. ISBN 9781869890216.
  10. ^ Pick, Daniel (14 June 2012). The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess, and the Analysts. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191641046.
  11. ^ a b Dicks, H. V. (14 October 2014). Fifty Years of the Tavistock Clinic (Psychology Revivals). Routledge. ISBN 9781317587897.
  12. ^ a b c Trist, Eric; Murray, Hugh (1990). "The Social Engagement of Social Science". www.moderntimesworkplace.com. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  13. ^ Steve W. J. Kozlowski, ed. (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Psychology. Vol. 1. Oxford University Press. p. 48. ISBN 9780199928309.
  14. ^ Fraher, Amy Louise (2004). A History of Group Study and Psychodynamic Organizations. Free Association Books. ISBN 9781853437045.
  15. ^ Jones, Geoffrey (1 July 2005). Renewing Unilever : Transformation and Tradition: Transformation and Tradition. Oxford University Press, UK. ISBN 9780191556388.
  16. ^ Alford, C. Fred (1994). Group Psychology and Political Theory. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300059588.
  17. ^ Baxter, Gordon; Sommerville, Ian (1 January 2011). "Socio-technical systems: From design methods to systems engineering". Interacting with Computers. 23 (1): 4–17. doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2010.07.003. ISSN 0953-5438.
  18. ^ "Social Science in Action: reports from Tavistock Institute Archive - TIHR Archive Project". TIHR Archive Project. 1 September 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  19. ^ a b c Tavistock Institute of Human Relations Archives, ID: SA/TIH. London: Wellcome Library.
  20. ^ Rose, Nikolas; Miller, Peter (2013). Governing the Present: Administering Economic, Social and Personal Life. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0745654928.
  21. ^ a b "Institute for Operational Research". mrc-catalogue.warwick.ac.uk. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  22. ^ "Social science in action: reports from Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR) Archive". Wellcome Library. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  23. ^ Trahair, Richard (1 June 2015). Behavior, Technology, and Organizational Development: Eric Trist and the Tavistock Institute. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 9781412855495.
  24. ^ "Human Relations - Volume 1, Number 1, Jun 01, 1947". Sage Journals. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  25. ^ Dartington, Tim (20 February 2008). "Isabel Menzies Lyth". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  26. ^ "Albert Kenneth (Ken) Rice 1908-1969". www.ofek-groups.org. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  27. ^ Erlich, H. Shmuel; Erlich-Ginor, Mira; Beland, Hermann (2009). Fed with Tears – Poisoned with Milk. The "Nazareth" Group-Relations-Conferences. Germans and Israelis – The Past in the Present. Gießen: Psychozial. pp. 35–47. ISBN 978-3-89806-751-5. With a Foreword by Desmond M. Tutu
  28. ^ Burston, Daniel; Dinnage, Rosemary (20 February 1997). "Rescuing R.D. Laing". The New York Review of Books.
  29. ^ "R. D. Laing".
  30. ^ Laing came to the Tavistock Institute in 1956 at the invitation of Jock Sutherland, who was then director of the Tavistock Clinic, to train on a grant.[28] His training, under Charles Rycroft, was at the Institute of Psychoanalysis.[29]
  31. ^ Sawyer, S., Hossein Jarrahi, M. (2013). "Sociotechnical approaches to the study of Information Systems". http://sawyer.syr.edu/publications/2013/sociotechnical%20chapter.pdf
  32. ^ James McConnachie; Robin Tudge (4 February 2013). The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories, Third Edition. Rough Guides. ISBN 978-1409362456.
  33. ^ Van Luling, Todd (3 December 2014). "5 Beatles Fan Theories You'll Think Are So Crazy They Might Just Be True". HuffPost.

Further reading[edit]