Maintaining your mental health if you live in the UK at the moment is unlikely to rely on keeping up with news and current events.

If, on the other hand you are looking to gen up on dysfunctional group behaviour, our domestic Political Party Punch and Judy instant story creation is both illuminating and entertaining.

Cast your mind back to the last time you were participating in a group endeavour, perhaps a workshop or group discussion, and began to feel that nothing constructive or of relevance to the task in hand was happening.

The group begins to change its mental state from being engaged with its purpose to dissipating its energy in – anti-purpose.

Wilfred Bion, the wisest of the wise on all things ‘group’ (1897-1979), alerted us to the changes in mental states that groups experience.

He described a framework for understanding the contrasting ways in which a group – sometime temporarily, sometimes changeably – will operate.

A ‘work group mentality’ is operating where a group’s disposition and dynamics enable it to manage shared tensions, anxieties and relationships. The group members all demonstrate an ability to relate to and to engage with each other and the purpose for which the group has formed.

Bion described the outcome for such a group as the ‘capacity for realistic hard work’.

By contrast, a group that can be described as having a ‘basic assumption mentality’ has been taken over by strong emotions (and this can happen so quickly) of anxiety, fear, hate, love, anger, guilt or depression and will lose touch with the group’s purpose.

The group will ‘become caught up in an unconscious group delusion’.

The outcome he described here as ‘stagnation’.

These ‘delusions’ or ‘assumptions’ tend to revolve around 3 unconscious force fields – dependence (a leader / moderator will relieve the group of all anxiety), pairing (the group will rely on the output of a pairing (s) to rescue them), and fight or flight (some common enemy is perceived within or without the group inviting fight or flight).

While all group situations involving fallible human beings are both fluid and complex, one behavioural truth here is universal.

The group’s shift from real purpose to assumed new purpose is unconscious.

If a group becomes dominated by a basic assumption mentality, it is unlikely to be able to recognise the change. It may even feel as if the work is going well. Or even better than before.

An emotional state is avoided. An assumed (unspoken) anti-purpose now acts as (an unconscious) substitute for the real work.

We’re watching all this unfold in front of our eyes, aren’t we?


Learning. In one way or another it’s been in the news.

In mid May, a father won a court case over the legality of keeping his child away from school for a family holiday. He need not pay the fine the judge ruled, given the child’s good attendance record.

Earlier in May, a number of parents kept their primary age children out of school for a day in protest at new tests. 40,000 names appeared on the petition for the boycott. ‘Let our kids be kids’ was the refrain, they are being ‘over tested and over worked’

One mother said of the tests. ‘They are difficult and joyless’.

(‘Difficult and joyless’ could be applied to more than one business culture I know.)

The debate about these decisions continued for days. Was this selfishness? Or was this reclaiming a human view of our world?  Having seen how truly difficult the tests are (the schools minister Nick Gibb was unable to answer one of the SATs questions for 11 yr olds during an interview on BBC’s World at One. : it went viral, wrapped in a sort of ‘glee halo’) I can only agree with ‘difficult and joyless’.

And isn’t a holiday, a family experience, valuable?

I’m a ‘yes’, but. There’s another factor to consider.

And its not fashionable: the power of the group.

We say ‘group think’ to denote rigid, compliant, airless, habitual, self-protective thinking-in-a-rut.   But there is a power to a group that works brilliantly together to solve, create, imagine, and transform that is nothing less than magical.

A group needs time to form, and to establish the sort of real and healthy contact that makes thinking differently possible. A group needs time together.  A group can generate so much more than the individuals that create it.

Learning something in a group is a different experience to learning alone.  Yes, always rebel against joylessness. Yes, plough your own furrow if that’s needed to realise an opportunity.


Remember your ‘group’. If it’s working well, your presence and contribution is an incalculable part of that group’s potential.