Group Development Theory Wilfred Ruprecht Bion

(1897-1979)

Background
• Well known psychoanalyst who built on the works of Freud and Klein • Born in 1897 in India to British parents • Raised by Indian “ayah” or nanny • Sent to boarding school in London at age 8 and never returned to India • Painful childhood memories provided insight into human nature

Background
• Volunteered for service as a front-line soldier during WWI • Tank commander on the battlefields of Northern France • Received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the Legion of Honor. • After war, studied history at Queens College in Oxford, and later medicine at University College in London

Background
• Psychiatric medical officer during WWII
– Developed a method for selecting officers that involved placing candidates in groups and posing daunting tasks – While working with officers who were being sent home after breakdowns, developed a method of group therapy that restored their self-esteem and willingness to fight

• Moved to London and underwent training in psychoanalysis with John Rickman • Worked at the Tavistock Clinic, where he did his bestknown work with groups, recording his experiences in 7 articles and a concluding paper • In1961, articles were published in the book Experiences in Groups

Background
• After Tavistock, focused on psychoanalysis practice with individuals • 1962-1965: Head of Clinic of the Institute of Psychoanalysis of London and President of the British Society of Psycho-Analysis • 1968: Moved from London to Los Angeles • 1979: Returned to England • 1979: Died, two months later

Bion’s Theory of Group Development
• Developed based on experiences with mental patients during WWII and at Tavistock Clinic, with groups of men and women interested in learning about the sources of cooperation and conflict in organizational and social life. • Used “common sense” which he intended to mean using all of his senses to interpret group activity • Focused on developing his “sixth sense”- ability to register and attend to his own quality of emotional experience (apprehension, boredom, irritation, etc.)

Bion’s Theory of Group Development
• Any group, organization, or society needs and evolves a structure of tasks, roles, procedures, rules, group culture in order to contain the anxiety of the unknown and the responses which unconsciously are mobilized to defend against that unknown

Bion’s Theory of Group Development
• Within every group, two distinct groups operate:
– Work Group: the manifest level of group performance – Basic Assumption Group: unconscious defenses against anxiety/ unpleasantness

The Work Group
• Overt group performance concerned with solving a problem or completing a task • Members are aware of the task and are able to define it • Members respect and accept one another • Leadership and support roles shift depending upon the demands of the task

The Work Group
• Members are aware of their roles and responsibilities • Members use dialog and reflection to transfer knowledge and enhance learning • Work is structured and organized • Group produces solutions and products of high quality and usefulness

The Basic Assumption Group
• Group experiences internal emotional and psychological barriers not related to the task • Members are not conscious of the barriers • “Basic” because the anxieties expressed are primitive and instinctual • “Assumptions” because the group operates “as if” the assumption was implicit truth

The Basic Assumption Group
• Time boundaries vanish “as if” time was unlimited • Critical dialogue and reflection is avoided / discouraged • Result is a “breakdown” of group effectiveness

Types of Basic Assumption Groups
• Dependence • Fight / Flight • Pairing

Basic Assumption: Dependence
• Feelings, thoughts and actions directed toward making someone the sole leader of the group • Members look to leader for all solutions, structure, etc. • Insistence on simplistic solutions

Basic Assumption: Dependence
• Members sabotage leader by providing partial or inadequate information • Members demonstrate disappointment and hostility toward leader • Leader may be expelled from group or demoted • Group seeks out a new leader

Basic Assumption: Fight / Flight
• Group behaves “as if” its purpose is to fight or flee a real or imagined enemy • Members refuse to critically evaluate themselves • Members are singled out and scapegoated • Weaknesses (as perceived by the group) are not tolerated

Basic Assumption: Pairing
• Members rely on a pair within the group for all creative effort • Great interest in creative process • Hopeful expressions of anticipation / use of clichés • Solutions or leaders generated by the pair are sabotaged or destroyed by the group

The Concept of Valence
• Individual group members have preferences toward one of the three basic assumptions • Group performance depends on each member’s awareness of his/her preference and willingness to direct energy toward maintaining a work group stance • Basic assumption state is always present in a group to some degree

Observable Behaviors
• Long silence in which something is expected from a leader or other group member • Hypothesis offered by one member and contradicted or shot down by another • Search for something believed to be hidden and waiting to be discovered • Members seeking approval of leader or alliances with other members

Observable Behaviors
• Strong feelings of love, hate or comradeship • Projection of strong feelings, beliefs or behaviors on other group members • Scapegoating • Member expelled or voluntarily leaving group

Recommendations for Consultants
• Recognize that basic assumption group is part of every group and functions as a defense against anxiety • Develop your “sixth sense” or awareness of your own internal emotional experiences • Identify basic assumption behavior and make it explicit

Recommendations for Consultants
• Take responsibility for your own projections and encourage others to do the same • Use and reinforce time boundaries • Refuse to collude with group projections / expectations of leadership