Experiential learning in a group relations conference

Group Relations conferences offer opportunities to learn about group, organisational and social dynamics; the exercise of authority and power; the interplay between tradition, innovation and change; and the relationship of organisations to their social, political and economic environments.’ (The Tavistock Institute, London.

Experiential learning is a well-established method for gaining practical knowledge about human behaviour. In a group relations conference, participants engage in co- creating experiences of taking up different roles in groups and organisations. Learning emerges from these experiences and through continual observation, reflection, exploration, theorizing and a greater understanding of the dynamics and unconscious drivers of behaviour in groups. Experiential learning may be emotionally taxing.

Authority: The personal, professional, organisational, cultural and interpersonal sanction we draw on to empower ourselves to act and to take up roles at work.

Accountability: Taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions, the way we take up authority and our engagement with others.

Engagement: The nature of the emotional connection in our interpersonal, group and intergroup interactions: the experience of the relationship, what is communicated, shared and expected.


Small Study Groups are groups of up to 8 members with a consultant. Their task is to study what unfolds in the group in the 'here and now', while working on the primary task of the conference.

Large Study Group brings together the entire membership with several consultants. The task of this group is to study what unfolds in the large group in the 'here and now', while working on the primary task of the conference.

Exploring Intra- and Intergroup Roles provides a setting in which members can explore and study the nature of their own and others’ roles both within their own group and between their own and other groups, in the conference. In this setting, members will be free to form groups according to their own thematic interests.

Role Analysis will take place in groups of up to 7 members with a consultant in order to help members reflect on the experience of the roles they and others have taken in the various events, including the possible conflicts inherent in this process.

Plenaries involve all members and staff.

The Opening Plenary introduces the conference and provides an opportunity for participants to enter into the conference, to explore and reflect on the experience of joining and taking up roles within it.

The Closing Plenary aims to review the conference experience.

Further Reading

What is a Group Relations Conference?


Stein, M. (2004) ‘Theories of experiential learning and the unconscious’, in Gould, L. J., Stapley, L. F., and Stein, M. [Ed.] Experiential Learning in Organizations: Applications of the Tavistock Group Relations Approach. London, Karnac Books, pp. 19-36.