Eliat Aram on the role of the Tavistock Institute in developing leadership

16 November 2018 Authored by Consultancy.uk

With entities in the public, private and charity sectors facing seismic shifts in the way daily operations are run, thanks to digital transformation, changing workforce demographics and a multitude of other issues, short-term fixes simply aren’t enough to guarantee a group’s long-term success. Speaking with Consultancy.uk, Tavistock Institute CEO Eliat Aram explained the importance of not-for-profit organisations in helping entities of all shapes and sizes build for the future.

Founded in 1958, professional services group Sioo was formed by eight Dutch universities, in collaboration with players from the consulting industry. Focusing partially on the scientific sector, the not-for-profit institution supports clients with managing organisational change and transitioning to a more agile, future-proof business model. In order to celebrate its 60th anniversary, Sioo is hosting a special event on 27th November 2018, which will be attended by alumni, teachers, partners and a host of others representatives interested in organisational development. Sioo Next 60 is a day-long event hosted in the Dutch city of The Hague, and will feature a number of expert speakers, including Dr Eliat Aram , CEO of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, based in London, UK.

When speaking with Consultancy.uk, one of the things Aram was keen to flag up straight away is that Tavistock Institute is not like other consultancies. Like Sioo, having been around for 70 years now, the company is still run as a not-for-profit, working nationally and internationally to promote a learning culture in organisations and communities through developing the capacity of talent to think through actions, change and put into practice new insights, while accompanying a process of change of quality of conversations and engagement. The firm’s clients are diverse, ranging from public sector organisations, including the European Union, several British government departments and third sector, to private clients.

“We are a bit of a misfit in the world, we are not this, we are not that,” Aram expanded, “but from that, we derive quite a lot of creativity. We are not a university organisation or a think tank; we are not a typical consultancy, but our position between the two means we can fill in areas where the field does not usually go. We want to be on the ground and engaged while applying critical thinking, to ultimately make a difference in society. We also have an activist side to us, even taking on issues around social justice in our global reach.”Eliat Aram - CEO at The Tavistock Institute

Unconventional roots

Aram herself is the first to admit that she did not have a conventional journey into consulting work. Born and raised in Israel, she came to the UK “for one year,” 24 years ago. Noting her academic background, she obtained a Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Hertfordshire. It was there that she developed as an inter-disciplinary practitioner, straddling work from psychology and psychotherapy to organisational development consultancy and coaching, having been invited to join the Complexity & Management Centre, to study and understand organisational dynamics and behaviour using the lens of complexity and chaos theories.

While still having trained in psychotherapy to become a clinician as well, in 2005 Aram joined the Tavistock Institute full-time, pulled by her interest in working within an independent organisation to apply academic ideas to business and society. In 2008, she had become CEO, though it proved to be something of a baptism of fire for the then-new boss. “On my first day in this position, the financial system collapsed (Lehman Brothers). When I arrived I knew little about how to run an organisation, amid all this chaos, so it provided me with quite a learning curve, but an important opportunity to learn and make an impact at a key moment.”

According to Aram, another thing that sets the Tavistock Institute apart, and makes it a perfect fit for her mixed training, is the way the firm operates. She explained, “We do a lot of work to helping clients resolve internal conflicts, and teaching them to think critically to find where this could be a systemic solution… We work with multidisciplinary teams to identify issues which perhaps were hidden and work to help organisations put on the table issues which were maybe under the table before, maybe avoided or even denied.”

Further explaining what sets the Tavistock Institute apart, she added, “We don’t believe in short-term quick fixes, instead we look for hidden or unconscious issues. As a result, our work often takes a much longer period of engagement, but what we do in that time is develop the internal capacity, so when we leave, we are sure to leave an organisation which is able to examine itself critically.”

A slow-burn approach might occasionally be difficult for clients to swallow, in an economy driven by a lust for short-term results, but the Tavistock Institute’s achievements suggest that it is a technique which ultimately rewards patience. The group has won numerous accolades recently, and last month, it was named the Best Business Change & Development Consultancy at the Greater London Enterprise Awards for the second successive year.

“We don’t believe in short-term quick fixes… Our work often takes a much longer period of engagement… so when we leave, we are sure to leave an organisation which is able to examine itself critically.”

Moving forward

Aram also stressed the importance of teamwork in moving any project forward. The firm seeks to tailor its solutions by working extensively with clients to match the skills of consultants to the needs of businesses. Aram elaborated, “We tend not to work alone, so we don’t work with an idea that we have already got all the solutions. On the contrary we look at our own dynamics in our team and what they might bring to the client. We therefore spend a lot of time as a team to make sense of what is happening.”

Recently, the Tavistock Institute has worked with a broad range of entities to deploy these methodologies. This includes being commissioned by Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) to develop and assess an Armed Forces Community Healthcare Navigation pilot in South Birmingham; being engaged by The Big Lottery Fund, alongside DMSS and CWASU to support the Women and Girls Initiative to form a community of networked services that is stronger and has greater influence; and working with NEETs in Action to develop an intervention, based on existing methodologies, to reduce the risk of young people to become NEETs (‘Not in Education, Employment, or Training’) across Europe.

Having also addressed a a wide audience as part of the TIHR 70th anniversary festival last year, explaining the role of “orphans” or “misfits” in the world, Aram will be speaking at Sioo Next 60 to illustrate why she believes organisations like the one she leads and like-minded Sioo are so important. The key contribution firms of this nature can provide, according to Aram, is aesthetic and compassionate leadership.

She concluded, “To be out there and engaged in the world is important for us, to make a difference. It’s again about that hybrid position we operate within, where we can inform ourselves and our clients with our assessments, as well as helping to act and change according to them.”

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