What is Organisational TA? Vanessa Williams' blog introduces us to this fascinating field of TA

3 March 2023

So, what is Organisational TA?

This is a question I am so often asked, and because it was some while into my TA training before it became clear, I offer some thoughts for those curious to learn more. 

Organisational TA (TAO) is both a lens and a toolkit, and it can become a way of ‘being’ in an organisation. It provides a route map to account for the key elements of an organisation and its context. It shows how these elements function dynamically as a living system and impacts human behaviour, group dynamics, culture and ultimately, organisational performance. 

This insight gives us a different frame of reference and way of working with a group or organisation, which means we can rise above blaming individuals or focusing on one small part in a chain of interconnected elements. Instead, we see the helicopter perspective, appreciate the sensitive interplay between various elements and recognise the diagnostic value of human behaviour, which is often the symptom and not the cause of issues that lie elsewhere.

Eric Berne’s thinking about organisations and organisational life was ahead of his time and remains just as valid today. His writing was influenced by psychoanalytic theory and informed by his experience of organisations and systems, primarily hospitals and the military.  

The genius of TAO is that it equips us to share our observations and insights in a way that works for people who think differently and who don’t relate to concepts or theories. In other words, TAO is an effective tool when used implicitly and yet, as those who have studied any TA know,  the models are simple and easy to convey to those with an appetite for theory. 

What TAO has in common with other fields of TA is that it accords with the philosophical roots of TA, which go back to Eric Berne, such as the contractual method, people are OK, everyone has the capacity to think and the capacity to change. Much of the theory can be accessed through a TAO lens.

However, TAO goes beyond the application of classical TA concepts. Having studied TA psychotherapy before coming to TAO, I had to ‘let go’ of some of my understanding of the theory to take on a different frame of reference and approach to using the material. Therein lies what is sometimes referred to as an all-important distinction between doing TA in organisations and organisational TA.

The repertoire of theory and concepts written for the organisation field continues to grow. It is still influenced by psychoanalytic theory (where TAO started) -  the work of Bernd Schmid, Servaas van Beekum, Rosa Krausz, Oswald Summerton, Michael Korpiun, Madeleine Laugeri and Michel Landaiche are just a few that come to mind. 

What is in TAO for me?

I suspect that this might be a question you are asking yourself. TAO is a cap that fits any group or organisational role. The Connexus TAO study group could not be more diverse; it includes senior leaders, those in specialist roles, HR practitioners, consultants and Directors of their own businesses. It has to be said that an understanding of how organisations develop and behave and a  ‘honed’ ability to observe, understand and work with human behaviour is greatly beneficial to anyone working in an organisation, especially leaders.

The Connexus TAO programme

The TAO programme at Connexus,  led by myself, offers three years of study with the option of taking just one or two years. 

Years one and two comprise ten modules (20 in total), which build on a foundation course in TA  by exploring fundamental TAO theories and their application to organisations and organisational roles. The topics are listed on the Connexus website. There is a reliance upon experiential learning and the principles of co-created learning (Summers and Tudor) to create safety and a rich group experience which helps make learning relevant and enjoyable.

Year three is advanced-level study focused on applying and integrating theory into practice to develop unconscious competence in using TA. The group works collaboratively in creating the curriculum, including what theory they wish to study in more depth and how they want to learn. They bring their material (for example, on tape, through a case study or storytelling) into the room for the group to work with. Learning is principally achieved through examining TA in action (a kind of action research method), peer coaching and supervision. By the end of year three, those who want to go for the CTA exam will have some written work, possibly one or more exam tapes and will be familiar with the oral exam process. 

More about the course tutor

I am based in Sussex and hold an MBA and a PTSTA in the Organisational field. It is a value of mine that my organisational knowledge is current, so I work as a freelance consultant, executive coach, facilitator and OD practitioner specialising in change, team development, leadership development and practitioner development alongside teaching TAO. Past roles include HR, OD and board-level positions inside an organisation.

Find out more about the Connexus Organisational TA programme here.