Oct 30, 2021
Introduction: Dr. Ajit Menon is a business
psychologist and consultant and co-founder of Blacklight Advisory a
specialist organisational consultancy to a diverse range of
clients. Ajit is also faculty of the London School of Economics,
Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust. He is also co-author with Trevor
Hough of the book this podcast showcases; What lies beneath how
organisations really work.
Trevor Hough is a clinical psychologist,
executive coach, and organisational development consultant. Trevor
is a self-confessed nomad, living all over the World furthering his
interest in diverse cultural experiences. Trevor works with Ajit as
a Principal Consultant at Blacklight Advisory outside of his own
consultancy practice. Trevor’s great interest is in the outdoors
especially the African Bush where he has recently trained as a
field and trails guide.
Podcast Episode Summary
Eight crafted stories about Organisational Life are illuminated
in the book What Lies Beneath: How organisations really work, by
the authors Trevor Hough and Ajit Menon. They show how problems of
Culture, Succession, Transition & Leadership Team Alignment are
often masked by underlying and often unconscious emotions of fear,
anxiety, envy, uncertainty and abandonment. The resulting defences
of denial, blame, splitting, pairing and collusion blur the view of
the “real” problem which needs to be solved by the client. Ajit and
Trevor share how tricky this terrain can be in the eight stories
they share in their book. The work of organisational development is
complex and it serves a Coach/Consultant to not only be paired in
the work but also to have regular supervision.
Points made over the episode
- Ajit and Trevor share an interest & history that could be
described as nomadic
- Important to appreciate difference in the many cultural
contexts the work entails.
- As an organisational consultant, working in and out of
organisations all of the time it behoves the consultant to be able
to sit “at the edge of the system” & not collude by a desire to
- Ajit shares that one of the first question he & Trevor
often ask clients is “what else?” or What else is going
on? so as to
resist the temptation to prematurely rush to solution
- Clients are very rarely completely right and it takes
considered contracting to scope a solution or potential solution to
a presenting issue.
- Problems lie at a human level even though we would like to
think they are all technical
- Working with a client system is never just about the client
alone, it is about
the consultant as well. What you bring, your views, the lens by
which you see the world etc. are all played out.
- The book while a slim product is full of depth in how it
explores what lies beneath in an organisation and by what it evokes
in the reader.
- How can we as coaches and consultants impact and influence the
system? Ajit and Trevor responded by saying often the coach has to
be willing to use self as instrument and notice what is being
evoked. The story about the client in the fashion house in Paris,
explored later, is an example of such.
- Question what draws you to do the work-looking beneath can
often mean an uncomfortable enquiry.
- A big part of the work is about understanding our own process.
Awareness is key.
- Peer supervision is not to be feared it is a different type of
- Supervision is about doing work on the work
- The yearning by coaches to be liked is dangerous. Often Clients
do not like what we have to say. That’s OK
- Our role is asocial -we have to think about what is good for
the client and not our ego.
- Ajit & Trevor are called into client systems to consider
topics like, A CEO in Transition, Culture Change, Succession,
Leadership Team Alignment and they are both apt to ask “If that is
the answer why is coaching the solution? If team building is the
solution what is the problem it can help address”
- Inquiry is a positive intervention and can serve to illuminate
some of the complexity up front.
- Example of the story of Hong Kong where two founders purported
to want to leave but in reality that was not the case and they
- The work is tricky & not easy to spot but with supervision
and dialogue without attachment we can begin to see patterns,
themes, dynamics -often you require the lens of an outsider to help
you see how you might be colluding.
- Another story with a private bank in London shows how speaking
up and being straight with a client can still backfire.
- The unsaid remains under the surface and it takes courage to
speak the unsaid.
- Trevor explores how at the end of an assignment the client was
disappointed the client felt they had done all of the work. If you
are injured by that as a consultant you are in danger. Clients
often want to give you the “ball of fire” the problem for you to
- Our work is to encourage the client to put the “ball of fire”
on the table and through inquiry be able to piece out what is going
- The Drama Triangle is a useful concept to keep in mind when
doing organisational consultancy and why supervision is
- Trevor explained repetition compulsion and how often it occurs.
He told of a client in HR who kept moving between organisations and
kept ending up working for Narcissists – “what is your story of
origin?” “What are you trying to solve?” What are you thinking is
going to be different this time?” are just some of the questions he
asked instead of trying to solve the problem of working with
- The idea of helping a client build a great team might simply be
feeding the fantasy a team is the ultimate concept. Question why
you want or need a team. Teams are often an overvalued concept when
a peer group set up might equally serve or do better
- Do we really appreciate what it is to get into a communal
mindset? The story of Nairobi highlights these
- What needs to be illuminated at the contracting stage to aid
the work? Question why a client has chosen you. How you get into
relationship will often predict how you will be in that system
-what does the client desire?
- In order to have a clear focus of where the work really
is, it helps to
ask; What is the problem you want to solve? What have you done so
far? What keeps getting in the way?
- The case in Paris resulted in Ajit and Trevor acting out the
very dynamic being experienced by the client- strong presence and
awareness coupled with peer supervision helped them see what was
happening and how they needed to be with the client to explore
- This example exemplifies the danger of working alone in a
system. Meta perspective is crucial.
- Important to start as you mean to go on and to
forever be authentic.
- What Lies Beneath: How organisations really work by Ajit Menon
& Trevor Hough.