A world authority on group dynamics: Harold Bridger and his international connections. By Annie Lord

A short biography on Harold Bridger:

Harold Bridger was born in Tavistock Crescent London England on 15 May 1909, the oldest of five children. His father came from Russia and his mother was born in England as a child of Polish migrants. Bridger attended Marylebone Grammar School continuing with mathematics at University College London and went on to teach mathematics at Bablake School in Coventry. During the Second World War Bridger played an important role during the Blitz on Coventry by commanding a search light battery, rising to the rank of Major before serving on the War Office Selection Boards from 1942. In 1944 Bridger was appointed commanding officer at the psychiatric military Hollymoor Hospital Birmingham alongside S.H Foulkes and Tom Main to conduct the ‘second’ Northfield experiment, 1943-1944 (1). Bridger’s main contribution to the experiment was creating the ‘hospital club’ whereby he allowed the patients to organise their own activities, groups and leadership in order to engage the patients and the hospital as a whole. It was here that the therapeutic community element of the experiment and the legacy of the experiment emerged.

In 1947 Bridger became one of the twelve founding members of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR). TIHR is a social science organisation which offers organisational consultancy, action research alongside professional development courses. In 1950 Bridger qualified as a psychoanalyst and he practiced psychoanalysis until 1960. Bridger used psychodynamic principles in his role at the Tavistock to practice counselling for many individuals and families connected to action research projects. Between 1950 and 2000, Bridger led on a number of consultancy projects and worked with commercial organisations such as Unilever, Shell, Philips and J. Lyons and Co. In these roles he applied a number of his experimental theories to the workplace. These included the ‘double-task’ approach, his development of the working conference and the idea of ‘suspending business’ to help managers think reflectively about their organisation. Throughout his career Bridger worked with many international organisations and individuals. He had connections in Europe, America and the Middle East. These connections ranged from therapeutic communities, applied behavioural science institutes, commercial businesses and academics. In 1991 he helped Lisl Klein develop the Bayswater Institute and in the later stages of his career he continued to travel, giving lectures and teaching all over the world until the age of 91. Harold Bridger died in Little Brook House, Warsash Hampshire on 3 May 2005.

Rediscovering Harold Bridger: his life, work and legacy:

Harold Bridger’s personal papers are currently being catalogued in the Planned Environment Therapy (PET) archives located within the Mulberry Bush Third Space (MB3). The cataloguing project is funded by the Wellcome Trust with the aim to list, repackage, appraise, catalogue and provide access to around 300 boxes of Bridger’s records. A key output of the project has been creating connections with people and organisations who knew or would benefit from knowing the life, work and legacy of Harold Bridger. So far connections have been made with a range of archives, organisations and people connected to Bridger, both nationally and internationally. These connections have included a mixture of both personal and professional associations and have all provided a fuller picture of Bridger’s life and work.

To explore some of Bridger’s international connections follow the link to a virtual world map: https://uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/84fb4dbd644dbb099dcd26567904c778/harold-bridgers-international-connections/index.html

A world authority on group dynamics:

During the preliminary listing of Bridger’s records a biography was found naming him as ‘a world authority on group dynamics.’ This statement has been supported in the discovery of countless folders containing contacts from all over the world requesting Bridger’s expertise on group dynamics and organisational development. From Egypt to Canada, Bridger shared the work of the Tavistock Institute to like minded individuals and organisations. Whilst sharing his ‘personal reflections’ on the Tavistock to author Nevitt Sanford, Bridger reflects on the international aspect of the institute. He writes: ‘Although most of our concerns had been directed towards deploying a firm base of projects, research studies and internal professional development through a variety of linkages in the British Environment, there was never any neglect of relationships with interested professional colleagues abroad.’


To demonstrate Bridger’s international influence Anne Kemp, Marisa Guerin and Birge D. (Ric) Reichard from Berkeley Developmental Resources, a predominantly North American consulting group, have kindly agreed to reflect on the contribution Bridger made to their organisation:

My first encounter with Harold was in 1968 in Bethel, Maine when I was attending a six-week program in Organization Development (O.D.) conducted by NTL Institute (2).

Some years earlier Harold began making an annual visit to Bethel to conduct his Tavistock Working Conference.  He would always appear at periodic gatherings of staff and participants from all the programs to learn from invited guests.  Harold was often the presenter.

Even in my early days of interest in organization effectiveness, it was clear that there was a dissonance between Harold’s advocacies and most others at NTL, with notable exceptions like social psychologists such as Jack Glidewell and hands-on consultants like Dick Beckhard.  NTL’s core was personal growth, and O.D. training had a heavy emphasis on affective learning and fall-outs from the T-group.

I joined NTL in 1974 as the Director of Management Programs, later to be the Professional Director with responsibility for all programs.  Early on my arrival I worked with Harold on a Presidents Program, which had a personal growth component.  Typically this meant a T-group experience.  In planning the event, Harold told me about his approach to increasing self-awareness through a more task-focused and psychodynamic approach.  I was a willing and interested student, since I was not satisfied with the personal growth emphasis in most O.D. programs at the time.  However, I was concerned that we would confuse participants if we took different approaches, and I did not have the skills or knowledge to do it his way.  This provided an example of Harold’s ability to be a “bridger”: in working together on the problem, we found a way to combine the best ingredients of both approaches and helped the participants get something useful and relevant to their work roles.  Harold was a collaborator as much as he was an advocate.

I left NTL in 1977, but remained as a member until 1988.  In 1980, Berkeley Developmental Resources was founded in Toronto where I was living and working at the time.  We also had an office in London, England for a few years and several members of Berkeley Resources were able to work with Harold there.  His approach influenced us in Berkeley Resources to focus on the work itself, be aware of the double task in all work groups, the importance of periodic review to learn from experience, the effect of the environment on open systems, optimizing vs. maximizing parts of organizations, and the effects of anxiety on individual and organization behaviour.

Harold’s confidence in his methods and his direct but collaborative manner in working with a wide variety of clients and colleagues, were keys to his success.  His clients often became his colleagues.  Certainly his concepts were the core of the consulting approach that evolved at Berkeley Resources. His infectious way of working and learning together caused us in Berkeley to form the Bridger Learning Society- an almost random collection of our clients and colleagues who were taken with Harold’s ideas. We presented Harold with a plaque commemorating the event, and we have never seen him more touched and pleased!

All of us in Berkeley Resources enjoyed having Harold as a guest in our homes.  His interest in everyday life in the U.S. and Canada, such as shopping at our markets or browsing our local bookstores and hardware stores, showed how he was always seeking to learn- about anything. For us, he was a teacher, a mentor, a colleague and a dear friend.


This cataloguing project serves as an exciting opportunity to highlight Bridger’s skill in creating and sustaining international connections. It also serves as an opportunity to reconnect with ‘interested professional colleagues abroad,’ such as Berkley Developmental Resources. Their brilliant contribution to this article has offered a unique insight into Bridger’s life work and legacy.

Explore more of Bridger’s international connections using the virtual world map https://uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/84fb4dbd644dbb099dcd26567904c778/harold-bridgers-international-connections/index.html  

Article by Annie Lord, Project Archivist at the Planned Environment Therapy Archives, The Mulberry Bush Third Space.



Hollymoor hospital had been acting as a military hospital since 1940 and in 1942 it dealt specifically with the treatment of psychiatric casualties. In 1943 the military sent in psychoanalysts John Rickman and Wilfred Bion to run the training wing of the hospital whereby they began an experiment in rehabilitating soldiers. This experiment lasted only six weeks and in 1944 the second experiment began.


In 1947, NTL was founded in Bethel, Maine as the National Training Laboratories for Group Development led by the vision of social psychologist Kurt Lewin. The main focus of NTL lies in organization and leadership development, coaching, interpersonal skills, group dynamics, diversity and inclusion and social change. With many parallels to draw between NTL and Bridger’s work at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations and beyond, Bridger joined NTL to bring the working conference to America.


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