Wilfred Bion (8 september 1897 – 8 november 1979) was an influential Britisch Psychoanalist who became President of the Britisch Psycoanalytical Society. Bion is also know for his theory of the basic assumptions. Bion inspired The Leadership Lab with his ideas and work.Wilfred Bion’s observations about the role of group processes in group dynamics are set out in Experiences in Groups where he refers to recurrent emotional states of groups as basic assumptions. Bion argues that in every group, two groups are actually present: the work group, and the basic assumption group. The work group is that aspect of group functioning which has to do with the primary task of the group—what the group has formed to accomplish; will ‘keep the group anchored to a sophisticated and rational level of behaviour’. The basic assumption group describes the tacit underlying assumptions on which the behaviour of the group is based. Bion specifically identified three basic assumptions: dependency, fight-flight, and pairing. When a group adopts any one of these basic assumptions, it interferes with the task the group is attempting to accomplish. Bion believed that interpretation by the therapist of this aspect of group dynamics would result in insight regarding effective group work.
In dependency, the essential aim of the group is to attain security through, and have its members protected by, one individual. The basic assumption in this group culture seems to be that an external object exists whose function it is to provide security for the immature individual. The group members behave passively, and act as though the leader, by contrast, is omnipotent and omniscient. For example, the leader may pose a question only to be greeted with docile silence, as though he or she had not spoken at all. The leader may be idealized into a kind of god who can take care of his or her children, and some especially ambitious leaders may be susceptible to this role. Resentment at being dependent may eventually lead the group members to “take down” the leader, and then search for a new leader to repeat the process.
In the basic assumption of fight-flight, the group behaves as though it has met to preserve itself at all costs, and that this can only be done by running away from someone or fighting someone or something. In fight, the group may be characterized by aggressiveness and hostility; in flight, the group may chit-chat, tell stories, arrive late or any other activities that serve to avoid addressing the task at hand. The leader for this sort of group is one who can mobilize the group for attack, or lead it in flight.
The final basic assumption group, pairing, exists on the assumption that the group has met for the purpose of reproduction—the basic assumption that two people can be met together for only one purpose, and that a sexual one’. Two people, regardless the sex of either, carry out the work of the group through their continued interaction. The remaining group members listen eagerly and attentively with a sense of relief and hopeful anticipation.
Bion considered that “the three basic-assumption groups seem each in turn to be aggregates of individuals sharing out between them the characteristics of one character in the Oedipal situation”. Behind the Oedipal level, however, Bion postulated the existence of still more primitive, part-object phantasies; and ‘the more disturbed the group, the more easily discernible are these primitive phantasies and mechanisms’.