Bion’s Basic Assumption Groups

Who or What will save us?

Bion suggested that all groups have a subconscious emotional drive that affects their every thought and action. It is determined by the group’s beliefs about ‘who or what will save us from this mess’. He termed these beliefs basic assumption groups. Understanding which assumption group is influencing behaviour is key to understanding the dynamics in a system and their responses to change.

The Dependency Group

The dependency group is always hoping and waiting for a better, stronger leader to save them from the mess. The current leader is viewed as omnipotent. This means that the group has no need for, or belief in their own skill and ability. They are passive. Unfortunately no leader is ever good enough. Leaders are replaced time and time again.

The Flight or Fight Group

The flight or flight group is all about group preservation at whatever cost. They focus energy on an enemy, and will create a scapegoat where no enemy exists. In fight mode the group has huge energy. Focused outside the group the energy is powerful and motivated, focused inwards the group fights itself. In flight mode the group rejects the responsibility and refuses to take part in change.

The Pairing Group

The pairing group are in a state of stasis. They don’t accept responsibility for problems or change, because they are hoping for rescue through the collaboration of two separate parties uniting together. The bad news for change is that when a successful merging of two parties does occur, those systems stuck in pairing group behaviour will terminate the merging. Hope is easier than action and responsibility.

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