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Meg Peppin

MP Partnership

Founder And Director

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Book Review: The Hedgehog Effect by Manfred Kets de Vries


Manfred Kets de Vries has been writing about organisational psychodynamics and consulting internationally for 30 years.

He is rated as one of the world’s leading leadership theoreticians, is programme director at international graduate business school, INSEAD, and holds a number of professorial posts internationally. He has also written and published many books and articles.
Kets de Vries has written this book for coaches, consultants, leadership development directors and anyone working in and with teams to explore how leadership group coaching techniques can be used to help develop high-performing teams.
“The hedgehog effect”, however, was first described by German philosopher Schopenhauer – hedgehogs need warmth and so huddle together. But when they get too close to each other, their spines make the experience uncomfortable and so they withdraw again, get cold and shuffle closer together to seek warmth – and so the cycle continues.  
Kets de Vries uses the theory as a metaphor to explain why so many teams are dysfunctional, a situation that he explores through case studies, reflection and some informative and fascinating writing about group psychodynamics. The book also provides a detailed guide on how to undertake group leadership coaching, a methodology that he developed and tested at INSEAD.
His view is that the 21st century will be the age of teams. Because the world is shrinking as the use of technology continues to grow and markets become increasingly globalised, Kets de Vries’ view is that “we have to rely on lateral communication and recognise that there is a much higher degree of interdependency between the various roles and tasks in organisations”.
His experiences over the years have led him to believe that, while one-to-one coaching can be highly effective, high-performing teams are created when there are bonds of trust, openness and an ability by members to show vulnerability. In his opinion, coaching leadership teams in a group format is the most effective route to help transfer knowledge, increase their alignment to business goals and facilitate more effective relationships.  
Challenging but enjoyable
This book is an incredibly rich resource for the reader – it’s one of the few business books that I’ve read that I would look forward to reading again. The group coaching techniques described are rooted in Kets de Vries’ clinical background, but he makes them accessible to the reader. 
He explores and integrates his own thinking and experiences with the philosophies of Jung, Freud and Bion among others in order to explore “the secret life of groups”. We are introduced to the phenomenon of the “group-as-a whole”, where a “cloud” exists that traps the unspoken and unconscious aspects of the group psyche.  
But Kets de Vries also emphasises the need for “an in-depth exploration of the self, in relation to the other” in order to help people better understand their conscious and unconscious life.  
He provides many examples to illuminate his thinking and, along the path, illustrates specific processes to use during a group coaching intervention. So this book is both highly practical and incredibly learned. 
It sounds paradoxical, but it really is an enjoyable read. Kets de Vries has a way of writing that is very engaging – he uses anecdotes and footnotes to increase the reader’s understanding and really talks to you through the pages of the book. Each chapter starts with a parable or story and cultures that he draws from include Zen, Sufi and Buddhism in order to bring his ideas very clearly into focus.
This is a challenging book, but a really compelling introduction to anyone wishing to know more about group psychodynamics. It is also a thought-provoking and practical oeuvre that will be useful for anyone working in the field of leadership coaching, group dynamics or organisational culture.

Business leaders – you should also read this too. It might spark off some courageous conversations.

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Meg Peppin

Founder And Director

Read more from Meg Peppin

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