Theme-centered interaction: A holistic approach for better cooperation and communication

The model of theme-centered interaction (TCI) was developed in the 1950s by the German psychoanalyst and psychologist Ruth C. Cohn. TCI imparts a very practical knowledge of communication and processes in a team that can be easily applied in project management.
A group of hands reaching up to the sky.


The basic principles of theme-centered interaction

TCI is an action concept that supports teamwork and promotes the personal development of team members. The aim of TCI is to achieve progress in the project being worked on and to implement it in an environment where it can have an effect. The goal of TCI is the common task and in order to work on this well, two postulates, three axioms (principles recognized as correct) and four factors are set.

Two postulates

In order to enable the success of a person or a concern, two postulates, i.e. demands, are set for TCI. 
Postulate 1 - Be your own chairperson

Be the leader of yourself. In general, it is about representing one's own interests in the group and then, with a holistic view, the interests of the group externally. For the team member this means:
  • Be the master of your own needs and impulses.
  • Accept yourself as you are.
  • Balance the "I should" with the "I want".
  • Be aware of your own capabilities and limitations. 
In relation to others in the team, this means:
  • Perception of yourself and others.
  • Respect for others and oneself.
  • Taking the environment, tasks and yourself seriously. 

Postulate 2 - Disturbances have priority

If a disturbance is perceived, it is addressed, because disturbances that are not addressed and solved or eliminated tie up energy and make it difficult or prevent constructive discussions and good results.

Three axioms

We have to move in different fields of tension. The axioms represent, among other things, the ethical values of TCI.
Axiom 1

The human is a psychobiological entity and part of the universe. On the one hand, one is autonomous (independent) and on the other hand interdependent (characterised by mutual dependencies), one has freedom of decision but is also dependent on other people. The more you are aware of and involved in interdependencies and interactions, the more choices and decisions you have.
Axiom 2

Respect is due to all living things and to growth. Respect for growth requires evaluative decisions. The humane is valuable and the inhumane, disregarding human considerations, is threatening. The human being must find out which possible actions preserve and promote the living. 
Axiom 3

Free decision-making takes place within conditional inner and outer limits; the expansion of these limits is possible. The human can decide more freely if they are healthy, intelligent and materially secure.

Four factors

The leader's task is to facilitate a lively interaction in groups. To do this, four factors must be taken into account and kept in a dynamic balance: I, We, It and Environment (Globe).
Factor 1

Each individual "I" in the group (including the I of the leader) is to be perceived with its concerns and needs. 
Factor 2

Attention is given to the communication and interaction in the group, which is summarised in the "We". 
Factor 3

Another orientation to keep in mind is the "It", which represents the task to be accomplished together. 
Factor 4

The frame of reference and the environment (Cohn calls it the "globe") in which the group is located must also be taken into account.

Application of TCI in project management

Whether planning a project or dealing with a crisis, running a workshop to generate ideas or a meeting to solve a problem, inexperienced project managers in particular can benefit from TCI because it can take away their leadership fears and build on the competence of their team members.
TCI is suitable for planning, controlling and also evaluating organisational projects in general, reorganisation projects within companies in particular.
In today's world, where profit-making is the top priority and daily constraints weigh on project managers and their projects, individual needs and the way of working together are more and more pushed into the background. As a result, the personal development and interpersonal relationships of team members suffer. And then project managers are also confronted with organisational projects in which their work processes are to be optimised so that they become more efficient.
If the optimisation project is already to be implemented and the courage to change is required, why not focus on the human aspects at the same time? TCI in particular can serve as a guide to optimise the way we work and interact with each other. The project manager should ask themself the question: "What is important to you in this project?". They moderate the project team to achieve a coherent result for all involved. Profitability is essential, but without humanity, a project is unbearable for those involved. We should not compromise on this.
Already in the planning stage, the project manager can take into account the two postulates, the three axioms and the four factors in such a way that there is enough room for each project team member, the client and the later user of the project services rendered to contribute themselves and their own ideas, knowledge and experience and to embed everything together in the environment of the project, i.e. to interact in a theme-centered way.


Theme-centered interaction is an excellent way to improve teamwork. Since the approach aims to get to know oneself better and to develop personally, it also helps the team in its development. By recognizing one's own strengths, one promotes the team. But not only do you get to know yourself better, the team also grows together. This increases the success of the project.

Theme-centered interaction - The Author
Author: Dr. Roland Ottmann
Keywords: Project management, Theme-centred interaction, Communication

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For better readability, we usually only use the generic masculine form in our texts. Nevertheless, the expressions refer to members of all genders.