Susan Gantt

Systems-Centered Training
21st Annual Conference!

Mike Maher

April 18-24, 2020 • Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area

Dealing with Differences Differently


April 1, 2020

Dear colleagues,

Those of you who registered for the conference will have had an email already covering this latest update - this is to the wider SCT community.

Good news!  We have received formal notification from the hotel that we have no liability for the contract we had with them.  Although this now looks inevitable, given all that has happened over the past couple of weeks, it is a relief to have that piece of business completed and the shadow of a huge hit to our finances dispelled.

What we are now left with is the loss of the anticipated income for our organisation from having the conference.  This provides the major part of our income for the year, so this loss is significant for us.  Due to the current Covid crisis there have been changes in the US regarding limits for charitable deductions.  If you are able and want to make a donation to SCTRI to help us recover from this do consult your accountant on the new expanded deductions. 

Best wishes, and stay well



March 20, 2020

Dear conference registrant,

We want to update you about these two issues.

Firstly, our hotel commitments.

In my previous communication letting you know about cancelling the conference I told you that the hotel was holding us to our full contract liability (around $150,000).  We challenged this and received an email from the hotel in which the tone had changed significantly, and promising another communication by the end of this week.  So far we have not received this, so we are not yet certain if we are still liable - or partially liable - or not.  Things have developed extraordinarily over the past few days and we wait to see the outcome.  I’m passing on this detail as it affects our financial standing as an organisation; the best outcome for us is that we escape liability completely, in which case the impact on us is that we have lost the income from the conference, which is our major source of annual income to keep the organisation afloat.  Any further liability adds to the impact.

If any of you want to donate some or all of your conference fee to help mitigate this shock to our finances, we would be very grateful.  I am also aware that many of us will have our own income impacted by the spread of the virus, so I put this to you with a wish to elicit a response that is free and pays attention to the whole of the context in which we now find ourselves.

Secondly, the situation regarding refunds.

I want to let you know how we will go about refunding conference fees for those who want them.   We are having a frustrating tussle with Paypal; they have security measures in place which block unusual activity and so far the humans in the Paypal system have not been able to override these blocks.  This means that we have not yet been able to transfer the money back out of our bank account and into the Paypal system, and from there back to you.  We are working on it but it is going to take some time.

In the meantime if you are resident in the US you can request a refund by cheque and we will send it out immediately - please let Kathy know.  If you are content to wait, that’s great.  For those outside the US who paid by Paypal please bear with us - we will get your money to you as soon as we overcome the Paypal obstacles.

For all questions relating to these finance issues please write to Kathy at

Best wishes

Director, SCTRI


March 14, 2020

Dear colleagues,

So, we have decided to cancel the conference.  We have taken this step with heavy hearts, and we feel convinced that it is the correct course of action.  I want to share with you some of the considerations we have held in mind and subgrouped around as we came to this decision.

The Steering Group is responsible for the running of the organisation and responsible for any actions taken by the organisation that could impact on the wellbeing of members or attendees at trainings we organise.  In this context we are increasingly aware that domestic and international air travel, and congregating in groups like at our conference, represent increased risks of contracting COVID-19.  We have been following official advice in the US and in other parts of the world and notice in particular that those over 60 are advised not to travel and not to attend events with lots of people around. We have also been tracking the trajectory of the spread of the virus; it is predicted to be widespread in parts of northern Europe by the time of the conference.

What has become clear to us is that people will want to cancel - this has already started to happen.  As this happens it affects the trainings and workshops we can offer at the conference, so that we will not be able to put on the range of activities that were set out in the conference program.  The more we looked at this the more we saw that this was likely to lead to a momentum resulting in the range of trainings at the conference shrinking, and that the outcome would not be consistent with our value of providing very high quality training experiences.

Along with this we also have a responsibility to safeguard the wellbeing of attendees, and we did not want anyone to come to the conference under a sense of obligation to the organisation.  For many of us it would be very difficult not to attend if it went ahead, and we thought it right to take the decisions out of individuals and take the responsibility for the system as a whole.

Another important consideration is that SCTRI takes up its membership as part of the wider system.  Not travelling to the conference is aligned to the goal of delaying the spread of the virus among all the populations of the countries of those who attend and the host city.  Acting in this way may contribute to saving lives, as spreading and flattening the peak will allow health services to cope better.  

This decision has serious consequences for us as an organisation. The Marriott International organisation (the venue for the conference) has told us that it will hold us to the letter of the contract, so we will be liable for the full commitment - we stand to lose around $175,000.  For a small organisation such as we are this is a big blow, but we are convinced that doing the right thing and adhering to our values is the only proper course of action for us, despite the cost.  We are in the process of challenging this position with the hotel group, bearing in mind all the recent developments.

I feel very sad as I write this.  We have an implicit value in SCTRI and it comes from the practice of SCT - we always turn up, always on time, always there, ready to go. However, we are also taught to pay attention to the context, and that is what we are doing.

Mike Maher
On behalf of the Steering Group


March 12, 2020

I promised regular updates - at the moment I am engaged with others in finding out exactly where we stand in a rapidly changing landscape. We are asking the hotel if it will be flexible in relation to the contract we have with them, so we don’t end up being liable for the full amount if cancellation becomes necessary. This is in process right now and I do not wish to make any definitive statement that could prejudice these negotiations.

What I can say is that anyone who has registered will get a full refund if they decide to cancel, whatever else happens. If you would hang on a while before taking any actions I hope to be able to state a clear position soon - I hope by the end of this week and if not then by early next week.

Hang on in with me!

Best wishes, Mike


March 3, 2020

Dear colleagues,

I want to let you know about SCTRI’s thinking in light of the unfolding situation regarding the Coronavirus and its potential impact on our conference in April.

At the moment we are closely tracking developments and gathering data, and these do not give us reason to cancel the conference; we sincerely hope that this continues to be the case and we can meet in Oakland as planned. We plan to use the coming days to explore all contingencies and options as we know the situation is evolving significantly every day.

Here is what we do know as of today. If you have already registered, or if you are planning on or thinking about registering, and if you are booked into the conference hotel, then those hotel nights can be cancelled up to a week before the start date with no charge to you. In relation to flights the airlines are starting to remove fees for changes or cancellations; and if SCTRI decides to cancel the conference you will of course get back 100% of your registration fees.

We will make regular communications via email and posted on the SCTRI website to keep all interested parties up to date with our thinking, and any decisions we make.

Best wishes,

Mike Maher
Director, Systems-Centered Training and Research Institute

At the 2020 Systems-Centered Training Annual Conference we will explore the various ways that human systems work with – or keep out – differences. 

At a neurobiological level, novelty – difference – can evoke curiosity. If the difference is too different, it arouses fear and anxiety. This hard-wired response, while useful in keeping us alert to changing conditions, keeps us from engaging with differences. Instead, we may fight with differences or try to keep them out or get depressed about them. It is the source of conflict among human systems of all kinds – between individuals, couples, families, groups, communities, work teams, organizations and even societies. Curiosity and working with small differences help systems grow and develop.

SCT is a theory-driven practice focusing on dynamics in living human systems. The theory says that human systems survive, develop and transform from simple to complex through an increasing ability to recognize differences and integrate them. The method at the heart of this practice, Functional Subgrouping, helps people deal with differences differently.

As therapists, coaches, consultants, leaders, healthcare professionals, and educators, we develop skills and tools to assist our clients when they are caught up in conflicts over differences. We also build our emotional capacity to be fully present for our clients and fully attuned to the here and now, making room in ourselves to contain all sides of the conflict. The focus of the 2020 SCT Conference will be practical methods for ourselves and our clients to work with differences.

This year's Weekend Institutes and 5-day Conference offer a wide range of training groups, interactive workshops and a large group experience. We will explore the methods and tools that contain emotional experience and support group development as we work with differences through the various stages of development.

Expect to:

  • Experience how the method of functional subgrouping changes how groups typically deal with differences
  • Learn how to recognize and work with group dynamics as they arise, and how to contribute to the development of a well-functioning group
  • See how the world is different when we see systems rather than just people
  • Experience protocols to reduce anxiety and tension and work productively with frustration, all of which are a natural part of any group
  • Learn skills, methods and practical tools to support collaboration so that groups can achieve their goals

Full program and online registration will be available from November.

Our goal is to co-create an open and fun climate that allows us to discover new learnings for ourselves and for our work.

This Conference is open to professionals in the fields of mental health, organizational development, education, pastoral care and to those who wish to explore.

Please note that many trainings in this Conference are experiential and some participants may find these challenging. If you have any questions about this, feel free to contact Dayne Narretta at

Dayna Burnett, Gayna Havens, Dayne Narretta and Debbie Woolf
2020 Conference Co-Directors