Jack R. Gibb
From The 1972 Annual Handbook For Group Facilitators
©1972 University Associates
(This material is used by permission of Jossey-Bass, Inc., a subsidiary of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)

TORI theory is a general, unitary theory that applies to all formal and informal social systems (3, 6). It is structured in such a fashion as to be particularly adapted to the engineering of system change: learning communities (8), therapeutic communities (4, 9), management systems (1, 3, 7), change-inductive small groups (2, 5, 8, 10, 11), and organizations (3, 12).

Several assumptions of the theory are directly relevant to the work of leaders, trainers, and consultants in small groups.

1. Any social system–a group, person, community, nation, or organization–is best understood and improved most effectively by focusing upon system characteristics of a living, growing organism.

2. The primary and leverage variables in organic growth are the antithetical processes of fear and trust and their correlates.

3. Growth occurs as a movement from fear towards increasing trust. The primary correlates of this central process are the following four: movement from depersonalization and role towards greater personalization, from a closed system towards a more open system, from impositional motivation towards greater self determination, and from dependency towards greater interdependence (2, 8, 12). TORI is a convenient acronym for these four factors in the organic growth of living systems: trust, openness, realization, and interdependence.

4. Fear-defense levels are thus manifested in systems in four ways: depersonalization and role living, facade building and covert strategies, impositions and persuasions, and high control and dependency (2, 3).

5. Trust and low defense levels are manifested in systems in four ways: personal, intimate and non-role behavior; open and transparent behavior; self-determining, assertive, and actualizing behavior; and reciprocally-fulfilling, interdependent, and "with" behavior.

6. An efficient and powerful way of optimizing growth and the trust factors in growth is to focus upon the environmental forces that impinge upon participants in the system. This environment may then nurture and sustain growth behaviors which are associated with classic and desired group outcomes: creativity, high learning, group productivity, personal growth, and group vitality (7, 12). This is true of training and therapy groups as well as "natural" teams in industry, volunteer organizations, and educational systems.

TORI theory implies a theory of learning which is inextricable from the main body of the theory. Growth occurs when a person, on his own steam, on his own impetus, does things that reinforce desired physical responses and behavior patterns. Changed behavior results from showing feelings rather than from talking about them, from doing things rather than thinking about or observing them, from letting one's self happen rather than examining one's motives, and from physically carrying out an impulse or making a choice. After growth people look different. Growth is its own reward. The kind of sustained learning and growth that makes possible living in trust comes from self-sustained and self-directed changes in life style and behavior patterns.

The primary condition of learning is not diagnostic sensitivity but the process of trying out things that a person deeply wants to do and then experiencing the effects of the behavior upon the self and upon others. Permanent and genuine growth comes from a person finding out what he is and what he deeply wants to do, getting in touch with what his body tells him, and then doing things that integrate self-body at all levels of experience and awareness. Deep learning is not a remedial or corrective process but an inner emergence, a building upon organic strengths, and an increasing trust in self.


There are several assumptions in the TORI system which are immediately pertinent to the leadership style of the trainer, leader or consultant:

1. A group leader is most effective when he is as personal, open, allowing, and interdependent as it is possible for him to be within the limits of his own defense level.

2. A system such as a small group "learns" actualizing styles of coping when the environment is low-defense. The group itself develops a norm system which implements its actualizing style. The most effective leader is one who "flows" with the organic growth of the group norm system, becomes an active, assertive member of the group, but does not attempt to place himself out of the group system as a "role" or as a "leader" in the classic sense.

3. Functional behaviors or styles (personal, open, self-determining, and interdependent behavior) are intrinsically rewarding and self-perpetuating if the immediate system environment is a high-trust and low-defense environment. The group leader "trusts the process" to develop and does not feel the need to teach, train, persuade, or model behavior for others.

4. Groups tend towards entropy when group styles are predominantly impersonal and inrole, strategic and closed, persuasive and coercive, and dependent-controlling. Groups tend towards self-sustaining growth when system styles are predominantly personal, open, allowing, and interdependent.

5. The flow of perceptual and feeling data in high-defense groups is so low that raising these data to visibility in the group is a powerful force in creating more functional styles of coping and relating. Functional feedback is apparently a powerful variable, as is indicated in a number of recent studies.


The following table gives a checklist for persons who would try to apply this theory to a practical setting, either in therapy or training groups, or in team training in an organizational setting.

The primary leverage principle is that the TORI leader makes a series of trust assumptions about the world. He is predisposed to trust his impulses, his inner self, the motivations of others, the health-directed processes of group interaction, the general non-malevolence of nature and persons, his own abilities and capacities, the capacities of persons to assume responsibility for their own lives, and the world in general. When the leader is fearful he tends to be impersonal, closed, non-allowing, and controlling. He recognizes these tendencies and their genesis in his non-trust. Predisposed to recognize his fears, he is able to reduce his tendency to "act them out." Experience with groups and group phenomena enables the TORI leader to trust himself to show his fears when he recognizes them, to trust enough to show his distrusts, to share with others in a joint quest for a more trusting relationship in and out of the group.


Leader moves away from:

Leader moves toward:

1. Being impersonal, "in role"

1. Being personal, non-role

2. Selecting my behaviors because they are helpful or therapeutic (a role prescription)

2. Responding to my current feelings and perceptions (showing my self)

3. Focus upon relations between role and role (leader and member; member and member)

3. Focus upon relations between persons and persons

4. Responding to what patients or members seem to need (programming)

4. Responding to how I see and feel about my relationships now (being spontaneous)

5. Screening my responses and modeling appropriate, relevant, helpful, role, or professional aspects of self

5. Minimal screening but sharing all areas of self, however relevant or professional they may seem to me to be

6. Responding to the other as a client, patient, member, or person needing help

6. Responding to the other as a unique person, qua person

7. Concern for changing, curing, or remedying the deficient individual

7. Concern for growth and development of each of us in all of our relationships

8. Being consistent with my theory of action, training, therapy or group growth

8. Focus upon intuition, "gut feel" of what to do: following impulse

9. Focus upon motives, interpretations, and other derivative, inferential, or role concepts

9. Focus upon more available, direct, experienced and visible behavior

10. Focus upon separate, autonomous individuals or entities, as entities

10. Focus on relationships (on how it is now between or among us)

11. Focus on abstraction, generality, or principle

11. Focus on concrete, primitive and elemental feelings and perceptions

12. Focus upon evaluative or moral judgments

12. Focus on descriptive statements about feelings and perceptions

13. Focus on and concern for then (other relationships in the past or future and on the past history of members)

13. Focus on and concern for now (how each of us feels and sees things at this moment)

14. Focus on and concern for there (data from other relationships and contexts)

14. Focus on and concern for here (feelings and perceptions visible and available to all)

15. Focus upon description of the passive self as a static being

15. Focus upon description of the dynamic, in process, becoming organism/person

16. Focus upon limitations of the person

16. Focus upon strengths and growing edges of the person

17. Focus upon punishment and rewards

17. Focus upon flowing behaviors and feelings

18. Focus upon legality, "contracts," norms, controls

18. Focus upon flow, fluidity of temporary, self sustaining systems

19. Focus upon the terminology of fear, risk, caution, and conservation

19. Focus upon trust, venture, impulse, and liberation

20. Focus upon words, semantics, and speech

20. Focus upon non-verbal and body flow and organic integration

Fears become less frightening as they become more familiar, as their effects become better known, and as one learns that the fears will dissipate with openness and interaction. In order to become truly personal in a group, a leader must become very familiar with his fears and the fears of others and be able to deal with these verbally and nonverbally in the continuing feedback of the group interaction.

The inexperienced leader has many fears: fear of letting things get out of control, fear of being seen as incompetent or unprofessional, fear that persons in the group will be hurt or damaged, fear that he will not be perceptive enough to see what is going on under the surface of things, fear that he will not live up to the expectations of group members, fear that he will lose his objectivity as a professional observer, fear that members might see others in the group as more competent or helpful than the appointed leader, and fear that he will not be able to invent or provide a method for resolving a conflict or crisis in the group. Only when the leader sees himself as a role, tries to live up to role expectations, and protects himself from personal relations does he have these kinds of fears. As he comes to see himself as a person and accept his personal relationships with others he finds that these fears come to dissipate.

The leader who comes through theory-motivated and theory-guided experiences in "leaderless" (person-full) groups to gain trust of group processes is increasingly able to enter the group as a person. He is able to ignore the initial role demands of inexperienced group members and to enter into personal relationships. He gains his satisfactions from his own growth, from genuine interdependence, from depth relationships with other persons, from the exchange of human emotions with others, from his growing congruence, and from his growing freedom from the crippling feelings of responsibility for the lives and learnings of others. These are health-giving satisfactions, intrinsic rewards, and freedom-giving behaviors (11).

The central concepts in the leader style described are freedom from role (11), taking responsibility for self and giving others responsibility for themselves (6), giving self the freedom to follow impulses and one's own spontaneity (12), giving primacy to interdependent and with relations (6), the focus upon emergent strengths rather than upon remedial processes (5), the focus upon organic flow rather than upon "contracts" or role obligations (8), the focus upon ecological engineering rather than upon leader behavior for group improvement (5), and the focus upon bodily and non-verbal processes rather than upon verbal relationships. The TORI theory relies upon a set of general assumptions and experiences and a general world or person viewpoint or set, rather than upon a methodology or a technique. TORI is a life style, a way of living, an organic integration and not a tool or a method. The orientation comes both from a person-oriented theory of life and from a set of experiences that create a trusting stance toward persons and groups. One can learn to be more trusting. The general trust theory outlined above emerges in individuals who have trust-inductive experiences. Trust is a master variable. As a person becomes more trusting he becomes more personal, open, allowing, and with others. He inevitably becomes less role-locked, closed, manipulative, and dependent-controlling. One can choose to be less controlling or more open. This choice-directed behavior, if theory-directed and if satisfying to the learner, is self-fulfilling. That is, such experiments with self can reduce fears and increase trusts. The experimenter finds, for instance, that allowing and non-manipulative behavior is more satisfying to him and to others and the allowing behavior can become ascendent as an emerging life style.

Proficiency in the use of TORI theory and practice as a life style and as a way of working with training groups and natural groups can come in one of several ways. Reading the theory as outlined in the sampling of references listed at the end of this essay may be helpful. Performing miniature experiments upon oneself in trying out a role-free style in a series of group experiences is helpful in getting oneself in tune with his capacities to be personal, communicate in depth, join in shared search, and live interdependently. In my experience I have seldom seen a person who makes a genuine and sustained effort to be role-free revert to role behavior. Role-free behavior is more organically rewarding to all relatively non-defensive people than is role behavior. Role behavior is rewarding only in defensive climates, in formal structures, and in controlled or dependent relationships. Non-role behavior is organically suited to the actualization of man. Another route to learning a TORI personal style is to work closely with a person who is using TORI theory in practice. There is obviously no single path to personness.

The TORI group leader, when he has developed a congruent life style, acts in the same way in the group when he is the announced leader or trainer as he does if he were a member of the group. He uses the same "theory" in all situations. His behavior as a therapist, an administrator, a trainer, a parent, a teacher, a counselor, a manager, or a friend is essentially the same. He does not have a special theory to fit a special situation. He does not "choose a leader style." He is as much a person in all situations as it is possible for him to be. He does not "take the role" of parent or therapist. Being present as a full person in the here and now and responding with minimal screening to himself and to others has growth-giving effects. In being a full person in all situations lie gives and receives life, warmth, love, with-ness and humanness. He thus, as serendipity, meets his role obligations as a parent, a therapist, a teacher, or a minister. That is, people around him grow, learn, get healthier, and become more creative and enriched. People may model after him if they wish, as all persons in some ways model after many others. He does not set himself up as a model or consciously intend his behavior to be a model. His life is a continuing quest for richer interdependence. Interdependence is the direction of the growth. Openness, congruence, self-actualization, and role-freedom are means, are steps along the way, and paths toward more full interdependence.


The TORI style of leading a group is appropriate to the most functional leadership within the organization. When persons take or are given "managing" positions in groups or organizations (parents, teachers, administrators, managers) they often attempt to manage the warmth, the communications, the motivations, and the structure of the system (3). They inherit from conventional theory and prevalent practice a series of distrust assumptions about the nature of men and organizations. Based upon these assumptions they institute a series of counter-growth and self-defeating programs: praise and punishment, performance appraisal, merit badges and merit pay, competition, quality control, and arbitrary rules. The critical dynamics of the system are so masked that leaders continue to get falsely confirming data. The systems seem, on the surface, to be effective, but they exacerbate latent and cumulative counter-growth forces: depersonalization, role behavior and fear; strategic distortion and circumvention; persuasion-passivity; and dependence-hostility (1, 3, 7).

More functional behavior for the parent, teacher, group leader, or manager is to "go with the flow" and contribute directly to the emergence and growth of the system. When this happens persons and organizations grow, emerge, and become. There is movement toward primary and stated aims: productivity in the company, spirituality in the church, socialization in the home, learning in the school, and psychological health in the clinic. Movement and growth are toward the health and fulfillment of members: the essence of effectiveness of any social system. Growing—personal, open, realizing, and interdependent behaviors — is highly correlated with each of the organizational outcomes stated above.

It is my observation, both in research and consulting, that the most direct, economical and powerful way for the manager, group leader, or therapist to enhance these organizational outcomes is to direct attention to increasing the trust level. He optimizes growth and reduces defense levels by being personal, open, self-determining and interdependent, and fostering these behaviors in others.

This is not to say that the manager or group leader becomes passive, non-directive, "permissive," impotent, encaptured by forces he cannot understand or control, an observer, or even a servant. Rather, the high-trust TORI leader becomes a full person. He is assertive, warm, open, active, demanding to be heard, expressive of his own feelings and needs, and very much involved in decisions and processes in the group and in its creativity and productivity: just as are all the other growing members of the group or the organization.

The leader does not assume responsibility for the group or the organization. Taking responsibility for someone else feeds the counter-growth forces of role taking, filtering, passivity, and dependency that we see in low-trust groups, teams, and organizations.

Any change in a person or group or organization, however significantly it may relieve symptoms of distress, is dysfunctional if it does not move in the direction of increasing the trust level and optimization of the four variables of personalization, openness, self-determination, and interdependence.


1. Gibb. J. R. Defensive communication. The Journal of Communication, 1981, 11 (3), 141-148.

2. Gibb, J. R. Climate for trust formation. In L. P. Bradford, J. R. Gibb & K. D. Benne (Eds.), T group theory and laboratory method. New York: Wiley, 1984.

3. Gibb, J. R. Fear and facade: defensive management. In R. E. Farson (Ed.), Science and human affairs. Palo Alto: Science and Behavior Books, Inc., 1965.

4. Gibb, J. R. The counselor as a role-free person. In C. A. Parker (Ed.), Counseling theories and counselor education. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1968.

5. Gibb, J. R. Group experiences and human possibilities. In H. A. Otto (Ed.), Human potentialities. St. Louis: W. H. Green, 1968.

8. Gibb, J. R. Search for with-ness: a new look at interdependence. In W. G. Dyer (Ed.), New dimensions in group training. New York: Van Nostrand, 1971, in press.

7. Gibb, J. R. Managing for creativity in the organization. In C. W. Taylor (Ed.), Climate for creativity. New York: Pergamon Publishing Co., 1971. -~.

8. Gibb, J. R., & Gibb, L. M. Humanistic elements in group growth. In J. F. T. Bugental (Ed.), Challenges of humanistic psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.

9. Gibb, J. R., & Gibb, L. M. Emergence therapy: the TORI process in an emergent group. In G.M. Gazda (Ed.), Innovations to group psychotherapy. Springfield, Ill.: Thomas, 1968.

10. Gibb, J. R., & Gibb, L. M. Leaderless groups: growth-centered values and potentials. In H. A. Otto & J. Mann (Eds.), Ways of growth: approaches to expanding awareness. New York: Grossman, 1968.

11. Gibb, J. R., & Gibb, L. M. Role freedom in a TORI group. In A. Burton (Ed.), Encounter: the theory and practice of encounter groups. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1969.

12. Gibb, J. R., & Gibb, L. M. The process of group actualization. In J. Akin, A. Goldberg, G. Myers, & J. Stewart (Eds.), Language behavior: readings in communication. The Hague, The Netherlands: Mouton & Co., 1971.