Organisation Constellations

 

Introduction

What are systems, what is a constellation?

Organisation constellations

Applicable business area's

Applicable consulting area's

Symptoms of systemic issues

Basic principles

Advanced principles

Literature

 

Introduction

Over de last decade extensive experience and insights has been gained on system dynamics. Initially the work was done on family systems, though soon it became clear that the same principles apply to daily-work-life and organisations. The organisation system approach has proven great value to understanding organisational issues and success factors. Compared to current available management tools and techniques, system dynamics looks at management issues from a totally different point of view.

What are systems, what is a constellation?

Systems in this context are for example families, organisations, cultures, religions and countries; basically any social group of people form a system. The German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger discovered that these systems behave according to certain hidden psychological principles. And more importantly, he found out that insights can be gained and problems solved through a therapeutic methodology called 'constellation'. A constellation is a here-and-now representation of a system by representatives, persons who each represent part of the system.

Organisation constellations

As a general rule of thumb, all area's of complex decision making where the human factor is part of the game, an organisation constellation can be applied. An organisation constellation is a kind of simulation in which the current situation and the impact of alternatives can be evaluated. The human factor may be the employees of an organisation or any other stakeholder group, such as clients, suppliers, partners or shareholders, and even the government and society.

Applicable business area's

Strategy development. With a organisation constellation, competing strategic options can be evaluated by stakeholder groups. Such a constellation is a great tool to gain insights in the attitude of all involved groups towards a strategy.

Organisational restructuring, mergers & acquisitions. A change in organisational structure results in a change of the system dynamics. A constellation will provide insights in necessary conditions for the new organisation to flourish, and the necessity to close off the old organisation with respect and dignity. If it does not happen, the new organisation will encounter severe problems. In case of an merger or acquisition, it is important that both parties respect each others old organisation.

Recruitment. A constellation may answer two types of questions: (1) Is the position required for the well being of the organisation - does the function add value (2) Does a specific candidate fit in the organisation, both from the candidate's and from the organisation's perspective.

Marketing issues. Different products can be tested with a constellation in different markets. A constellation will show potential clients reactions and feelings towards a product or service. The same applies for brands and brand name positioning.

Any other important decision. For example: an investment decision, do we choose IT-system A or B? A constellation may simulate the effects on the users attitude or the effect on the organisational system. Alternatives can be evaluated with their impact on the organisation.

Applicable consulting area's

An organisation constellation can be applied in different settings. The obvious scene is with the leadership team, working on the organisation's issues. A few outsiders having experience as representative may be brought in, as they are blank and relatively objective. They are not 'contaminated' with the organisation's social rules. The advantage of such a setting is that the results will be known by relevant people.

A second option is to work with people that are not well functioning within their position. The source of the issue may be in the organisation dynamics, or in the person's personal circumstances. A mix of organisation and family constellation will be applied, requiring a more safe and confidential setting.

The final option is the so called 'supervision' setting, where a Consultant works off-line with his clients i.e. in a setting where the client is not present. As a Consultant (team) becomes part of the client's system, it will be difficult for a Consultant to see crucial parts of the problems he or she is facing. A remarkable fact is that working off-line also impacts the live situation of the client.

Symptoms of systemic issues

Tardiness of the organisation. Important decisions are difficult made or not at all, the management seems not to be able to adapt and steer the organisation. Problems are being worked on for year without any results.

Hidden conflicts. Everybody feels some conflict is going on, though nobody knows what it really is about and who is involved.

Reduced human effectiveness. Some people are less effective compared to what reasonably could have been expected, based on the persons qualities, knowledge and experience. Some people seem unable to perform and act on a reasonable level.

Leadership problems. Employees complain about their leadership or the leader is not generally accepted. Another leadership issue is when successor leaders are encountering similar problems with a particular department.

A lot of 'bad' communication. Simply when employees do not feel heard or understood.

People are not well appreciated. Employees complain about the lack of appreciation for their efforts, or -if not expressed openly- feel like that.

High turnover or sick leave. People have a tendency to leave the organisation. Also high levels of sick leave or many burn-outs are indications of a systemic issue.

Internal competition. Abnormal high internal competition and many severe power struggles.

Basic principles

Although much of the work on system dynamics have been done on family constellations, it appears that organisations behave and follow similar rules and principles as families. In general, all systemic issues can be summarised into one of the following categories:

(1) Order principle

A hierarchical order in organisations is usually based on competence, experience, achievements and seniority. At the moment the order is out of balance, all sorts of problems will arise. People will question their own and others positions, taking the organisations focus on its goal away and through power struggles people will try to re-establish an appropriate organisational order.

(2) Compensation principle

Or, the balance between giving and taking. Are people rewarded, acknowledged and appreciated for their real contribution? Employees or employers that take more -or get less- for their real contribution will impact significantly the well being of the organisation. Negative behaviour such as resentment, revenge and tribal disputes may creep into the organisation.

(3) Bonding principle

What is bonding a group of people, what are the sources of loyalty? Usually employees are bonded to the organisation, its leadership or its goal, the colleagues or the professional group. The way the organisation treats the bonding with its members will impact the attitude, behaviour and loyalty of its employees.

Advanced principles

Systems appear to behave according to certain psychological principles based on guilt, innocence and conscience. Hellinger distinguishes three types of conscience: a personal conscience, a systemic conscience and the 'conscience of the greater whole'.

The conscience we are familiar with as a feeling of guilt and innocence is called the personal conscience. The systemic conscience is a hidden conscience that we do not feel and has precedence over the personal conscience. It is at the service of another order, a natural pattern that defines and determines human relationship systems. The third type of conscience that works in us is mysterious, it does not follow the laws of personal or systemic conscience, and reveals a path to the greater whole.

The personal conscience is about our primary needs in all our relationships. Primary needs in relationships are distinguished in: 1. the need to belong, that is for bonding 2. the need to maintain a balance of giving and taking 3. the need for safety of social convention and predictability, that is for order.

These needs are experienced as necessary and interact with each other in a complex and sometimes conflicting manner. If our actions strengthen our relationships we feel innocent. In case our actions endanger our relationships we feel guilty. According to this definition, innocence and guilt are not the same as good and evil according to social morality.

If the feeling of belonging is threatened, we experience guilt as a feeling of exclusion and alienation. When the feeling of belonging is served, we experience innocence as a feeling of intimacy and closeness. If our giving and taking is out of balance, we experience guilt as obligation. In case of balance, we feel innocence as entitlement and freedom. When we deviate with our behaviour from the social order, we experience guilt as misbehaviour and fear for punishment. Finally, innocence towards the social order is experienced as conscientious and loyalty.

Literature

Loves hidden symmetry, Bert Hellinger met Gunthard Weber en Hunter Beaumont. Zieg, Tucker & Co. Dutch translation: De verborgen dynamiek van familiebanden. Altamira Becht.

Praxis der Organisationsaufstellung, Gunthard Weber et al. Carl Auer Systeme Verlag. Dutch translation: Het succes van organisatie opstellingen, Altamira Becht.

Systemdynamische Organisationsberatung. Klaus Grochowiak & Castella. Carl Auer Systeme Verlag.