What is a Constellation?
A constellation is a living map made of other individuals in the workshop (or objects if in a one-to-one setting) who are used as representatives for the self, other people, teams, divisions or more abstract elements like ‘our products’, ‘our customers’ or ‘our culture’. With guidance from the facilitator the client is invited to choose different representatives for each element that is relevant to their question, topic or issue and then place them in the space in relation to each other. The client then steps back and becomes an observer of a remarkable but highly effective process that doesn’t use intellectual thinking but accesses embodied information.
A pattern emerges. A pattern which is an external expression of the hidden dynamics in the system being explored. This initial map of ‘what is’ is illuminated to identify the dynamics that are blocking or causing conflict or other difficulties and, as the constellation develops, missing conversations are completed, what’s been excluded is re-membered and fresh resources located. Through a combination of facilitation informed by a knowledge of the organising forces which sustain and limit systems and the phenomenon of representative perception, the constellation shows what is needed for change. A new pattern emerges that creates fresh insight and then resources and resolves, bringing balance to the whole system.
Representative perception is the somatic phenomenon that delivers such value in constellations, surfacing what has not been fully seen, said or considered. The tacit, embodied information that is held in every relationship system. Representatives and representative perception should not be confused with acting, role-play or mythodrama. There is no ‘story-telling’ or acting, only perception. Unlike role-play a constellation is facilitated, not directed, and can be relied on every time to deliver new insights and information beyond the stories, ideas and judgements that can distract and misdirect leaders, consultants and organisations.
Each constellation includes time for checking and sense-making as well as a review of actions and responsibilities to take away.
Themes that can be explored
Business constellations reveal the underlying dynamics and patterns that both limit and resource leaders, teams and whole organisations. By creating a three dimensional relational map of the issue, leaders can see how lasting change can begin and endure. Constellations are particularly useful when the source of the issue or the solution is not clear, where previous attempts to change have not endured or where there is a sense of ‘stuckness’ in the whole or part of a system. Standing in the ‘what is’ illuminates dynamics, softens hidden loyalties, completes missing conversations and opens up fresh paths to resolution and ‘what could be’.
Leaders looking to release inertia, enter or exit a system, prepare for leading a change or resolve dynamics that limit movement into the future find a workshop a refreshing release from confusion and dilemma. They leave with rich insights and clarity on direction, responsibilities and actions. Workshops and the exercises and constellations within them can be used to test, explore, illuminate and resolve issues that challenge, confuse or are hard to influence, including:
- Leading in a VUCA world, with the health of the whole system in mind
- Mapping the relational pattern amongst key stakeholders
- Aligning the team in advance of critical change
- Releasing ‘stuckness’ in teams, divisions and individuals
- Leading organisational change and transition
- Dissolving resistance to change
- Improving key relationships, dissolving conflict
- Resourcing a leadership team
- Repurposing a leadership team
- Refining strategic focus
- Testing alternative product/service offerings
- Balancing regional/global focus
- Leading a virtual team
- Managing a matrix organisation
- Supporting successful mergers and acquisitions
- Testing organisational structure alternatives
- Strategic alignment of key parts
- Identifying dynamics behind resistance to change
- Pre or post major legal, social or regulatory changes
- Critical issue resolution
- Building organisational health
- Decisions and crucial choice points
- Identifying best investment and funding partners/options
- Mapping, analysing and cutting through complexity
- Facilitating culture change that endures
- Aligning for sale, merger or acquisition
- Illuminating inertia or resistance to change in self
- Connecting with fresh inner resources to lead complexity
- Finding the next step on career path
- Preparation for a difficult conversation
- Easing of intractable issues or conflict
- Setting a new direction
- Aligning self with role and organisation
- Finding resources to enhance work life balance
- Finding your place in a system
- Softening personal dynamics that limit professional journey
- Joining and managing a new system in a healthy way
- Succession planning
- Leaving well
How do systemic issues arise?
Organisational systems are greatly influenced by naturally occurring forces that ensure their effectiveness and vitality. When they are disturbed or ignored, business and the business of leadership can become unwittingly entangled in the self-righting dynamics and the flow of leadership and organisational health is disrupted.
It is the attempts to ignore or side step these underlying forces which cause imbalances and entanglements in the system. Once out of balance the system tries to right itself and calls individuals or groups of people into service of the need to correct and find balance and the natural order again.
A constellation workshop or systemic coaching/consulting will surface the unseen dynamics and then reveal new paths to enduring resolution, bringing fresh vitality to the whole system.
What informs this way of working?
Constellations and systemic interventions informed by them are underpinned by simple truths that have been found to balance successful human relationship and other systems. Key amongst them is that everyone and everything has a ‘right place’ in their system. The purpose, the roles and all the people. A place where they belong. Each different but equally valued. When, as individuals or teams, we experience being in the ‘right place’ systemically, we feel ready to bring our best selves to our role, in service of the purpose – and can then function with clarity, in flow with the system.
All human systems hang like a child’s mobile, in delicate balance. The winds of change can easily disturb one part, which in turn influences and affects every other part. The constellation of relationship dynamics changes and causes an imbalance. The sense of being in the ‘right place’ is lost.
The unspoken awareness in the system demands balance and redress. The system calls people – individuals in family systems, leaders and teams in business systems, into the service of the need to redress the balance. This creates numerous cultural, communication, leadership and motivation issues.
It’s the job of a constellation to identify these complex issues and then point towards a resolution – bringing renewed clarity, fresh resources and energy to the system. So that all can find their place.
Where does this approach to resolution come from and what underpins it?
The approach was originated in Europe by systemic specialist and philosopher Bert Hellinger through application within family and organisational systems. It has now been experienced by many thousands of people in Europe and across the world in both personal, organisational, consulting, educational and executive coaching contexts.
Hidden loyalties, identifications and entanglements are often revealed in just a few minutes, giving this approach a reputation as an intervention that can quickly get to the underlying dynamics and free up a system, releasing fresh energy that leads to resolution. The principles of acknowledgment and respect for ‘what is’ run through this work and so support people to really look at the truths and honour the past, before trying to move into the future and on into resolution.
Life within an organisation – with founder dynamics, matrix reporting, multiple hidden loyalties and the need for constant change – is often more complex than in a family system. Investors, staff, shareholders, former employees, suppliers and customers make business systems more complex as the interaction with many other systems on a daily basis creates a constant need for re-balance.
An increasing number of professional executive coaches and consultants are now training in this methodology and facilitating change at a deep level in individual leaders, teams and whole organisations.
What happens in a workshop?
This way of looking at professional and organisational issues takes place in a group setting. The workshops are small and there is explanation, demonstration and time for questions before the work starts and throughout the day.
The group sits in a circle and, under the guidance of the facilitator, uses the space in the centre to set up each constellation. To begin each piece of work the person who is bringing an issue briefly describes, to the facilitator, the difficulty or challenge that the business, leadership team or organisation is facing. The facilitator then assists them in the selection of group members to represent the elements of the system being explored. This concept of representation of somebody or something else is central to this way of working and is explained and experienced in opening exercises and throughout the day.
The issue holder guides each representative to stand in relationship to one another in a way that resonates with their inner sense of the relationship dynamics. As a result a pattern is created, an external picture of an inner, often unconscious, image. This is the start of a constellation and, even at this early stage, often reveals fresh insights about the organisational system being explored. The form of the rest of the constellation depends on the issue, the representatives’ feedback and the facilitator’s observations and interventions.
During the constellation the facilitator gathers information and insights from the representatives – they will experience distinct and precise sensations. As the dynamics gradually become clearer, the facilitator works with the representatives to bring reconnection and resolution to the whole system. The process of a constellation – lasting from a few minutes to over an hour – and the new image of resolution provide the issue holder with new information for action and change. Combining this with the post-constellation discussion and processing, the issue holder leaves with insights, fresh energy and resources for resolution.
As an observer you may be invited to take part in other people’s constellations as a representative. It’s very common that someone else’s work will resonate and that through their constellation you will clarify a business or leadership issue of your own.
Who can attend the open workshops?
Business Constellations open workshops are open to:
- Organisation and business unit leaders, owner managers, senior managers and executives who have responsibility for dealing with a complex or challenging business, organisational, commercial or cultural issue.
- HR, OD consultants and coaches who work with the commissioning client are welcome to these workshops, by invitation of the client, so that they can take the insights back into the coaching / consulting relationship and process.
- Where members of a senior team are keen to look at issues that face them together, it is possible for all to attend. However, please contact us to discuss your particular situation, issues and needs.
Naturally all our commissioning clients expect total privacy around all commercial, organisational and personal information. On many occasions the workshops are dealing with market sensitive information as well as personal dynamics connected to a role or organisation. Therefore these workshops take place in a confidential environment that assures client confidentiality. At the start of the workshop a confidentiality framework specific to that workshop is agreed by the whole group. This can be reviewed and re-stated at any time if required by the client.
In addition it is possible to explore issues using ‘concealed’ or ‘blind’ constellations, where no information is shared with the group. This is useful in situations where information cannot be spoken or named; only the client and the facilitator have explicit information, provided in a prior briefing. Representatives are only assigned letters or numbers, each representing a different person or part of the system being explored. This enables the workshop to work content-free and process-orientated and so provides a further level of confidentiality in situations where that feels appropriate or more comfortable for the client.