All Constellations relate to organisations, even a family or our body is an organisation. However Organisational Constellations (OC) tend to refer to organisations established for a particular purpose, often that purpose is work/business, but it could also include the army, health, education, religion or a stamp-collecting club. Even constellations about the environment and nature could be termed Organisational. OC work is very broad.
Even though we usually say that Constellations are about Human Systems, OC’s have been used to debug computer programs, discover problems in machines and correct bottlenecks in factories. OC’s tend to refer to systems other than the family system, but the family system is often quite close and influential.
OC’s were born between Bert Hellinger and Gunthard Weber. Weber had an Organisational issue, so Hellinger set up the first Organisational Constellation, for Gunthard Weber. Gunthard Weber then went on to be the main proponent and specialist in this work and his paper: Organizational Constellations: Basics and Special Situations (2000. Carl-Auer-Systeme Verlag), is a foundational work that provides thinking and practice suggestions.
Since then the OC approach has taken 3 streams, in part influenced by the question “How can we engage the Organisational Community with the Constellation approach?’:-
IOCTI, an intensive OC training run every 2 years, and other trainings, led by Jacob Van Stam. (This group tends to include Family Constellation foundations blended with modern Systems thinking approaches)
The Structural Constellation approach, which has its own philosophical impetus, led by Insa Sparrer and Matthias Varga von Kibed. (Focus on abstract elements or non-human parts, solution-focused, less reliant on the Family System.)
Bert Hellinger, who whilst has focused on personal and now more spiritual work, he has recently come back to give stimulus to OC. (Most approach from the Family Constellations & Orders of Love.)
Differences between FC and OC
We belong in our family through birth, and we change our role in our family through the passage of time or birth, such as becoming a mother. In Organisations, we usually belong because of some special skill, a useful attitude, or through achievement. In a family organisation though, we can also belong due to our birth.
Even though the presenting issues in OC’s seem organisational, such as a lack of staff motivation, however, the family system often has a great effect on OC, especially at the individual or group level. Examples:
- A group of male directors are often in conflict. In the Constellation conflict is reduced when they say to each other ‘you are not my brother’.
- A managing director distrusts his male staff. His Constellation reveals he does not trust his father, and he entangles this with his business.
- A man is not taking his opportunities at work. His constellation shows his loyalty to his grandmother, who gave up her life so the family could have more food during a famine. He cannot have a better life than her.
Context of OC
FC work has been traditionally experienced in workshops or seminars, in front of others. This may not be so possible for members of an organisation, where different loyalties about sharing outside the organisation may exist. OC tends to be conducted in three different spaces:
(1) Public seminar
(2) Private seminar, physically inside the organisation or outside it
(3) Coaching, physically inside the organisation or outside it
And those involved could be an:
(2) A small group, such as owners or directors
(3) A team
What will often guide the combination of the space and the participants will be issues of relevance and condfidentiality.
Some advantages of OC
- Solution focus – asking ‘what would be a good solution?’ can orientate the client towards resolution
- Brevity – OC can be sometimes quite brief. Even just seeing the initial set-up can reveal something important to the client.
- Clarity – organisations can be complex places and those inside them can struggle to get a clear view. OC’s can give new insight.
- Untangling – OC work is good for separating the various systems in our lives.
- Time and Space - for example, to see the pressure of goals that are too close, or new ideas that are too early, or leaders who stand too close or too far away from their staff.
- Reality – eg OC can help show the reality of roles in organisations may be different to the official Organisation Chart
- Shape and Position – the positions of the representatives can give the client much useful information and stimulus, eg, “What happens if I leave the company I established?”
- Scenarios – OC’s can be used to try options, and see the effects.
Challenges of OC
OC has much potential but what are some of the challenges?
What is OC and how do we describe it to clients? Is OC work an intervention, a healing, or a something else? Henriette Katharina Linng, Claude Rosselet and Goerg Senoner have developed Management Constellations and they invite us to think of OC also as a thinking that can support how managers and leaders take up their roles.
The name used in English speaking countries, Constellation, can be confusing and not very engaging for clients, especially those from business.
In FC we tend to talk about the Family Soul, but what is relevant in OC? Jan Jacob Stam and others use the expression “Systemic Conscience.”
In FC we often say that healing comes when love flows through the family, in OC what would we say? Business tends to be results focused and wants more practical outcomes.
What is the size of the boundary put around OC work? If a facilitator sees something in a Constellation that seems to lead to resolution, but it feels too private for the setting or composition of the group present, what is to be done? What is the contract made with the client for the work? Straying outside of the contract can lead to issues and possibly tarnish the reputation of OC work.
- The background of the facilitator
OC can be influenced greatly by the background of the facilitator. Gunthard Weber said “(In OC) Keep to the organisational side of the issue. It is easy to be seduced into a Family Constellation especially if that is your initial training and orientation.” (In, Alun Reynolds, Knowing Field January 2006).
OC invites those with a consulting orientation to explore more about family systems and those with a FC background to explore more the organisational context.
OC can be delivered in various styles that have various degrees of engagement in different cultures. For example some cultures are more open to sharing business issues in public workshops and have more time available for OC work, while other cultures prefer a short private session.
After the constellation, what next?
In FC there is a tendency for the facilitator to pull back from the client, but is this the same for OC? Often people in organisations need some practical steps and coaching.
Editor's Note: this article was contributed by David Mathes (November 2009)