“We live in a time of massive, institutional failure creating results that nobody wants.”

Otto Scharmer


How do we create ways forward that serve the whole system?  How can we access the leadership skills we’ll need to navigate the complexities of the systems we are working within, transform conflicts, discover a true and potent purpose to guide us into the future and realise our best future possibilities?  Here’s how systemic constellations work can help us with these challenges.

What is systemic constellations work?

The systemic constellations method is a pioneering way of illuminating and transforming challenges, both for individuals and for organisations. It is a surprisingly simple but powerful way to reach new ways of understanding, and can be used in situations where people feel ‘stuck’ or where there are tensions or resentments building, such as in the workplace or in families.  It is also a way of tuning deeply in to our shared humanity to help design and participate in organisations that serve ourselves, each other, the whole system and life.  

More unusually, it is a way of attuning to changes that are happening, and want to happen, in the world around us, which may differ from those that were planned. In general, people and organisations are very good at planning strategies for the future they want; the trouble is, there is usually a difference between our plans and what actually happens.  This work enables a new form of leadership that undertakes the creative work of attuning to the unplanned future that is actually emerging, to form responses to it. 

In responding to the emergent future, we are moving away from the (typically limited) perspective of our own plans, and instead are deeply tuning into what the world needs. This work can contribute a huge amount towards a new type of leadership, the kind that is needed in these times. Systemic constellations work shows us that there is a dynamic relationship between purpose and our emergent future, and introduces us to the creativity and leadership skills that we’ll need to navigate that path.  We call this purpose-led leadership.

Why systemic constellations work?

In our current worldview we often treat organisations and communities as inanimate structures or machines, ignoring the deeper flows of value, exchange and emotions that imbue them with aliveness.  To release the full potential of organisations and citizens’ participation in society, we need new forms of emotional and systemic intelligence that understand and respond to what’s really happening ‘below the surface’ of the more visible structures and procedures that govern our social interactions on top.  This is what Systemic Constellations offers. 

What do you mean by ‘systemic’?

The word ‘system’ here simply refers to the web of connections and relationships that surround everyone and everything. We are all part of a wider ecosystem and are involved in many systems, e.g. our body, our family, our work (including connections with colleagues, customers, and suppliers), our personal relationships, and even our relationship with planet earth. So, the word ‘systemic’ here means that we are interested in exploring the dynamics of these relationships and bringing to light all factors affecting these systems.

How does it work?

Systemic constellations is a coaching method which sets up maps (“constellations”) of the key elements or parts of a question or challenge, to see the relationships at play between the parts and to bring to light the dynamics that might otherwise be invisible. There is a process of stepping into these roles in an authentic way and sensitively drawing out the truth about how these relationships work/don’t work, and the hidden forces which might be influencing the challenge.

Its focus is not just on the individual, but on the broader context of the whole system. The reason that this is important is that we all tend to interpret things from our own personal (or tribal) perspective, which can lead to problems in our professional relationships in organisations, e.g. a blame culture, or a sense of ‘us against them’. By looking at the network of relationships that we all have, this way of working helps us to see things from different perspectives, to gain awareness, and to see solutions where before there were challenges or tensions in those relationships. 

Sounds complicated….

This may sound complicated, but the actual work is surprisingly simple and intuitive. It is quick to learn and can lead to profound shifts in awareness and resolutions to challenges. It doesn’t require a high level of understanding of complex concepts. In fact, it goes beyond just a cognitive approach and encourages you to focus on how you are feeling and to pay attention to your intuition and embodied experience. Knowledge about systems can be felt in the body as well as the mind, as we access other ways of ‘knowing’. So, the actual process is very simple to participate in, and very accessible.

A complex-sounding name for a simple, intuitive process.

What does this way of working reveal?

Often, surprising insights can come to light, which can quickly lead to shifts in the dynamics of the relationship(s) and can relieve feelings of tension or ‘stuckness’. This, in turn, can lead participants to develop innovative solutions to challenges. It can unblock potential and improve the performance of both the system (the whole) and the individuals within the system (the parts).

How is this possible? This particular way of working has revealed that organisations are purposeful living systems subject to a ‘hidden architecture’ of systemic ordering forces that powerfully influence the relationships and dynamics arising in them. If organisations can attune to this architecture, there is a basic alignment in which all members of a system feel at ease – leading to a flow of leadership, trust and purposeful action, which enables solutions to emerge for the benefit of the whole system. 

In what way is this different from other methods of system or organisational change?

Other methods may use systems thinking, mapping systems in a conceptual way, but these maps are fixed and – without complex and expensive computer modelling – cannot show the interactions and dynamics within a system, in the way that this method can. Systemic constellations work is an embodied way of mapping and understanding relationships as a living, feeling system; and ‘simulating’ different ways forward so as to find those that are most strengthening and effective.

What are the benefits?

  • Simplifying complexity: which can be overwhelming for leaders handling critical change issues
  • Untangling patterns: including misplaced loyalties and stuck patterns, resolving conflicts, and improving the ability to navigate change
  • Finding a sense of place: a greater sense of belonging and wellbeing, leading to improved performance, engagement, customer satisfaction and profitability.
  • Enabling innovation: a clearer sense of the whole, unlocking ways forward and new energy

As one of our clients from the UK Civil Service described the benefits:

“I am convinced these are core leadership capacities for the 21st Century.Your systemic programmes are excellent, superb even – they have been a powerful resource for bringing systemic work into a complex change environment with demonstrable outcomes….the pace of Directorate transformation has also been significantly enhanced through the application of their skills & insights”. 

In Closing

This method involves considering a situation from a ‘wide-angle’ perspective, looking at all relationships, not just the most immediate or obvious ones, to discover deep truths about the forces that are influencing us. By taking a ‘whole self, whole system’ approach, we can draw on our embodied knowing and presence, and step back to perceive the wider potentials within a system. And the more we deepen these capacities, the more we – as leaders, change-makers and citizens – can guide organisations and communities to create the best future possibilities and evolutionary pathways needed to reach their full potential. 

To Find Out More?

This is the first in a series of articles exploring the systemic constellations method and its applications in business, start-ups, governments, and third sector organisations. For a more in-depth explanation, our free ebook is available here: https://www.wholepartnership.com/whole-self-whole-system-selected-writings-systemic-coaching-constellations/

The best way to really understand how it works is to see it in action yourself with an introductory workshop. The next ones are in London in March and October 2020. Go to our event calendar here:https://www.wholepartnership.com/booking/systemic-coaching-with-constellations-an-introductory-one-day-workshop/