How to pool your team’s shared experience to build a better understanding of how your organisation works

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Building empathy and seeing the big picture are key learning activities that can help you communicate more effectively with your team. Organisational Constellations is an exercise packed with opportunities to do both these things, and better understand how your organisation works.

How do you discover and explore entrenched patterns inside your organisation? Negative patterns such as gender inequality, destructive conflict, bullying, communication breakdown, and lack of engagement; and positive patterns such as co-operation, collective decision making, empathy, and self-management.

When a third of all change projects – including strategic realignment, customer service reorganisation, improving sales, and implementing new business systems – fail [1], how do you work out where the blocks to success are so that you can move past them?

Organisational Constellations is one way to work on this.

Constellations are a powerful and far-reaching method for exploring burning issues and entrenched patterns like these inside organisations.

Based on the work of Bert Hellinger, an Organisational Constellation is a tool you can run with your team or any other group of people.

The Constellation draws on the intelligence embedded within the people experiencing a situation to reveal the hidden dynamics at work in that situation. It can shed light on leadership dynamics, conflict resolution, and relationships between different stakeholders or team members.

Use it to explore a specific issue such as culture change or innovation, or just use it as a fun tool to help a group build empathy and understanding by pooling their shared experience.

You will always learn something from doing it.

How to Do It

What’s needed:

  • A reasonable number of people: a min of 8 up to a max of 20.
  • A room with enough space to stand in a big circle
  • All tables and chairs moved out of the way
  • Someone to act as facilitator

Pick a person or a role in your organisation.
(NB don’t pick something or someone that’s too removed from the group, otherwise, it’s too hard to empathise eg don’t try to be the big boss if they are several tiers away. Better to start closer to home.)

Somebody – who becomes the issue-holder or core – steps into the circle to represent that person or role.

Our suggestion is: if it’s your role, don’t play yourself, let someone else play you.

As the facilitator, you ask them: Who are you? What do you do? What is your experience? What do you imagine is going on for you? What’s important to you?

The issue-holder answers. Others may disagree with them, or chip in. And together you start to build a picture.

The next question is: who do they work with?

It could be colleagues, supporters, external suppliers, volunteers, managers, directors, clients, customers, or any other stakeholder.

Someone else from the circle steps forward to represent one of these people they work with, and you ask them the same questions: Who are you? What do you do? What is going on for you? What’s important to you?

Each new person says what they think about the person and role they’re representing, the rest of the group modify that, chip in, or add to it.

As the connections expand, new people step forward to represent the new roles – they stand in different positions in the room in such a way as to give a picture of how the elements relate to each other: how close, how far away, how connected they are.

In this way, you systematically build the ‘constellation’.

It could include more conceptual elements like resources, limitations, systems, goals or the future.

Keep going until everyone in the circle has been assigned a role, or until the situation has been fully mapped out.

What you’re doing is trying to build an empathy-led model of what’s going on.

Then you can stand back and look at the dynamics of what’s going on.

What You Can Learn from a Constellation

As the representatives step into their role, they are encouraged to feel the experience of those they are representing and accurately describe it. This can be really surprising.

Interesting things emerge.

The Constellation starts to reveal dynamics of a situation that may not have been visible before, or perhaps known only to some.

The group as a whole builds a picture that no individual can understand on their own, because of all the different perspectives and connections.

Why This Tool is Good for Managers

As new dynamics are brought to light, everybody present can see them and experience them, then you can work with the issues more creatively, to explore deeper perspectives that go below conventional awareness, and can reveal profound resolutions.

Here’s Some Examples from Real-Life Constellations

1. We ran a Constellation where the assembled group only looked upwards in the organisation towards the executive team and talked about everything internal. Nobody talked about the customer. The question it raised was, did that truly reflect how they viewed things? If we re-did it and started with the customer, what would happen?

2. In another example, the Constellation showed there was a big gap between different parts of the organisation – between people at the coalface, and people making the decisions. That is how it felt for the staff, which was news to managers. The Constellation was able to bring this to light.

Conclusion

Constellations are brilliantly simple and full of subtlety and complexity. They are enjoyable while helping people understand how others experience the organisation. They can reveal the patterns that shape an organisation and provide clues for alternative ways of behaving.

They are really really useful.

If you’d like to run a Constellation in your organisation, here’s a free Organisational Constellations – worksheet
or
If you need some help with working on this – get in touch, at Then Somehow we help you build emotional literacy, increase empathy, and help you see the world differently, giving you practical tools to shift the stuff that’s stuck.

If you’d like to discuss how we can help your leadership team perform better, get in touch here.

Source

[1] Mckinsey & Co survey of 3,199 executives in 2008 found a third of executives believed that their change initiatives were total successes, and another third believed that their change initiatives were more successful than unsuccessful.

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