Organizational Constellations

Two weeks ago, I asked my coach to help me with my thinking about a situation where I got stuck in a organizational change process. After a initial introduction in the situation he immediately started to move the furniture in the room, trying to make a open space in the middle.

“Lets make an organizational constellation”, he said.

I was introduced to the use of constellations in a change management course i’ve done two years ago and have had 3 other experiences with the method since then. Yet, this was truly the first time I was absolutely stunned with what happened during the process. Rationally speaking, I cannot explain what happened there, but I immediately knew it was a very profound and intense learning experience.

This made me feel so curious to learn more about this method of organizational constellations. I wondered, are there studies that could explain me what it was, where the intense feeling of connectedness with the system being represented came from.

First, a little intro on what you do with organizational constellations. Basically what you do is that you make a visual representation of a living system, placing all actors of that system in relation with one another. This can be done just on paper (just like you would visualize the arrangement of the players from a football team) or with the use of cups. Every single cup is then representing an actor of the system. This time we used sheets of paper that were to be laid out on the floor. Trough standing on one of the papers we now didn’t use cups but our own bodies, representing one of the actors. You sort of step into the system, looking and feeling it from the perspective of the actor you are representing. And thats exactly where it became amazing. While representing an actor I could feel what the presence of other actors did to me. To give some examples, I felt my body actually being pushed forward, or pulled backwards. I could feel a strong pain in my right shoulder directly hitting me when another actor was added to the constellation, but also disappear when I stepped out of it. Emotions of joy, power but also pain and wanting to cry went through me. To be honest, at one time this all drived me crazy: where did this all came from? Why in earth was it possible to feel all these emotions and physical “things”??

An article of Gunthard Weber (2000) gives a good introduction into organizational constellations, introducing it “as an autonomous consulting method for initiating useful changes in organizations.” The method is grounded in a systemic and phenomenological view often referred by Bert Hellinger who introduced the use family constellations for therapy. The phenomelogical view refers to the opening of our perception, “the ability to perceive and be sensitive to our relationships (Weber, 2000)”. Weber also cites Hellinger when comparing the scientific with the phenomenological  quest for knowledge as the latter “unfolds when we pause within the movement of grasping and we direct our glance not so much on tangible specifics, but instead we direct our glance upon the whole, and the glance is therefore ready to absorb everything at once”.

The phenomenological attitude requires we be poised for action, and yet not act. Through this tension we become highly able and ready to perceive. He who can withstand this tension knows after a while how the fullness within the horizon settles around a center, and he suddenly discovers a connection, an order, a truth or a step that leads further. This insight comes, as it were, from outside. It is received as a gift and is, as a rule, limited.” (Bert Hellinger in Weber, 2000)

This reminded me of the stories described by Otto Scharmer in the book Presence when he talks about Theory U and the ability to see the whole. Perhaps, in doing the organizational constellation I was a times able to pause and get to “the bottom of the U”, in Scharmer’s terms. I’m still not sure what it was that I learned in those moments, but I know it was special. I hope it was another step in the quest for the ability to see the whole. Discover patterns not yet recognized in order to come to new and better understanding.

If you have had similar experiences, please let me know. I very curious about your stories!

53 Responses to “Organizational Constellations”

  1. 1 Ewald Dietrich

    Hi Robben!

    Welcome to the club! For me there are two important things about constellation work:

    - Nobody knows how it’s working. Don’t let you make believe that it might be morphogenetic fields or something! Up to this point there’s also no pressing need for knowing. The reason beeing:

    - It’s working anyway. And on top of that there’s proof. (Although my link is in german.) ;-)

    Yours, Ewald

  2. 2 Joost Robben

    Hi Ewald,
    Thank you for your response. I tried to understand your German article (thanks to Google :) ).I believe that if a participant learns from the experience, it is a great start. As I understand you talk about the “Erfahrungsvalidität” (experience validity) in the sense that a noticable part of participants report the constellation reflects their organizational situation. I believe that we always need to be critical towards this in the sense that my own original understanding of the organization could influence the constellation. Therefore it is important to have an experienced counselor/ coach guiding the process and participants have to “switch of their minds” and trust on their feelings.

    Best regards,

  3. 3 Ewald Dietrich

    You’re absolutely right!

    With regards, Ewald

  4. 4 Joitske hulsebosch

    Hi Joost, I’ve experienced it during a IAF introductory workshop last year juny. We used people and asked them to move (or not). I didn’t understand it at all, but the lessons for the problemowner were very powerful. Very impressive.

  5. 5 Joost Robben

    @Joitske Thank you for sharing your experience with constellations! Great to hear that it was a powerfull learning experience for the problem owner.And yes, we dont understand any of it, but it does work. Also in my experience I realize almost every day new learnings that derive from doing the constellation.


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  7. 7 John Whittington

    Hi Joost – glad you found your experience useful. what you are describing is referred to by constellation facilitators as ‘representative perception’ and is a mix of the limbic system in the brain and the resonance of standing in a particular place in a system. If you ever in the Uk you are welcome to come to one of my workshop where we explore issues using this methodology. Best wishes, John

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