What is Systemic Constellations and How Does it Apply to Coaching?
Last week I had the pleasure of talking with Karen Tweedie (ex ICF President 2009) about a very new approach to coaching which has taken hold in Europe and is now being explored in the US, Australia and other places around the world.
The approach is called Systemic Constellations, and is a theory or body of thought that has its roots in family systems theory. What it does is look at a client’s problem or issue through the lens of a system. Now that system might be their organization, it could be their family, it could be the economic context they are living and working in, it could be anything really. The defining feature here is the concept of the system, as opposed to the focus purely on the self. And the other feature is that the process is often physical and involves very little talking and long reflective silences.
It is actually quite a difficult thing to explain in words, so let me try and illustrate before we move in to the interview. I have experienced first hand two sessions of systemic constellations with Karen, one was at an ICF conference in Sydney and one was during a private coaching session. In the Sydney workshop Karen asked participants to get into groups of three and workshop a problem by assigning meaning or representation to your two partners and then placing them around the room in proximity to you and each other. I remember one of the people was to represent your future self. Once you had positioned your future self in relation to you and to the problem, you could then get a sense of how far away you were, what direction was your future self facing? – back to yourself, out front, off to the side? Meaning could then be assigned to the configuration. It was quite interesting, and very interesting to see the varied positioning of other people in their groups around the room.
The second example was a private session I had with Karen to look at the organizational structure at International Coach Academy. Once again we gave representation to the people in the organization, this time using cut out figures of feet. I placed groups of people together in clusters throughout the room, and looked at where they were in relation to me and to each other. Once again I noticed things like why had I put the sales team and training team so far apart, physically? Why were the admin staff all gathered in a circle?
Like lots of coaching tools, for me it is not useful to debate whether it worked, or whether it was better or worse that a traditional voice to voice or face to face coaching session, it is more about looking at the valuable insights I was able to gain. Just as Myers Briggs or DISC or any of those other assessments should not be used as assessments in and of themselves, but rather as conversation starters, the systemic constellation work was a great way to open new conversation and new questions that I believe would not have been posed in a traditional session.
Academy of Systemic Organisational Dynamics
Systemic Structural Constellations
with Insa Sparrer and Matthias Varga von Kibéd18-20 September 2014
International Coach Academy