What is ‘Systems Thinking’?
We begin to think systemically when we open up to perspectives that may be different to the ones we initially imagined. In fact, we all have an ability to trouble shoot in this manner however we may have forgotten that we know how to do this. For example, lighting a fire in your sitting room will not necessarily heat up the room per se; you set-up the insulating conditions to contain the heat in the room. Equally when we begin to see a person, with an addiction as part of a larger set of influences, rather than as a human failing, we can begin to understand how to address the addiction.
All the elements of a system are interconnected; when one moves it has an impact on the entire system.
A system has been described as ‘a set of things-people, cells, molecules, or whatever – interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behaviour over time. Every person we encounter, every organisation, every animal, garden tree, and forest is a complex system’. ‘Thinking in System’ Donella Meadows (2008).
While a system causes its own behaviour, thinking systemically helps a person face issues and challenges in their life in a more considered and realistic way; it can widen perspectives and provide expansive insights.
What does a Systemic Coach do?
A systemic coach takes all aspects of an individual, a family, or an organisation into consideration and allows each element of the system to be released and acknowledged. These components, in turn, can interact and function with ease together.
If for example, a person or a seeker with a problem, were facing an organisational dilemma, they might ask the coach the following two questions: ‘What do I do’? and ‘What does it mean’?
While a systemic coach may find simple solutions to very complex issues, the coach will not necessarily fix or resolve the situation but will enable the seeker to find better solutions. The coach typically uses systemic questions such as: ‘What is happening in the system?’ What are the patterns?’ and ‘Who is making it work? As the seeker gains more clarity, he or she can begin to make changes within themselves first, and later pave the way for solutions to more complex issues.
How does it work?
One of the tools a systemic coach uses is referred to as a Constellation. A constellation is a very practical illustration of a system which can reveal hidden dynamics. It is frequently these hidden dynamics that cause individuals in systems to get stuck and a constellation can provide graphic ways of exploring these relationships in the system between people and teams.
The coach acts as a facilitator and works with the seeker to uncover patterns and difficult entanglements. These patterns can, in turn, assist in finding clarity and solutions to a broad range of issues and challenges.
A constellation is co-created by the facilitator and seeker together, linking them to a field of concealed information in a system. This is based on the information a seeker provides in an initial interview or conversation with the facilitator. It is based on the premise that the seeker is the expert in their own system and not the coach or facilitator. The seeker is the one holding the key to the information necessary to find a solution although the seeker may not realise this initially.
Different symbols or people may be drawn upon to represent key components of the issue and it can be done using live persons, using a digital board or by using by other symbolic constellation tools. A skilled facilitator will combine the information supplied by the seeker with a testing hypothesis and later small moves can lead to great changes. In all cases, change comes from within the seeker initially before a domino effect is experienced throughout the entire system. This can allow a disentanglement of difficult dynamics to be released thereby paving the pathway for clarity and resolution.
Who is it for?
Anyone can avail of this approach and many avail of how constellations have the potential to open up a much larger field of possibilities and solutions than discussion offers.
I provide systemic coaching for:
- Individuals who wish to explore personal issues; this may involve exploring one’s family of origin.
- Supervisees working in the therapeutic field wishing to explore the therapeutic relationship between the client and therapist.
- Organisations seeking to resolve challenging issues such as difficult employee relationships, assistance in strategic planning or insights into key decision-making moves.
In families we can discover how the exclusion of a grandmother for instance has impacted on other members of the family. Equally the loss of a child at birth or through a miscarriage may have created a vacuum in the system that no one had an opportunity to acknowledge at the time. The facilitator is experienced in identifying patterns in behaviour being played out in later generations and hidden dynamics which in turn can reveal how the system is seeking completion.
Similarly, in clinical supervision, constellation work and mapping can help create a safe space to explore new solutions thereby limiting the possibility of the therapist and supervisor getting entangled in the client’s story or having opinions about what the therapist should or should not have done.
In organisational constellation work the coach can bring a systems perspective and understanding to some of the complex dynamics that emerge in organisations. This approach can play a key role in clarifying, illuminating and resolving these hidden dynamics. The constellation can magnify and depict graphically a broader landscape allowing new resources and resolution into the field. This type of intervention using organisational constellations has had huge success rates in:
- Conflict resolution within teams and boards of management.
- Insights into recruitment decisions.
- Resolution in succession challenges.
- Assistance in strategic planning.