Areas of application - useful theories and conceptual models

Managing the coaching or consulting process

Q = Question, A = Assumptions, P = Process, E = Elements, R = Results

Simulate the intended intervention

Q: What is my implicit mental map of the situation of my client and what is the appropriate intervention?
P: Simulate the five steps of the entire constellations process based on the information you have gained in previous contacts with the client system.
E: The elements depend on the specific situation; in addition, you position a representative for the consultant.

Clarify the contract with the client

Q: Is my perception of the contract coherent with the intentions of the client?
P: The consultant deploys the constellation in front of the client using objects and discusses the structure he sees and the dynamics he perceives.
E: Client – Project – Objective of the project – Stakeholders Involved in the project – Stakeholders Not involved in the project – Consultant – Obstacles – Resources.


Q: What is a good position for the consultant in the actual consulting context?
P: You can deploy the constellation yourself alone but it is more effective if you also involve a colleague.
E: Client – Objective of the project – Stakeholders Involved in the project – Stakeholders Not involved in the project – Question defined with the participants – Driving forces – Restraining forces – Consultant.

Simulate the development process with the group

Q: What is the contribution of each team member to the project and what could be the development of the team as a whole when everyone follows his impulse?
A: We can distinguish the contribution in three main categories: Action – Knowledge – Relations. Every team member has his specific strengths and preferences.
P: You mark the three types of contribution as the corners of a triangle on the floor. Every point in the triangle represents a combination of the three aspects. The team member faces the aspects he wants to focus on. Everyone expresses the thoughts and feeling arising in his position. Then you simulate the development of the project inviting the members to move simultaneously following their impulses.
E: Action – Knowledge – Relations as fix points of reference. The group members representing their contribution.
R: It gives the group a perception of how the contribution of each member affects the whole. You get an idea of the aspects that are less developed in the group. The members develop a feeling of the co-creative process. The exercise creates an alignment of the group.

Harvest (Claes Janssen)

Q: What has been everyone’s main learning from the process so far?
A: The Rooms of Change theory states that every person is focused, at a given moment, on one of four different attitudes: satisfaction – denial and resistance – confusion – renewal.
P: Mark a grid on the floor representing the four rooms. Let everyone find his actual position. Ask the one’s in the room of satisfaction: “What do you want to take care of?” – those in the room of denial: “What do you want to recognize and let go?” – those in confusion: “What is the relevant question you want to face and resolve?” – those in renewal; “What exactly do you want to try out?”

Epidauros Model (Senoner & Lingg)

Q: On which logical level is the problem situated and can be most effectively addressed?
A: There is a hierarchy of logical levels on which a problem can be solved. An effective intervention must find the right point of leverage. If you focus on a level that is too abstract, the implementation will fail. If you neglect an important aspect on a “deeper” level (like values or mission that are not shared) the operational measures might be ineffective.
E: Team or Manager – Project or Strategy – History (or Narrative) of the problematic situation – Stakeholders and Environment – Vision and Mission – Values and Basic Rules – Processes and Structures – Plans and Objectives
P: Let the client reflect on the situation from each of the six logical levels. You can ask him to draw a symbol that expresses the essence of the situation from each perspective. Then deploy the elements. From the geometry of the constellation, you can tell which are the problematic levels.
R: You will find the most appropriate level of intervention and can choose the corresponding conceptual model.

Problem solving

Q = Question, A = Assumptions, P = Process, E = Elements, R = Results

Problem Structure (Varga von Kibéd)

Q: What are the steps that I need to make in order to reach the objective?
E: Problem owner – Objectives – Consequences – Obstacles – Resources – Price for the solution.

Solution focus (De Shazer)

Q: How can I use and develop my resources in order to reach the desired objective?
A: Every person has the resources he needs to reach his desired objectives. They are hidden by the problem focus and fears he has developed during his life.
P: Ask the Miracle Question to find the specific aspects of the main elements of the model. Let the client experience the various perspectives. Concentrate on the next step the client has to make.
E: Client – Desired Future – Miracle – Worse Position Experienced – Actual Position – Resources – Achievements.

Structure of the question

Q: How does the question we ask influence our behavior?
A: A relevant question contains the elements of the possible answer.
P: Write down the question and let every member of the group choose the words he wants to represent.
E: Every single word of the question.
R: Especially in teams that have very different views and attitudes in respect to an issue it helps to clarify the meaning of the concepts they use and identify which ones are neglected or overemphasized.

Project management

Q = Question, A = Assumptions, P = Process, E = Elements, R = Results

TCI Project structure (Cohn)

Q: Which forces drive the behavior of the team?
A: There is a hierarchy of forces influencing the team. If they are not aligned, the team cannot be productive.
E: Task – Team – Leader – Context Factors (influencing the project) – Sense or Purpose of the project (for the organization as a whole)

Project baseline deviation

Q: What makes our project deviate from the approved baselines?
A: By positioning the baselines relative to the team and the project, the managers activate their implicit knowledge of the reasons for the deviation
E: Team – Project Finalized State – Project Actual State – Schedule – Cost – Quality – Scope – available Resources.

Theory of Constraints (Goldratts)

Q: What is the limiting factor in our project?
E: Phases of the Process – Available Resources – Output of the Process
P: Deploy first the Output and then the Phases of the Process. You will see which is the critical Phase. Then add the Resources and you see which Resource is creating the bottleneck of the process. Then you can follow the recommendations of TOC.

Decision making

Q = Question, A = Assumptions, P = Process, E = Elements, R = Results

Tetralemma (Varga von Kibéd)

Q: How can we solve the dilemma of choosing between alternative A or B?
P: Let the client mark his actual position and place the elements of the model. Then lead him through a sense-making process while exploring the different perspectives and reconfiguring the constellation.
E: Alternative A – Alternative B – a Combination of A & B – an Alternative that contains neither A nor B – the Sense of the question. (We prefer to label the 5th element as “Sense” rather than “Wisdom” as indicated by Varga von Kibéd)

Decision process

Q: Which phases of the decision process require our attention?
A: We can distinguish 8 phases in a decision process. Every decision process requires a specific combination of these phases.
E: Owner of the Decision Process – Question that should be solved – Inclusion of the Stakeholders – Design of the Communication Settings – Clarification of the Premises – Focus on the Essence – Contextualization of Needs, Resources, Risks, Chances – Collective sense-making – Finding a consensus – Commitment for the implementation.
R: You will find which phases of the decision process are critical and you can test a more functional sequence of the various phases.

Approach to decision

Q: How close is each team member to the proposition that should be decided?
A: When some members of a team have reached a decision but others do no quite agree, it is useful to represent the distance that each member has respect to the decision.
E: Proposal – Team Members
P: Write the proposed decision on a sheet of paper and place it in the middle of the room. Position the team members on an imaginary circle around the proposal. Let them slowly approach the proposal and stop at the point that represents their respective attitude towards the proposal. Ask the ones who are at a greater distance: “What would you need to move forward?”

Leadership development

Q = Question, A = Assumptions, P = Process, E = Elements, R = Results

Attributes of Management Excellence (Peters)

Q: Which are the attributes that I need to develop to master my assignment as leader?
A: The 8 attributes identified by Tom Peters represent a useful model to check the competences that a manager needs to develop.
E: Leader – Assignment – Organization – Action-bias – Costumer-focus – Autonomous Entrepreneurship – People-Productivity – Hands-on Values – Professional Knowledge – Simple forms – Loose-tight-flexibility.

Approaches to deal with resistance (Kotter and Schlesinger)

Q: How can I overcome my collaborator’s resistance to fulfill his assignment?
A: Kotter and Schlesinger define 6 approaches that a leader can adopt to overcome the resistance of his collaborators. An effective leader knows how to use them all according to the specific circumstances.
E: Leader – Collaborator – Assignment – Organization – Information – Participation – Support – Negotiation – Co-optation – Coercion.

Chaordic Leadership (Hock)

Q: On which type of players am I focusing my attention and whom am I neglecting?
A: Effective leadership requests a 360° attention to all players in the system
E: Leader – Assignment – Manage self – Manage superiors – Manage peers – Manage collaborators.

Personal Mastery (Senge)

Q: Which are the main drivers that influence my leadership style?
E: Leader – Assignment – Organization – Creative tension – Personal vision – Commitment to the truth.

Theory of needs (Mc Clelland)

Q: How well are the needs of the different actors satisfied by my leadership style?
E: Leader – Assignment – Collaborators – Peers – Superiors – Need of achievement – Need of affiliation – Need of power.

Change management

Q = Question, A = Assumptions, P = Process, E = Elements, R = Results

The Four Rooms of Change (Claes Janssen)

Q: On which phase of the change process is the person (or team) concentrating his attention and what would be the appropriate action?

E: Person (or team) – Room of Satisfaction – Room of Denial and Resistance – Room of Confusion – Room of Renewal

P: Either mark a grid with the four rooms on the floor and let the person(s) step in the Room that reflects his current attitude or deploy a representative for each of the four rooms. Ask the questions that are congruent with each room (see 6.1.5). 

The Value Development Square (Schulz von Thun)

Q: How is our value system constraining our behavior?

A: A value makes sense only if we contextualize it with his complementary value and with his excess. The result is a square that delimits the range of actions that are compatible with our values.

E: Team (or Person) – Project (or Objectives) – Principal Value – Excess of the Principal Value – Complementary Value – Excess of the Complementary Value

P: First define the four “corner values” of the square then deploy them. Move the representatives of the values in order to adjust the range of choice.

Force Field Diagram (Kurt Lewin)

Q: Which forces are influencing the change process?

E: Objectives of Change – actual situation of the Organization – Driving forces – Restraining forces – Stakeholders of the Change process.

Conflict management

Q = Question, A = Assumptions, P = Process, E = Elements, R = Results

Structure of Fears and Desires (Senoner)

Q: How can we move from conflict to negotiation?

A: Conflicts often arise when the partners are driven by fear without being aware or when they do not express clearly their wishes. By clarifying fears and wishes, the partners can start negotiating. This applies to conflicts with a lower to medium level of escalation.

E: Partner A - Partner B - Issue of conflict - Fears of A - Fears of B - Desires of A - Desires of B

P: You can apply this model very well for the mediation in the presence of both conflicting parties.

Marketing and Sales

Q = Question, A = Assumptions, P = Process, E = Elements, R = Results

Marketing mix – the 4 P (MC Carthy)

Q: “How will our customers react to our marketing mix?”

E: Organization – Customers – Product – Price – Place – Promotion

Framing (Tversky & Kahnemann)

Q: “How does the framing of our brand influence the choice of target customers?”

E: Brand – Target Customers – Metaphors – Stories – Traditions – Slogan – Artifacts – Contrast – Spin 

Competitive Advantage (Porter)

Q: How clear is our positioning compared to competitors?

A: The dimensions in Porter’s model are: Cost vs. Differentiation and Broad vs. Narrow Focus on Target Customers. It is problematic to be stuck in the middle.

E: Product or Service – Competitive Products or Services – Cost – Differentiation – Target Costumers A – Target Customers B – (etc.) 

Blue Ocean Strategy (Kim & Mauborgne)

Q: Can we find an uncontested market space?

A: Blue Ocean Strategy tries to overcome the positioning dilemma in Porter’s theory and create new markets focusing on cost and differentiation.

E: Actual Products (or Services) – Existing Demand – Actual  Market Space (red ocean) Competing Products – New Demand – Value – Cost – Uncontested Marked Space (blue ocean) – Key Resources.

P: Use the constellation to facilitate a generative dialog. Put chairs in each position and let the managers exchange ideas from those positions. 

Strategy development

Q = Question, A = Assumptions, P = Process, E = Elements, R = Results

Balanced Scorecard / Strategy Maps (Kaplan & Norton)

Q: How do the elements of our strategy relate to each other?

E: Organization – Main Stakeholders – Aspects of the Financial Perspective – Aspects of the Customer Perspective – Aspects of the Process Perspective – Aspects of the Development Perspective.

P: Make a longlist of the various aspects of the four perspectives then choose the most relevant ones to deploy in the constellation.


Q: What do we need to adjust in our current strategy?

A: SWOT-Analysis is one of the most widely used models and it is quite useful for gradual adjustments of the strategy rather than radical changes.

E: Organization – Strategic Objective – Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – Threats.

P: Make a longlist of the various aspects of the four categories and deploy them in the constellation.

Effectuation (Saraswati)

Q: What are the objectives we should pursue to be successful?

A: Saraswati sees the objectives not as independent variables in a business model but as the result of other variables.

E: Organization – Available Resources and Competences – Actual Customers – Actual Products and Services – Cooperation Partners – New Chances – Necessary New Resources – Affordable loss – Activities within control – New  Objectives

Family Business Governance

Q = Question, A = Assumptions, P = Process, E = Elements, R = Results

Three Systems Model: Family – Company – Property

Q: What are the relations between these three systems in our family business?

A: The three interlinked Systems: Family, Company and Property are governed by different values. The relation between them is significant for the dynamics in a family business.

E: Family – Main Family Value – Company – Main Company Value – Property – Main Property Value

Human Resources Management and Organization

Q = Question, A = Assumptions, P = Process, E = Elements, R = Results

The Systemic Organization Chart

Q: How functional or efficient are the relations between the executive officers in our organization for reaching our objective?

A: The informal relations are not always congruent with the organization chart. Furthermore, the organization chart does not include the relevant stakeholders that are not part of the organization but crucial for their success.

E: Functions – Main Objective – Main Stakeholders outside of the organization


Q = Question, A = Assumptions, P = Process, E = Elements, R = Results

Developing the Potential

Q: How can we utilize and develop the full potential of our organization?

A: By finding a place in the constellation, implicit and collective knowledge is activated.

E: Organization – Resources – Objectives – Potential 

P: Position a representative for the organization. Then let the managers choose from the three categories (Resources, Objectives and Potential) and find a place in the constellation explaining the ideas that come to their mind. Let them move freely following the impulses and explain the effects of the movement.

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