Tipps and Tricks

Description of the issue

- When working with a team, make sure everyone has a chance to add his part of the story. A good method is to ask them in several rounds.

- While listening to the story keep asking yourself questions like:

  • What are the intentions of the various players involved?
  • What are the patterns that appear in the behaviors?
  • What is the missing part of the story?
  • What is the range of power that the various players exercise?
  • What are the desires that are not fulfilled in this situation?
  • What is the function and role of the client in the organization?

- Useful questions are for example:

  • Questions that help the clients focus on the most important aspects of his situation.
  • “How would the other stakeholders describe the situation?”
  • “What is the next most important challenge you have to face in the next weeks?”
  • “How would the story continue, if you do nor change anything?”
  • “What would be a possible worst case and best case development?”

- Continue asking, until you have collected the items to formulate a relevant question.

Definition of the relevant question

  • Consider the question as the key that unlocks the door to the next step.
  • Write down the question. This forces you to formulate it precisely and you can refer to it later in the process.
  • To check if the question is relevant ask the client: “What will you do when you had an answer to this question?”
  • Insist in asking: “What precisely is the question that can lead us to a good answer?
  • You can use the words of the question as elements of the logical model that you deploy in a constellation.
  • Judge (and share your judgment with the client) if a broader (more abstract) question or a narrow (more operational) question is appropriate for the challenge, the clients have to face.
  • When you work with a group you can invite everyone to write their question on a sheet of paper and cluster them to find the common one.
  • Consider the fact that people facing difficult questions (where they have no clues for an answer) tend to substitute them with more familiar questions that, however, do not lead to a significant answer.
  • Ask the miracle question: “Imagine we have found the answer, what would be different tomorrow?”

Development of the model

  • Look for the elements that are missing in the client’s mental map. If he were already considering all the relevant elements, he would probably have found the solution himself. Include some elements that the client has not mentioned, but which you esteem as being important for a solution and add the elements that are an integral part of the model
  • Label the elements with the terms used by the clients. You may let them choose the most appropriate label among a set of alternatives.
  • Together with the client make a long-list of possible factors, then select the relevant ones and merge the ones that have the same type of influence on the dynamics.
  • Use preferably models that clients already know and use in their management practice like SWOT, balanced scorecard, etc.
  • Sometimes it is useful to investigate the issue on a different logical level, respect to the one the managers are usually focusing on; either more abstract (e.g. the level of guiding principles or values) or more operational (e.g. process and structure).
  • Check with the client: “Do we have all the elements we need to find an answer to your question?” Always include the elements that the clients suggest.
  • Consider that the business process, i.e. the production of goods or services is the raison d’être of an organization and therefore usually plays an important role in management issues. Therefore, we do usually not represent the relationship between persons or functions without including the business process they have to govern. The St. Gallen model gives a good overview of the different factors that influence – on different levels – the business process.
  • Don’t look for models that serve all issues; but you can use a model that helps you find out which aspects you should form on.

Deployment of the constellation

You can demonstrate the meanings of the relative positions, the distance and the orientation with an example. “If I want to represent my position in respect of an issue and I position it like this …. I experience it as turning away from the issue, if I move closer, the sensations change …..” 

Stop the constellation as soon as you have found relevant information for the next step. i.e. for the answer to the question. Remember that every further movement is bringing you away from “reality” into the realm of fiction.

Always know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Share your hypothesis and intention with the client. If you are confused and do not know what to do next, just stop and wait. Don’t be ashamed to tell your client: “I don’t know”.

Never loose contact with the client: the relevant process takes place in the client’s body-mind and not on the scene. Remember that your presence and attention gives the clients the confidence that permits them to face a situation they had not considered before.

The movement is more important that the resulting new position. Let the client or the representative move slowly.

Consider that to every move in the constellation corresponds a physiological process in the client’s brain and body. New parts of the neural system are activated now neuronal links are established. This process takes time. If you are in good resonance with the client, you can follow this inner process.

Use the constellation with the spirit of a simulation: If a move does not produce the desired result, stop and go back to the original position and try another move.

Never move representatives of elements that the client cannot influence in the real world.

It is a good idea to start the simulation moving the client’s position first. In real life it is him, who has to initiate the change.

Ask the client if he is representing the actual situation or the desired one. People tend to switch from representing what it is to representing what should be.

Encourage the perception of physiological reactions, emotions and ideas; let them express all the three aspects.

Don’t get lost in the details of the constellation, always keep in mind the specific organizational and business context, where the represented situation emerges.

If you are using representatives who are not part of the organization, do not try to make everyone happy – choose whose information you judge relevant.

We see no plausible reason to use external representatives. We see constellation as a form of dialog among the persons that have the knowledge (explicit and implicit) and want to develop it, to take good management decisions. In this logic it makes no sense to use “neutral” representatives who could reveal a more relevant truth that the persons involved would try to hide.

We are no friends of hidden constellations: they add unnecessary “magic” to the process and only make it more difficult to interpret.

Every representative enacts his personal version of the role. It is the consultant’s job as “director” to enhance or mitigate the reaction of the representatives according to the relative importance that the represented elements have in “real life”.

Feel free to combine “pure” constellation work with roll play or other approaches from Gestalt or NLP, if you feel it helps the process.

In one to one coaching switch between the role of representative and “director”.

It may be too distracting and confusing to test all the positions and relationships; concentrate on the ones you think are decisive.

Ponder if the sequence in displaying the elements is important. Some models and theories have a logical sequence, some do not. If the second is the case, you can let the client choose the sequence; that gives you some clue of what aspect he considers more important.

Sense making and interpretation

Use the metaphor of “harvest” to initiate the sense-making process.

Let the clients recall the decisive moves in the constellation, they might not coincide with what you consider most relevant. If your perception differs from that of the clients you can offer them your interpretation, but respect their choice.
You may reconfigure the initial constellation on the floor or table and review the relevant movements that lead to the solution.

“Translate” the movements in the constellation into action in daily life. “What will you do tomorrow?” is a good question to stimulate the development of a clear idea.
Ask also: “What is your next step?” and “what will be the price for this change?”
Ask which behavior and dynamics in real live are reflected by the constellation.

Start the explicit sense making process already in the deployment phase as soon as the current situation has been represented. Once the position of the elements has been marked with sheets of paper, the representatives can step out of the role and together reflect the dynamic of the structure on a visual level.

  • Which positions and orientations seem awkward or not logical?
  • Which movements are possible and which are inhibited?
  • Which elements are connected and which are not?
  • Which part of the system can be seen by the main players and which not?

Subsequently they can step back into their positions and continue the deployment of the constellation.  

Attitude of the consultant

Connect with the clients to form one common body. (refer to the theory of J.P. Resseguier)

Notice in which “Room” (in the Rooms of Change model) the client is presently dwelling.

Follow the principles that guide your normal working practice and use constellations as a tool following those guidelines.

Forget the solution, just look for the next step.

Consider a constellation as a piece of theatre. The client is the author, the consultant is the director. As director try to be true to the author’s story and intention.

Be aware of how much power you have as director (and consultant) during the constellation and how little power you have in determining how the client makes sense of his experience and changes his behavior in everyday life.

Always remember that you are engaged in a co-creative process. However, it is an asymmetric relationship: the client takes home his (hopefully useful) learning; you take home your consulting fee. Moreover, hopefully, you share the pleasure of creating something new and meaningful.

To help you stay connected in resonance with the client you should stay close to her and even touch her gently.

Use the PNL technique of pacing and leading in all phases of the process, especially during the deployment.

Trust that “what happens is the only thing that can happen” (Owen Harrison)

Respect the client’s intention:

  • Does he just want to confirm he is right?
  • Does he just want to understand the dynamics?
  • Does he really want to change something?

If you feel that you and your clients do not have obtained a relevant insight, ask them if they want to continue the search and start anew from a different perspective, using a different model or logical level.

Working with groups

Always make sure that you are in resonance and agreement with the leader. It is a good idea to ask him, what he would do next. Ask him for approval of your next intervention.

In difficult situations, prepare the workshop together with the leader.

It is important to align the members of the group on a common issue and agree on the relevant elements of the model.

Let the group members choose the elements they want to represent in the constellation and find a position that reflects the relationship of this element referred to the others. If you follow the metaphor of the scenic dialog this is comparable to when someone takes a specific position in a conversation.

Always include all members of the group in the common work. If you have more persons in the group than elements in the constellation, assign them the role of observers and ask them what they see, feel and think.

Use sheets of paper with the name of the element and an arrow indicating the direction and let the representatives place them on the position they have selected. This makes it possible to:

  • Use more elements for the constellation than there are group members
  • Stop the constellation, step apart, observe, reflect and continue
  • Let the group members experiment different positions

Allow the representatives to talk during the constellation, just remind them to speak from the role they have chosen and from the position they are occupying in this moment.

Usually the invitation to make an experiment and represent the collective mental map on the floor is sufficient to motivate managers to play the game; you do not need long explanations of constellation work.

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