Experienced coaches are showing increasing interest in systemic team coaching. This is a very welcome trend, because enlarging the frame of reference around any issue – which is part and parcel of a systemic approach – is always revelatory and sometimes transformational.
Yet many coaches I speak with experience confusion about a central dilemma in integrating the disciplines of Systemic Team Coaching and Systemic Constellations. According to John Leary-Joyce and Hilary Lines, in their eponymous book, systemic team coaching is “A process of coaching the whole team together and apart, over a designated period of time.” Yet as students of Constellations are aware, there are particular and significant challenges in constellating an intact team – not the least of which is the potential for projection, bias and conscious or unconscious manipulation of the constellation by participants.
Two related questions arise. Are these two systemic approaches compatible? If so, what does Team Coaching-Constellations look like in practice?
“Paying attention to the greater whole, in which we are all embedded, is often transformational”
My own view is that systemic team coaching is much less effective without Constellations. Put more strongly, in my experience Constellations theory, method and practice adds unique and significant value to the emerging discipline of systemic team coaching.
The resolution of the dilemma I named earlier, about using Constellations with intact teams, is so simple that many students struggle to integrate it in their practice. It is basically, to constellate without using a constellation. Much teaching of Constellations work (including my own teaching at Beginner and Intermediate levels) rightly places the technology of the constellation at the heart of the approach – so for example, students learn how to set up representatives and ‘read’ (as well as intervene in) the systemic dynamics from the living map of ‘bodies in the room’. Yet the reliance on the technique of constellating is often over-rated: much more important is a nuanced understanding of the systemic, guiding principles of the work, along with the calibrated use of micro-interventions, such as offering sentences, or suggesting small but significant embodied interventions – for example, looking at or away from someone, stepping back slightly, and so on…
This said, I believe that there are four fundamental contributions that Constellations work makes to systemic team coaching:
- Constellations is the approach, par excellence, of illuminating intractable and invisible dynamics within and between teams. The particular theory base of this work, including the systemic principles (called Orders of Love) and the theory of Consciences, offers unique insights in to the nature and origin of recurring team dynamics, as well as clear guidance on resolution.
- Constellations work also provides a clear framework for coaches, on what constitutes an optimally useful stance when undertaking systemic team coaching. This framework is based around, but not limited to, what Bert Hellinger (the founder of Constellations work) called The Orders of Helping.
- An important feature of systemic team coaching is what Leary-Joyce and Lines call ‘Inter-team coaching’ where that the coach contracts to work across with multiple teams across the organisation and even the wider stakeholder network. This is a profoundly important point, because if we accept that a systemic coach is in service to the whole enterprise, it is clear that a single a business team is actually a sub-system. I suspect that most practitioners who describe themselves as ‘systemic coaches’ currently only contract with a single team and so limit the potential of a systemic team coaching approach. However, logistically it can be protracted and messy to coach across multiple teams. However, methodologically, a constellation can be used with single stakeholders from multiple teams, in a way that is more time-efficient and resource-sensitive.
- At its most profound, systemic team coaching is actually polysystemic. Peter Hawkins acknowledges this when he says1, that systemic team coaching “combines levels of change from the ecological to the personal and every level between… Its purpose is to help the team increase the value it is creating with and for all its stakeholder community and indeed for the ecological, more-than-human world.” I know of no other approach than Constellations that enables us as coaches to introduce and work practically with the entire range of nested systems from the cellular to the global. Judith Hemmings’ recent thinking on Five Realms2 is an example of the flexibility and utility of this approach, where she also acknowledges and includes possibilities that are not within conventional systemic frames.
“Systemic team coaching is less effective without Constellations”
In my own Systemic Team Coaching-Constellations Masterclasses, we pay special attention to an aspect of systemic team coaching that is often glossed over in some models: the fundamental question of, at which level of the system do we make the intervention? It is not enough to provide a map of a team in its relationship to the wider organisational ecosystem; it is not enough to chart the internal and external forces impinging upon the team and wider system: the systemic team coach needs to be resourced to resolve the challenges of positions in and across a system and the consequences of working within or outside of the ‘givens’ of these positions. This requires a working understanding of the underlying, organising forces of systems – the nature of acknowledgments, entanglements, loyalties, hierarchies, exclusions, and so on, that I have only found within Constellations theory.