“This was ‘lightbulb learning’ for me!” said a new client I did some constellations work for recently. Constellations is an approach that is becoming increasingly popular with coaches. As a methodology, it works with the view that when we feel stuck in some part of our work or life, something is out of balance in the system (such as the team or organisation) we are a part of. If we can spot the hidden dynamics, and really acknowledge where the drag factors are historically or currently, change can happen organically. Unusually, the insights that come from a constellation are not derived intellectually, “from the neck up” and do not necessarily involve us as coaches in exploring issues through question-sequences, conversations or dialogue. Instead, we draw on the wisdom of the body, and of certain ordering principles of systems. A Constellation involves a clarification with the coach of the important elements involved in the issue. These elements could be people – individuals or groups such as customers, clients, neighbours; or even abstract things like ‘culture’ or ‘the future’. This clarification process is followed by the client ‘setting up’ the Constellation – creating a kind of ‘living map’ or pattern of the issue by using people or objects to represent the various elements at play in the situation. This way of working can be quite demanding – and even a little strange for many coaches, initially. What are some of the differences in ‘stance’ a coach interested in this methodology should note?
- Being radically inclusive
From a Constellations perspective, change happens when we include what has not been acknowledged or what has been wilfully excluded. This includes people and events in the past as well as across other systems. Constellators believe that if people in a system do not face difficult facts, then others will carry the consequences. Coaching intervention: “What needs to be accepted before change can occur?” “In what other contexts has this issue cropped up?”
- Not trying to fix things
In Constellations, the work is not to fix problems but to illuminate the patterns that hold us in stress and dysfunction. Rather than deliberately setting out to make things better, a constellator works phenomenologically – just showing what is, without judgment or intention. Coaching interventions: “In what context does this symptom make sense?” “What is this symptom useful for?”
- Putting the system first
Constellators need to foster “dispassionate compassion” because the work demands that we maintain a slightly impersonal approach which puts the well-being of the whole system first. Also, in this work we recognise that some feelings are not to do with the person but belong to the system – that people experience emotions that are connected to their place in the organisation. Supporting improved performance is therefore not just about ratcheting up skills but also about attending to the place from which contributions can be made – including the role, remit and history of critical incidents affecting the role. Coaching intervention: “What patterns are repeating themselves here?” “What does the situation require?” As well as being an extremely direct way of revealing underlying causes, a Constellation can also be emotionally moving, so coaches need to ensure that clients are prepared for this. Also – the process of Constellating requires that the coach works with emergence – not with a fixed plan of getting from A to B!