A client of mine recently laughed when I talked about “sustainable solutions” in change management. Her experience as a director of a global corporation was that she often needed consultants like me to fix things that went wrong after previous solutions had either not lasted or not delivered fully on their promise. She joked that we consultants are “all on a gravy train of fixing the fixes that fail.”
Her comment prompted me to reflect on two related dilemmas. First, how extremely difficult it is these days for managers to cope with the degree of complexity that represents business-as-usual. And second, that most standard consultancy tools are based on a static, linear, rational, mechanistic world-view that is often quite limiting, because the presumptions of such approaches are out of touch with the reality of our clients’ operating environments.
It's increasingly important, in change management, to use approaches that can offer more relevant solutions because they are based on a view of organisations as responsive, living systems. The difference between these two approaches is startling - it's like the difference between throwing a stone and throwing a bird...
One such 'living systems' approach is called Constellations. A Constellation is simply a process for seeing how the interconnections between different parts of a system (like an organisation or community) can be engaged with constructively and creatively. Its main advantage is in helping leaders to see a more rounded picture of the issues in play, and to get insights into any hidden dynamics.
A Constellation works best on the sorts of issues that are difficult to pin down, understand or act upon - problems that occur when businesses are moving into the unknown and have no benchmarks; problems that keep recurring, no matter what resources are focused upon them; problems that involve very different groups of stakeholders with competing interests; or problems that are cultural in that they have become embedded over time in the deeper dynamics of how the organisational system operates.
In practical terms, a Constellation takes a client’s internal, intuitive sense of the situation and translates it into a 3-dimensional structure (with objects on a desktop or with people in a workshop) that can be looked at and walked around. Doing this shows us the more complex relational patterns between the elements of the situation, and can often be quite startling and revealing in itself. Because it is such a highly relational process, a Constellation helps to create a shared awareness of what’s going on - which is often the basis for resolving the situation in ways that benefit the greatest number of people, rather than just a ‘local’ group. This holistic approach is what makes for a sustainable solution.
I sometimes liken it to a kind of living, Excel spreadsheet. It is possible to use this process to test solutions to see what works best for everyone involved, because in a Constellation you can change one parameter and see the ripple effect across the whole group. By listening and responding to the experience of the representatives, the Constellation will show very clearly what isn’t working, what is, and what might support a more harmonious and beneficial resolution for all concerned.
It is one of the few practical ways of working with emergence and complexity, and in my experience, leaders like it – not least because it’s brief (a Constellation can take less than an hour to deliver insight with minimal up-front information) and so is economical in terms of time, money and resources. Have you tried this approach yet?