ORGANIZATIONS ARE COMPLEX, SOCIAL, AND LIVING SYSTEMS OF RELATIONS AND INTERACTIONS
Organizations are complex systems. Shelves full of books are written about organizational management, design, analysis, and change. A short definition of an organization is ‘a collected group of people with a specific goal”. However, you can still debate this narrow abstraction, because is a one-man company not an organization then? The fact is that – whatever an organization may be- it is a complex whole in a bigger context, like society. An organization never operates alone. There are always stakeholders like clients/customers, suppliers, investors, shareholders, a founder, advisors, partnerships, trade/labour unions, works council, supervisory board, commissioners, and the ministry. All these parties form the force field context wherein the organization functions. How do you navigate this complexity?
DOES THE FORMAL CHART MATCH THE INFORMAL LEADERSHIP, MANAGEMENT, AND ORGANIZATION?
Formally, everyone in an organization has jobs, tasks, responsabilities, and capabilities or certain powers. Factually, these can be executed in a entirely different way than it is formally mapped. Even when you make the most beautiful organizational organograms and process-visuals, reality looks differently, mostly. That is why you need to know who pulls the strings, and if you have an overview of all parties involved. Besides, it is important to know if party A actually does what he or she is supposed to do, or that party B has more influence anyways. To what extent do informal cultural dynamics match the formal navigational KPI’s and the smooth, good-looking consultancy process maps?
DOING A FORCE FIELD ANALYSIS WITH CONSTELLATIONS MAPS THE ORGANIZATIONAL UNDERCURRENTS
A force field analysis is a great instrument to map culture (check model #5). It was initially developed by Kurt Lewin, who defined change as ‘a modification or alteration of fields with power or force’. However, the analysis is often a very theoretical, rational, and paper-intensive process. With a force field constellation the undercurrents are made visible, including the relations as they informally are and how these influence each other. The force field constellation you can do at different levels: you can map the forces within an industry, in a whole organization, but also within a department.
A FORCE FIELD CONSTELLATION FINDS THE KEY STAKEHOLDERS AND THE DYNAMICS AMONGST THEM
A force field constellation is a spatial representation of a social system wherein people represent parts of that system. A system is a set of interrelations, i.e. amongst people, concepts, or physical ‘things’. These are represented by people in the group, so-called stand-ins. The stand-ins pick up on the energy of the element they represent, and behave accordingly. The underlying dynamics become quickly visible for all. As an observer, participant, or case owner, you become aware, gain insights, or you may find your attitudes and perspectives fundamentally changed. A force-field constellation is an experiential method that makes the unconscious knowing of all stakeholders explicit. Together with the client, the facilitator brings awareness to the key dynamics within the (social) system, e.g. what to research next.
CASE STUDY: GOVERNMENT WORK COUNCIL MANAGER GETS STUCK IN FORMAL COMMUNICATION CHANNELS
A newly appointed manager with a big governmental party got more and more stuck. He had read himself into his job, and had gotten to know a lot of people. Every time he started to hope he ‘got’ how things work here, something surprising happened. Each time again. The organization was well documented, analysed, complemented, and extra communication channels were in place. Still, like recently again, after it seemed he had gained agreement with the work council, question marks were set with the course that they decided on together. Very suddenly, again. Time after time these blocks again.
In the force-field constellation, different stand-ins were set up: the work council, represented by a member and the chairman, and someone to represent the manager. Other stand-ins were the members of the work council and two different unions. Even the ministry got a representative. The members of the unions stood firmly behind the work council. One union chairman, however, seemed to be more interested in the ministry. A firm link was between the two. It was as if they were family?
Upon further research by the manager, the intensive relationship between the ministry and the union chairman could be explained. After all, the union chairman and the secretary general of the ministry knew each other personally very well. They used to discuss business regularly. It was not a formal disucssion, though. Rather, they discussed matters over the barbecue in the weekends. What happened is this: every time after formal agreement between the work council and the manager, the secretary general at the ministry (with opposing views from the manager’s perspective) would persuade the union chairman, who persuaded the other union members of the council. The result? Questions were raised once again, though formal agreements had previously been reached.
Simply put, the constellation -as is discussed in the above- revealed the informal structures of the organisation. In addition, the manager learned more about the context of his project. After all, it helped him reveal the ‘real’ communication channels. Once aware of ‘how the horse runs’, the manager spent some time with the secretary general from the ministry, so that this person would not need to ‘ask indirect questions behind his back’. Direct communication -I am only one phone call away- is now cherished amongst them. The worker’s council has since then also become more transparent about its own functioning.
This article is derived from Boudewijn Lemstra’s Dutch book ‘Eerste Hulp bij Organisatievraagstukken’ and may not be republished without explicit and written consent. Oscar Westra van Holthe is the primary editor of this blogpost series.