Revealing Constellations – Part 2: The Four Forces

Four pivotal forces play a crucial role in guiding the rhythm, direction of growth, interaction, and evolution of the intricate web of human systems. These forces shape the dynamics within systems, significantly influencing their health, effectiveness, and longevity. By understanding and aligning with these forces, systems can flourish, creating environments that empower individuals to feel valued, engaged, and contribute their best.

However, overlooking or disrupting these forces may precipitate a range of adverse outcomes, including conflicts, stress, burnout, fraud, and even systemic collapse. This article aims to shed light on these subtle yet powerful forces, serving as the unseen architects behind the health and success of organizational and leadership dynamics. The underlying principles essential for the success and sustainability of human systems are revealed.

Order: The Keystone of Structure and Predictability

Within the natural world and human organizations, order serves as the silent architect of harmony and efficiency. It lays the groundwork for security, predictability, and continuity, elements that are crucial for the wellbeing of any collective entity. From the instinctive hierarchy known to a herd in the animal kingdom to the structured environments of organizations, order ensures every member, every role, and every unit possesses a clear place and purpose.

A well-understood order allows for swift, decisive action during times of crisis or rapid change without the need for deliberation over duties or responsibilities. A disruption in this order not only breeds confusion but can also lead to exclusion or vulnerability within the group. Yet, understanding and respecting the established order can reintegrate individuals, contributing once again to the collective strength.

In family systems date of birth determines the order. What comes first has a natural precedence and bigger responsibility comparing to what comes next. In organizations, the concept of order is multifaceted, encompassing various factors :

  • Leading Principles: These articulate the organization’s societal role. For example, in a hospital, the medical principle is leading while the nursing principle is in service of the leading one. Conversely, in a nursing home, the nursing principle is leading while the medical principle supports it.
  • Hierarchy: The structured levels of authority and responsibility.
  • Functions: Differentiating between core and supportive roles within the organization.
  • Contribution: Recognizing the varying impacts of different roles or individuals on the organization’s success.
  • Seniority and Expertise: Acknowledging the importance of tenure, experience, and skills.

Examples in the organization when the order ceases to be respected can manifest in the following ways:

  • Employees wonder about their place and the place of others.
  • Resistance to taking responsibility and performing tasks emerges.
  • The organization’s focus shifts away from its goals.
  • Power play and position strategies emerge.
  • Conflicts arise between employees, departments, and functions.

These are signals that the natural organizational order seeks to be restored, where everyone has their rightful place.
Recognizing one’s rightful position and responsibilities fosters a sense of peace and stability. However, it’s critical to understand that no position is eternally fixed; subtle shifts and movements occur as the organization evolves. Growth, change, and the integration of new members or ideas can all influence the existing order, necessitating a period of adjustment to establish a new equilibrium. The key here is that if we change the organizational structure, we do so together with respect and recognition for those who have lost their place.

Systems naturally strive to balance and recognize the precedence of time or overlooked contributions. When every member of a system understands and respects the order, it strengthens the collective, ensuring that each part functions well within the whole. Thus, acknowledgment of order in its many forms (including respect to the history of the system) is essential for the health and effectiveness of any system.

Exchange: The Dynamics of Reciprocity and Flow

The principle of exchange is about a cycle of giving and taking, a rhythm that is as vital in human interactions as it is in the functioning of organizations. At the heart of Exchange is a simple yet profound mechanism: the natural inclination to reciprocate when something is received. 

The exchange mechanism is simple: if someone gives us something, we feel the need to give something back. If that, in turn, is a little bit more than we were given, the other will feel the need to give something back, after which a lively exchange can begin. The reciprocity fuels a vibrant cycle of giving and taking, enriching the connections between individuals and groups.
This also happens in negative situations. If someone did something to us, we may feel justified to do something to the other. If that is a little bit more than what was done to us, it’s a good recipe for escalation, revenge, or war.
One way to escape this spiral effect is the so-called “vengeance with love”: demanding something from the other but just slightly less than was done to us. It can bring back the balance or become the starting point to start over.

In the context of organizations, exchange transcends monetary transactions. Organizations offer security, growth opportunities, a place to develop talents, a sense of belonging, while employees contribute their skills, time, creativity, dedication, and passion. There is a lively exchange inside the organization as well as between the organization and the outside world. There is a constant exchange between the organization and its stakeholders, competitors, markets, clients, and the broader community. 

A balanced exchange is crucial for the healthy flow of ideas, love, attention, and energy. When this balance is disrupted, the consequences can manifest as:

  • rejections, loss of motivation
  • revenge
  • stagnation
  • bankruptcies, layoffs
  • at the heart of all business transactions is the story of who gains and who loses
  • a decline in the overall health of the system.

Systemically speaking, money, health, and energy are different manifestations of the same flow of exchange with the surroundings, focused on a healthy balance between giving and taking. Prolonged imbalances in giving and taking can be unsustainable, leading to a deteriorating atmosphere, resource depletion, and eventually, a parting of ways.
Recognizing and addressing exchange imbalances is essential for the system’s sustainability and health. Systems inherently strive to correct these imbalances, seeking a return to equilibrium where exchange can flourish.

Belonging: The Force of Inclusion and Wholeness

At the heart of our social fabric lies the force of Belonging, a principle that underscores the inherent right of every individual and element to occupy a specific, rightful place within a system. This foundational force, also known by some as Inclusion or Wholeness, asserts that each person, event, and entity—both past and present—plays a unique and irreplaceable role in the tapestry of a system.

Our sense of belonging is both a conscious and subconscious allegiance to the groups and systems with which we identify. This allegiance is shaped by a collective conscience, setting the boundaries of behavior that align with or diverge from the group’s norms. When in harmony with this collective conscience, individuals experience a sense of innocence and alignment; however, deviation can evoke feelings of guilt.

When the belonging is disrupted, the consequences can manifest as:

  • in positions where someone has been wrongly accused and replaced or fired without respect, even successors don’t feel good and can have different issues
  • after restructuring, if it’s not done respectfully, almost everyone in the company starts wondering when they will be next in line for a change: fear and guilt feelings for retaining their position at the expense of others
  • hidden loyalties of organization members to excluded system members (introducing covert resistance)
  • disagreements and shifting of responsibilities.

Overall, every system seeks to be complete. Belonging extends beyond mere participation; it involves recognizing and respecting the unique contributions of all members, including those often left in the shadows or burdened with the label of ‘rebels’ or ‘outsiders.’ These individuals, by embodying elements that the system has excluded or denied, signal areas where the system is incomplete. Acknowledging and integrating these overlooked parts can heal and strengthen the system, ensuring that no contribution is ignored or undervalued. 

By fostering a sense of rightful place and inclusion, systems can unleash the full potential of their members, allowing for a harmonious, effective, and purpose-driven collective endeavor.

Destination & (De)finiteness: The Lifecycle of Purpose

The journey towards a destination is intrinsically linked to the concept of finiteness—the completion or conclusion of a process. Unlike family systems, where the notion of an end is often overshadowed by the continuity of lineage, organizations, and societal structures face the reality of achieving their ultimate purpose or facing obsolescence.

Every system is born with a purpose. This purpose, whether explicitly defined or implicitly understood, guides the system’s formation, evolution, and eventual dissolution. A system’s destiny is realized when its purpose is fulfilled or if another system emerges that can more efficiently achieve the same goals. At this juncture, the system must gracefully disintegrate, enabling its components to contribute to new systems; fostering a cycle of renewal and growth.

Organizations often struggle with the concept of finiteness, particularly when they attempt to outlive their original purpose. This resistance can stem from a variety of factors, including fear of change and the unknown. However, clinging to an obsolete purpose can exact a hefty toll. Recognizing and embracing the end of a cycle is crucial for allowing the system and its members to transition and adapt to new realities.

A system’s purpose not only defines its structure and behavior but also its eventual outcomes. While we often attempt to forecast the future based on observable events, true insight comes from understanding the underlying purpose. Recognizing when a purpose has been served – or when it no longer aligns with the emerging future – is crucial for timely adaptation or closure, preventing the wasteful prolongation of efforts.

The journey towards a system’s destination is marked by recognition of its definiteness. Embracing the end of one cycle as a gateway to new beginnings allows systems to evolve and serve life in ever more meaningful ways. As systems reach their destinies, the wisdom of letting go and the courage to embrace new purposes drive progress and transformation.

Business Constellations: The four forces revealed

In the intricate dance of organizational dynamics, the four forces of Belonging, Order, Exchange, and Destination & (De)finiteness serve as the silent orchestrators of health, effectiveness, and sustainable growth. These forces, though invisible, are profoundly impactful, shaping the very fabric of organizational life. Their balance or imbalance dictates the rhythm of progress, the harmony of interactions, and the resilience of systems against challenges. While intellectual understanding and analytical exploration of these forces can yield insights, the process is often time-consuming and may not capture the nuanced interplay of elements within a system.

This is where the power of business constellations comes into play. As a transformative tool, business constellations offer a unique and expedient gateway to uncovering an organization’s underlying dynamics. Through the constellation process, the abstract becomes tangible, and the hidden patterns governing organizational issues are brought to light. This method allows participants to visually and experientially perceive how the four forces interact within their specific context, revealing blockages, misalignments, and potential pathways for resolution.

Business constellations excel in their ability to quickly diagnose an organization’s health by vividly and immediately exposing the effects of these forces. They enable a deep dive into systemic issues that may take extensive analysis to uncover through conventional means. By engaging in this process, organizations can swiftly identify the root causes of their challenges, whether they stem from issues of belonging, disruptions in order, imbalances in exchange, or misalignments with their ultimate purpose.

The business constellation approach not only saves valuable time but also facilitates a deeper understanding and integration of the necessary changes, fostering a more agile, responsive, and cohesive organization.

Continue revealing constellations with the next article.