How this company quickly exposes hidden dynamics in the workplace with systemic thinking and organizational constellations
Some business issues are too complex to leave them to data. Because organizations and companies are all about people and relationships, which can be very complex. Many unconscious processes and issues influence the corporate culture. Wouter Gheysen of Systemic Shifts helps companies through systemic organizational constellations to map the impact of a merger, build the structure of a new company and support companies with internal (team) conflicts. With an expensive word: systemic organizational constellations. Yet the concept is brilliant in its simplicity.
Think along. Three friends are starting a business as a student during their last master year. They divide the shares as follows: 40%, 40% and 20%. The start-up grows, investors pass by and the team expands to 16 employees. The student-like atmosphere is slowly turning into small frustrations and conflicts. Although all elements are in place on paper, the hoped-for business results are not present in the figures.
“This is a typical organizational problem,” explains Wouter Gheysen of Systemic Shifts. “And there is no obvious solution because it is all about relationships between people. They are complex, and there are a lot of – whether or not unconscious – thought processes involved. That also makes it a unique problem, so you cannot look at data to solve it. ”
The system as the core of organizational constellations
Gheysen, an industrial engineer with a master’s degree in commercial sciences, worked for many years in the IT sector as an agile coach. “A few years ago, I accompanied a colleague to a session on systemic thinking and organizational constellations. I was completely blown away and immediately saw its potential for teams, companies and organizations. ”
Many multinationals such as Daimler-Chrysler, IBM and BMW, and closer to home – Colruyt and Schoenen Torfs, have already been able to achieve remarkably positive results with organizational constellations.
“The core of organizational constellations is the system,” explains Gheysen. “A system is a collection of elements that are interconnected and that are constantly moving, causing the connections and relationships to change.”
The elements, in this context, consist of all the people that make up the organization, such as the employees, customers, teams, departments, products and so on.
The outcome is surprising and unconventional
“The basis of organizational constellations is making the elements of the system visible by placing puppets, blocks or people in a space,” Gheysen continues. “To use the example of our start-up: the three founders gather around a table and set out three blocks on the worktop. Each block represents one of the three founders. It is immediately noticeable that they align two blocks, quite far from each other. The third block will go right in front of the other two, in perfect opposition. The message is clear: there are two camps that are diametrically opposed. ”
Gheysen asks the three founders to add a number of blocks that represent the employees. The new blocks will be placed next to block number 3, next to founder number 3. “Conclusion: founder 1 and 2, each holding 40% off the shares, ran into founder 3 with 20% of the shares and the team sided with the latter,” says Wouter Gheysen. “The precipice between the two parties was the cause of the negative and unproductive atmosphere.”
Together with the founders, Gheysen then tries out solutions by moving the blocks on the work surface, placing them in different proportions and setups. Will founder 3 have to leave the company? Do we change the distribution of the shares? What is the ideal position for the team? A lot of questions to which an answer is needed to make the company function optimally again. The outcome of the system setup is surprising and unconventional: founder 3 is appointed HR director. Since then he has formed the bridge between the other two founders and the team. Founder 1 and 2 swap positions every six months: one person takes over the day-to-day management as CEO, while the other takes the time to develop the longer-term strategy.s
“The outcome is always different than expected,” says Gheysen. “That’s the beauty of systems thinking and constellations. It is a safe, cost-efficient way to try out different solutions for complex issues. ”
” That’s just the beauty of systems thinking and constellations. It is a safe, cost-efficient way to try out different solutions for complex issues “
TThe power of constellations is that they reveal unconscious processes and patterns. “A classic example is that of a product launch at a fast-food chain in Asia,” says Gheysen. “On paper, it didn’t seem to go wrong: the results of the test groups were positive, the staff and management fully supported it. Until the product turned out not to be selling at all. ”
“In the end, it turned out that the product idea had come up the sleeve of one of the senior managers, and that the corporate culture was such that everyone would rather keep silent than oppose the idea. These are things that come up with constellations. ”
Start-ups and scale-ups
The applications for organizational constellations are quite broad, from capturing new business structures in a merger to viewing the impact of a price change or facilitating team conflicts. And, Gheysen learned during the lockdown, virtual organization constellations are just as efficient and offer the same insights in real-life. “Until the lockdown, there was an aversion to virtual setups,” says Gheysen, “based on the idea that unconscious ideas and dynamics only become visible through physical proximity. That turns out to be unfounded. Via Zoom and Google Jamboards you can create perfect setups with just as positive results as when you bring people together in one room. ”
Although organizational constellations are in theory useful for just about any business decision, Gheysen primarily wants to work with start-ups and scale-ups with Systemic Shifts. “Because they are growing very quickly, there is little time to think thoroughly about organizational structures, share allocation, HR policy, among other things,” says Gheysen. “While those are precisely the things you need to get in order if you want to grow further.”
“You can work quickly with setups. During a half-day or full-day workshop you will gain so much insight into current problems, and you can see the impact of possible solutions. The most optimal solution can be implemented in the company.