Thursday, February 7, 2019

Organizational Dysfunction and the Dynamics of Conflict

Anyone who has been in a group, social or work related, knows that conflict in one form or another is likely to occur. Conflict in either setting can often be attributed to situations that are zero-summed. If I have things my way you cannot have them your way and vice-versa. If I believe in a certain goal and the relevant set of roles, processes, and values and you believe in a different goal and supporting factors then we have a win/lose scenario to work through.  This is a structural conflict and it happens all the time in an organizational setting when courses of action are mutually exclusive.

Non-structural conflict is less about differences that arise from opposing agendas or interests and more about differences related to personal qualities that may be harder to quantify. Person “x” rubs person “y” the wrong way. Person “y” responds in kind which convinces person “x” his initial feelings were justified. We may not know what the real issue is, but every interaction is used to confirm the narrative the two opponents have about each other. These narratives might involve two people, or they may be between two or more groups. Emotions escalate when assumptions or opinions related to the narrative are confused for facts and are used by the “we” to label the “they.”
In this type of “we – they” conflict, the effect is more visible than the cause. This makes it hard to resolve. Both sides tend to cite a personality conflict or believe they are working with a difficult person or toxic boss. And while we don’t discount this polarity out of hand there may be another explanation. What is showing up as “the problem” may actually be a symptom. The cause could be any number of factors that are tucked away in the past. A past that is long forgotten or denied but still energetically alive and present in the system.

Organizations are groups of people and like any group they possess a collective awareness that affects and is affected by the members. A significant event or dysfunction in the life of the organization that has never been fully resolved or put to rest will continue to be energetically present even after those who participated in the event have retired or left. If you have visited a battlefield, many years after the fighting occurred, you may have noticed the intensity of feeling that still lingers in the area. The impressions of pain, fear and anger or shame felt by thousands of people or even a few dozen can be deep and long lasting. 

These feelings are the feelings of the victim. Anyone (which is just about everyone) who has some predisposition for those feelings can have them activated by a traumatized environment. The collective trauma or dysfunction may be years in the past but a part of it can continue to resonate within each person’s own individual or family system. When potent feelings are activated the mind looks for a cause. Someone has to be the persecutor who poses a threat or a disappointment. Justified or not, that someone is unconsciously nominated for that role. Often, it is the immediate authority figure. In a charged environment it is easy to trigger the projective tendencies of the mind and then seek to enroll others in that projection. 

In systemic organizational development every part of the system should be respected and heard. As facilitators we give space for difficult, even painful symptoms to be expressed. And, beyond the “we versus they” polarity we look for the underlying yet hidden cause that may be affecting the present. In one organization a mid-level leader was puzzled by the perennial disconnection between management and staff. While he did everything, he could think of to empower staff and support senior leadership there was a general sense of malaise and disillusionment in the organization that refused to be dispelled.
Typically, staff disparaged leadership and felt misused by their perceived lack of vision and drive. Leadership kept looking for ways to relate to staff and foster a one-team ethos but felt rebuffed despite their good-faith efforts. The question was asked if there was some event that overwhelmed the ability of those present to cope? The organization was many years older than the longest tenured member and no event in the last twenty some years could be recalled. 

Systemically mapping the dynamics of the organization revealed a bond between staff and some unknown factor that embodied vulnerability. Staff felt protective towards this factor as if it was an abandoned child. While the leadership had access to the authority and collective purpose needed to lead for some unknown reason it neglected to draw upon those critical factors. It did want to relate to staff but more as a partner than a supervisor.

Staff impatiently demanded that leadership lead. Leadership, unable to foster a collaborative relationship with staff seemed demoralized and withdrawn. The general message taken from the exercise was the reminder that some clich├ęs still apply; leadership is not a popularity contest. There are times and situations that call for directive leadership. Staff may not like the directives or the leaders who issue them. Push back of some form is often unavoidable. Ironically, in trying to mitigate this pushback the leadership’s lack of resolve and firmness added to the sense of discontent that seemed to grip staff. 

The missing factor in this system was the sense of safety that comes when leadership is trusted to fully embrace its role. Power that is abdicated by a parent, especially when the child is testing the limits, does not foster togetherness in the family system. The same phenomena are true in the organizational system. Delegating decision making authority before someone is ready to take on that authority or allowing a lack of clarity about who makes what decision can foster a sense of abandonment and vulnerability and the resentment of being set up to fail. 

It’s possible the organizational dysfunction the middle level manger noticed was a recapitulation of a common family dysfunction.  While we might not find a specific traumatic event to cite as the underlying cause a long history of leadership abdication would also have a detrimental effect. History becomes culture and culture as we know consumes good intentions for lunch. The way towards a healthy workplace culture clearly starts with the leadership team. An in-depth intervention would identify and transform the internal blocks to exercising leadership, including limiting attitudes and beliefs. The team’s capacity to lead could be developed not only by learning new skills, but also by systemically strengthening the resilience and confidence that capable leaders embody. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What Went Wrong at GE?

What went wrong at GE ?
by Harrison Snow

GE is an industrial conglomerate with a
storied history that was long considered the model for how a business can thrive through skilled leadership and a strong culture. GE’s different divisions make a wide range of products to include: jet engines, medical devices, drilling equipment, power generation, Insurance, and healthcare. The traditional benefit of a conglomerate is its ability to weather cyclic downturns because different sectors may be in different stages of a cycle. Losses in one sector can be offset with profits in another sector 

Yet, somehow during an historic business expansion after the 2008 financial panic, GE managed to underperform its competitors and the stock market overall.  Some of the bad news for GE includes a stock price that lost 61% of its value while the stock market increased its value a 185%. This translated into a loss of 175 billion dollars in market evaluation over two years. The GE dividend is now at four cents per share and its stock is no longer listed on S&P 500. Cash flow from profitable divisions goes into servicing the debt accumulated by the underperforming divisions.

John Clupp, the current CEO, was brought in to turn around GE. An outsider, he must win over employees to his vision for the company. He replaced John Flannery who was fired by the board after a one-year tenure. Flannery tried to reduce the complexity in the areas of organization, finance and staffing that made running GE a management challenge. His predecessor, Jeffery Immelt, was forced out after a sixteen-year tenure, in part, because of a series of mergers and acquisitions that proved to have more costs than benefits.  Criticized for being fad driven, the top dollar prices he paid resulted in what is known as poor capital allocation; which included buying back GE stock at high prices. His predecessor, Jack Welch, was considered by many to be an iconic business leader who guided GE through a long period of profitable growth. However, Welch was nicknamed, Neutron Jack, for his HR policies that supposedly eliminated staff while keeping infrastructure intact. He was also an advocate of the “rank and yank” policy that automatically fired staff ranked at the bottom ten percent of all performance evaluations.

Focus Question

The two questions the Washington DC Organizational Constellation group sought to answer after reviewing the data presented above were: What key factors were responsible for GE’s decline? If those factors were identified what measures could be taken to truly turn GE around? While issues such as poor capital allocation certainly affected GE’s bottom line they were seen to be symptoms of the problemand not the actual problem. 

 GE employees lots of smart, educated and capable people. The GE culture supports, at least in principle, “speaking truth to power.”  How did they, at least at the headquarters level, manage to keep making the same mistakes; chasing fads that resulted in poor capital allocation? Was there insular thinking that meant they were somehow out of touch with the dramatic changes taking place in the business world? 

GE has taken steps to shake up C-suite management and the board, institute a leaner workforce and reduce financial complexity. Would this bring about the necessary change whatever that might be to revitalize the company?

The group of participants conducting this analysis included two shareholders, a potential shareholder and a former employee. One of the shareholders had been impacted by the decline in the stock price. Was there hope for a turnaround or should he cut his losses? 

Systemic Factors

The group brainstormed a list of systemic factors that might be impacting GE. The factors that seemed most relevant included: former CEO Jack Welch, the new CEO, staff affected by the “rank and yank” policy, previous nuclear power programs and the associated toxic waste, the GE conglomerate business model, something not apparent that was the root cause of the downward spiral, and the GE management ethos. The nuclear power issue was unexpectedly raised by the former GE employee who participated in the exercise. Although it was something no one else had heard about the issue seemed relevant so the participants decided to include a representative for it in the constellation. 

The members of the group each agreed to represent one of the identified factors and found a spot in the meeting room that seem to be their place. Two groups formed and stood about 15 feet apart. The smaller group was Jack Welch and the toxic waste from the nuclear program. Another person joined them to represent the people affected by the radiation. 

Interactions by the Representatives 

Welch reported he felt distant from GE but concerned about what was happening there.  Near the GE group but not in it was the new CEO. He observed their interactions with a degree of objectivity and detachment.  In the GE group the representative for those affected by the HR policy was bent over and turned away from the others. The business model moved slowly towards the management ethos. She eventually she stood in front of the ethos wanting to know what the company stood for now. Ethos and the affected staff did not look at her and the new leader. Nuclear waste left her small group and moved slowly over to the side of management ethos as if looking for something. 

 Nothing happened until Welch moved closer to the GE group and claimed responsibility (for his part) for the HR policies and management ethos and how that had affected people. When that occurred the staff, who were bent over, stood up and turned to face the rest of the company. The shadow root cause realized he was hubris. He was “the best” and always knew better than anyone else. He represented a long history of excessive pride and arrogance that led to bad decisions and a lack of self-accountability. 

When management ethos saw how hubris was a part of his persona it was able to become humbler and more connected to the others in group. Ethos acknowledged what happened to the “ranked and yanked” staff and the victims of the toxic waste. Both ethos and business model looked at John Clupp to answer the question, who are we now?The new CEO seemed relieved this question had been asked. And he appeared ready to work in partnership with the rest of company to forge the answer.  

Exercise Debrief and Take-Aways

After the participants de-roled from the exercise they discussed what they took from the experience. The answers to the two questions had a lot to do with the corporate culture that Welch was instrumental in creating and the policies and structure that supported it. 

Hubris not only fosters poor decision making; it prevents people from learning from their mistakes. “Being the best” can easily warp into “looking the best” and not admitting or addressing mistakes. Clearly over the last few years, this emperor had no clothes. But there was no way to confront the issue and how it was impacting decision making as long as hubris was an unacknowledged part of the management ethos. 

Restoring the GE brand according the results of this exercise starts with changing the culture. This change requires a collective and honest look at the ethos of “being the best” and how that shaped workplace behavior. Pride can be source of strength. Hubris never is. But it’s difficult to know the difference once hubris takes root. The new CEO has the opportunity to inspire the shift towards humility. During the exercise the dysfunctional ethos became more open to the change effort the new CEO needs to lead. This openness grew as parts of the company’s dysfunctional past were brought to light and acknowledged. Obviously, some corporate soul searching is called for. This soul searching would likely be more accepted if the champion of that effort was an insider, like Walsh, who helped shaped the past dynamic that is affecting GE’s present performance.

The unexpected issue of nuclear waste was intriguing. Any waste that was a public health hazard likely occurred decades ago. The fact that it showed up in the constellation asking to be seen and acknowledged does not mean some kind of malfeasance actually took place. But it does indicate a potential issue that needs to be researched. That research would answer the question if there is a past that should be uncovered and remediated. 

 The possible victims of the toxic waste, along with the “ranked and yanked” staff could be two groups who might be still be energetically part of the current system.  Given GE’s poor performance one has to ask if there was an unconscious compensation at work to atone for those who were disadvantaged or hurt by abusive or shortsighted corporate policies and culture? 


About two weeks after the above exercise the writer of this article came across a blog, Contrarian Edge, written by investment analyst, Vitaliy Katsenelson.  According to Katsenelson, GE’s management thought they could dramatically improve any company they acquired through a process known as Six Sigma. Their confidence in their abilities was such that they did not worry much about the initial acquisition costs. Katsenelson also faulted Jack Welch for his near obsessive focus on quarterly results. Welch left GE years nearly two decades ago but his values apparently still predominate as part of the management ethos. The focus on beating Wall Street earnings estimate each quarter likely made short-term thinking and short-sighted behaviors part of the institutional norm. Revising the GE culture and establishing acorporate modus operandibased on greater humility and longer-term thinking should be one of John Clupp’s priorities as he seeks to rebuild the GE brand and its performance.

Friday, February 23, 2018

North Korea, the USA and the Bloody Nose Option; A Systemic Analysis

On January 26, 2018, members of the Chesapeake Bay Organizational Development Network (CBODN) facilitated a public session to explore the dynamics between the USA and North Korea. The Wall Street Journal had recently reported that the Trump Administration was seriously considering the “bloody nose” option of a limited conventional strike to break the standoff between the two countries and initiate meaningful negotiations. Obviously, this option was considered high risk, by a number of commenters, given the level of retaliation that would likely follow. The other option was diplomatic engagement with the threat of increased sanctions. However, years of diplomatic efforts and sanctions had so far failed completely to persuade NK to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Between the two extremes was the current situation of uncertainty and ambiguity. Both states were engaged in the boasts, insults, threats, and justifications of classical saber rattling that often precedes an outbreak of hostilities. As professionals who work to resolve conflicts in large systems, the CBODN members felt called to utilize their tools and expertise to look for potential solutions.

The analytic tool chosen for the exploration was a process known as systemic constellations. The tool is based on systems thinking and embodied learning theory.  Once the analytical question is clearly articulated the key actors in the system are identified. Representatives for those actors are selected and placed spatially in relationship to each other in a way that replicates the current dynamic within the system. Various scenarios based on a tentative hypothesis are introduced and observed to see how they play out. As described in the book, Confessions of a Corporate Shaman, the process is used to explore individual, organizational and social issues.

The tool offers a heuristic for “going to the balcony” and enabling a meta-level perspective that might reveal previously unseen connections and motivations. While the tool is similar in some respects to scenario planning it also possesses an embodied, learning component which may uncover new insights not conceptualized by other means that are solely cognitive.

The primary analytic questions we asked ourselves was about the viability of military force versus diplomacy to resolve the crisis.  Was the USA serious about the bloody nose option? What would happen if the USA did implement that option? Were there unknown factors that, if brought to consciousness, might open new possibilities for reconciliation?

Our group of participants included two Americans who had spent time in South Korea for business and defense-related purposes and one South Korean who was involved in monitoring the status of human rights in North Korea. The other participants had little experience with the region but were aware of the rising tensions between the two countries and concerned about the ramifications. Ironically, the group supported analysis was conducted in a meeting room just a few blocks from the State Department in Washington DC.
Three people were set up to represent South Korea (SK), North Korea (NK) and the United States (USA) and begin the analytic process. NK took its place in the middle of the room and stood staring at the USA. The USA paced back and forth on one side of the room glancing furtively at NK. These behaviors arose spontaneously in the representatives without any premeditation or acting as if. SK moved to a place behind NK and stood there at a distance observing the dynamic between the USA and NK with a demeanor of helpless despair. The tension in the room grew. NK glared defiantly but did not move as a worried looking USA continued to pace. NK reported feeling powerful and in control but not happy about its power.

Besides tension, there was also a sense of pain in the room. A representative was placed off to the side for the traumas people had experienced in the region. It was pointed out that besides WWII, the Korean War, and human rights abuses in NK, Japan had a long history of intervening in Korea including its occupation of the county from 1910 to 1945. NK refused to look at or acknowledge the pain brought on by these collective traumas. The only thing that mattered was holding on to its power because power meant survival.

After the representative for collective trauma was given a place SK moved to the side of the USA. They both paced while NK watched impassively. They had the sense that this standoff favored NK. A representative for China was brought in. China stood facing the right side of NK.  He reported feeling annoyed with the USA. Why should he disadvantage himself for the sake of the USA? It did not serve China’s national interest to see this issue resolved. The two Koreas united under the influence of the USA would be a threat. As long as China was part of this situation the sanctions on NK would never be fully implemented.    

The USA seemed at a loss for what to do and stopped pacing. SK judged that the USA was not a reliable partner and did not have sufficient resolve to deal with NK successfully. A representative for the “bloody nose” option was brought in. She also felt the USA and SK were too weak to act on their own. She sought help from China but was rebuffed. Finally, after a period of uncertainty and confusion, she snatched the purse next to NK that represented the nuclear weapons. NK scoffed at the USA, declaring that object was just a decoy. She still had plenty of weapons the USA could not reach or find. NK reported feeling contemptuous towards the USA and its ineffectual use of force. Surprisingly, NK did not feel the need to immediately retaliate.

SK moved closer to NK shying away from the USA. SK communicated that what they needed was a parent-like figure who would be a supportive witness to their discussion without taking sides. Conflict resolution expert, William Ury, advocates in his book, The Third Side, the best means for resolving conflict is not force, but an arrangement that gives a place for those affected yet not engaged in the conflict. A person who represented the historical Korea that was united for many centuries was placed nearby as that parent figure. SK offered he had always believed he was the elder brother, but actually, NK was the elder brother. He respected his elder brother and wanted to find a way to live in harmony supported by the parent figure. NK was not sure if she could believe SK. It seemed to her SK was being too conciliatory. What NK wanted more than anything was respect. Brotherly felicity was not something she related to. But she began to soften just a bit and in that softening noticed the pain of the collective traumas which she had long ignored. 

As the potential for rapprochement grew between NK and SK, China reported losing interest. As SK continued to acknowledge NK’s place and importance NK reported her eyes were beginning to open and she could see SK and the other nations with less rigidity. The USA and China stood back and allowed the rapprochement to continue. SK offered NK money and assistance. NK did not take it. SK and NK looked at their parent figure. Both were willing to consider the figure as a part of their future as well as their past. SK was emotionally touched by NK willingness to engage with him and the parent figure. As that engagement unfolded the tension in the room was slowly replaced by a feeling of connection and shared humanity. NK did not understand this appeal to humanity and brotherhood. Her bottom line was still being respected in a way that insured her power. But she was willing to move in small increments towards SK in response to his overtures.       
The facilitator ended the analysis at that point of resolution. During the discussions afterward, the participants who were new to this process reported their surprise in the depth of feeling and insight that arose spontaneously. It was agreed that the “bloody nose” option and the increased sanctions had little chance of resolving the issue. NK was not going to give up its nuclear weapons as a result of limited and unilateral, military force or multilateral, economic coercion. While it came as a surprise that NK did not retaliate the “bloody nose” strike the lack of any movement to negotiate with the USA seemed to support its futility as an option.

The one possibility that held promise was the rapprochement between NK and SK through the aegis of their shared history as one country. Interestingly, after this analysis was conducted SK pursued engagement with NK not only in talks that did not include the USA. but also through a unified woman’s ice hockey team at the Winter Olympics, a cheerleading squad and a delegation that included Kim Jong Un's sister.

If these joint activities will continue after the Olympics or what they might lead to is obviously not known. NK will likely continue to see nuclear weapons as essential to its survival. Money gained from any form of economic cooperation with SK would doubtlessly go into those programs. A unified Korea on South Korean terms would naturally be in the interests of the USA.  While this is a long shot it may be a more viable option than the others which have not worked or entail extremely high levels of risk. President Trump did admit that the use of force would be "very unfortunate" for the world.  While this analysis did show that USA was willing to use force, that was limited in scope, NK scoffed at its impact.

This leaves the option of engagements that support a peaceful unification as the most viable path forward. This option could be dubbed the East-West Germany scenario. NK is a very different county than East Germany yet there are contextual similarities, such as the presence of 30,000 NK defectors in the South from North Korea. While China would likely try to block any movement that benefited the USA it did step back when the two Koreas began to dialogue with each other. It would be useful to explore through another systemic analysis the impact the active engagement between the two Koreas might have on the nuclear issue with the USA. A key question for the USA would be how it could best foster that engagement in its interactions with NK, SK, China and other nations in the region.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Developing Your Emotional Intelligence (EQi) Through Conscious Leadership

EQi offers a profound way to enhance self-understanding. This understanding covers our capacity to know and manage our emotional state and our capacity to know and interact effectively with the emotional state of others. The EQi self-assessment is a handy tool for gaining more self-knowledge – keeping in mind the limitations of any assessment of the self, by the self.

What EQi workshops generally lack is a methodology for developing our competencies in emotional awareness and management related to self and others. Tips like count to ten or take a break when you are high-jacked by your amygdala, the place in the brain that controls fight, flight or freeze, are helpful but hardly revolutionary.

Possessing a healthy level of EQi is extolled as an essential capacity for inspiring leadership.  “People may not remember what you said but they will remember how your words made them feel.” While experts agree that we can develop our EQi over time, there is scant agreement about the most viable means. 

The paucity of methods for developing EQi are both cultural and personal. Western culture values the intellect. Our schooling stresses analytical methods that assign numeric values.
While this objective approach has been the mainstay of technological advancements the more subjective approaches of spirit, emotion and physical sensation have been marginalized.  We can land people on the moon but we can’t inspire people to get along with each other on earth.

Fortunately, new methods of conscious leadership are emerging that will enable us to develop our EQi. These methods are based on a deeper understanding of how we interact with our inner emotional landscape, the impact of hot buttons and trauma and the influence of family systems.  If we use and practice these methodologies our leadership capacities that draw upon our emotional and creative intelligences will deepen. We will have more access to the creative impulses that enable us to inspire in others collaborative and productive actions.

The first step of EQi development is understanding our emotional landscape. There are six basic emotions; anger, fear, sadness, joy, sexual (which is associated with creativity by some experts) and shame. The first five have been a part of human behavior from the earliest days of mankind.  More complex emotions are combinations of the basic six. For example, guilt could be mix of anger and fear. The emotion of shame was a more recent development. It has the function of stopping action that is considered socially unacceptable. Shame seems so toxic because, according to Robert Bly, we only need a thimble full yet end up with buckets of it. Those who pour the most on others do so to avoid looking at their own inner burden of shame.    
Our emotions and the sensations in our bodies are related. If we can sense somatically what is happening internally we more accurately sense our current emotional state. Emotions are energy. Energy wants be in motion. If we unconsciously contract and tense up when anger arises that energy stays bottled up. At some point, if the pressure is too great, it releases in an uncontrolled manner, an explosion, and causes harm. 

Mastering this mind/body connection take practice. Being able to identify and express what we are feeling and the associated sensations develops one of the primary EQi competencies; emotional self-awareness.  As we become more skilled in accessing and moving the internal energy of emotions our ability to connect with our innate, creative intelligence deepens; enhancing our ability to innovate and respond to our environment.

The second domain of EQi, relating emotionally to others, requires we go deeper in our journey of self-awareness. Hot buttons, blind spots, compulsions and addictions are places where we operate on automatic pilot. This pilot is not intelligent. It does the same thing, responding the same way to a stimulus, no matter what the results. Mastering this domain calls upon the competencies of self-reflection and personal responsibility.   

Examining those automatic reactions to a certain stimulus is difficult. It is much easier to blame the stimulus, that annoying person who cuts you off in traffic, then take responsibility for the road rage that emerges. If we are willing to look deeper, through self-reflection, we might find a disowned or forgotten part of our self that is seeking attention. Those parts may have at one time a positive function that helped us cope or even survive.  Like old software they were never updated. Now they only manage to clog up our operating system; producing automatically and unconsciously the opposite of what we want and hope for.

One sign of obsolete software is a “hot button;” a small behavior or incident that triggers a disproportionate emotional reaction within us. We don’t decide to react. It happens automatically. Later we regretfully wonder why we “lost it” and overreacted.  Somehow, the adult in us disappeared and a raging or frightened or grieving or placating childlike sub-personality took over. If we hold a safe space for our emotions and sensations the door to our subconscious open might open and reveal the source of this button. Often we will find a disruptive event. The button was a reasonable even intelligent response to what happened in the past. Bringing all this to conscious awareness also brings about an updating of the person’s operating system. To paraphrase Carl Jung, what was hidden in the subconscious and how it played out in our life is no longer considered fate. New possibilities and choices become accessible.

Ironically, this personal dynamic for change also shows up in groups and organizations. The mind can propose all kinds of reasons and motivations for change but little happens because the emotional context and its relationship to the subconscious are overlooked. If change, personal or collective, was a democratic process with a hundred votes; the conscious mind would have ten votes and the subconscious the other ninety. The boss can give orders to the conscious mind, however the subconscious decides on the extent they will be complied with. This begs the question; are we always at the invisible mercy of the individual or collective subconscious mind?        

Thankfully, no.  There is a way we can bring to awareness and work with this hidden context.  The way is called systemic mapping. It is also known as organizational or systemic constellations. Moving material from the subconscious to conscious awareness is a significant competency that often takes outside assistance. Without that movement most change efforts don’t go very far or soon return to where they started. The competency of “seeing yourself” is akin to waking up. When people gain enough psychological space to see how the component parts of themselves and others interrelate something shifts.

This process makes what has long been unseen, seen. It starts with a clear and concise statement of the issue or problem being explored and the desired outcome.  Developing this statement is a significant intervention in itself. Keeping the statement in mind the problem or issue is discussed and the key components of the system it resides in are identified. Representatives are selected for those components and positioned spatially to illustrate how they relate to each other. Most issues or problems are symptoms. They call attention to and even may have even been a way to cope with a past trauma or a disruptive event. As mentioned before, hot buttons, blind spots or addictions show up as ways to cope. Using systemic mapping the relevant events are identified and the associated feelings are addressed. Word or phases are provided that restore the harmony between the different parts of the system. When inner harmony is restored energy in the form of emotions can move more freely; enhancing our EQi and enabling more intelligence, insight and relatedness. Dysfunctional ways of coping loosen their grip.       

We can try these concepts and tools on our own but the most effective way to master them is engaging with others in a structured and facilitated learning environment.  We believe we are isolated individuals and it up to us on our own to resolve our dilemmas and issues. That sense of isolation feels as hard and real as any rock on the road, yet there is the more encompassing truth of our connectedness and how we co-create reality. The anchor points of our problems and limitations are not only in us, they exist simultaneously in our family, linage, group and society. In a group setting we can access those multiple anchor points and facilitate insight and change with greater efficacy and ease than struggling on our own.    

Harrison Snow (yours truely) offers a two-day training in conscious leadership in the Washington DC metro area and other locations. His most recent book about this work, published by Regent Press, is The Confessions of a Corporate Shaman: Healing the Organizational Soul.  For more information visit:

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Hidden Dynamics of Race

The media had been filled with reports of rioting in Baltimore in May, 2015 sparked by the death of a young black man in police custody.  I didn’t have a crystal ball but the workshop scheduled that month to explore the hidden dynamics of race suddenly became a timely topic.  More than thirty people showed up; about a third African American; the rest Caucasian and one woman from Afghanistan. Eight or nine people in the group were familiar with constellation work. The rest had not heard of the process.

After introductions we discussed why we had come that night. One white man spoke about how people were dying and it was time to put a stop to it. An African-American woman objected that the term “people” was too generic. Young black men were being killed by police. Her nephew had been killed by the San Francisco police over a two-dollar ticket. The tension in the room started to build. Another man, black, spoke about the elephant of racism. No one talks about it yet it was there in our society and affecting his life.  

I replied we would be looking at that elephant but not with our verbal, thinking mind. That part of the mind was prone to staying stuck in the same story based on judgments and preconceptions. If we used the non-verbal mind, the part that is present to “what is” in a quiet and open manner, we might assess a deeper, more felt-sense level of understanding.

I led the group through a paired exercise to demonstrate our subconscious connection with each other.  Two volunteers stood a few feet apart. One person, who volunteered to be the issue holder, touched the other with the intention that the person represented a challenging person in his or her life. The issue holder started to cry. I asked her to step back a few feet. She did and stopped crying. The representative was looking down, impassive. I asked the issue holder to say to the representative, “I see you and I agree to what is.” Immediately there was shift in the energy. The representative looked up at the issue holder. They both felt better and better about each other.  The verbal mind holds on to the past or fears the future, I explained to the group. Our non-verbal mind, however, is able to let go and be in the “now” that contains new insights and possibilities. Belief and experience continually reinforce each other. Switching to a non-verbal mode of thinking and experiencing is one way to breakout of that continuous loop. 

After everyone experienced the impact of looking a difficulty and agreeing to “what is” we started the constellation. I had a stack of cards with words written on them that related to the dynamics of racism. We brainstormed others. I explained how trauma that occurred generations ago can affect the current generation. I had been in Israel over the New Year and attended a conference with Germans and Israelis. They had all been born after WWII yet still felt deeply burdened by the legacy of the Holocaust.  Pain and guilt, anger and shame filled the room when that subject was raised. Confronting that pain and the victim/perpetrator dynamic that lived within them was emotionally overwhelming.  Openly facing those intense feelings allowed a sense of wholeness and healing to emerge for both groups.

I called for our volunteers and gave each one a card. Since we were doing a blind constellation I asked them not to look at what was written on their card and just trust the sensations and feelings they felt during the process. I did this to keep us honest and preclude anyone acting how they thought they were supposed to act according to their preconceptions. 

Perpetrator, Victim, Observer and Rescuer took their cards and found their places in the open space in the center of the room. Within a minute the man, a Caucasian, holding the victim card slowly went down to the floor reporting that he felt he was being split open and eviscerated. The Rescuer and Observer moved closer to him. The Perpetrator turned away and started at the wall. I asked those sitting in their chairs who were not yet participating to keep breathing and stay with the tension and discomfort in the room. The Victim may have felt bad but he was in control of what was happening and could withdrawal as a representative if the experience became too intense.  I asked others, if they felt inspired, to join the representatives. One person joined the Perpetrator. Three people joined the Victim. One laying down beside him and two others standing close by.  I handed each a card. One was Oppression and Humiliation. Another Cultural Expropriation. The third, Exclusion. I kept extending the invitation and others stepped in taking the cards; Africa, Benefits (from the slave system), Projecting Shadow Material on to Others, Heroes who Advocated Human Rights, Hidden Payoff, and Ancestors.   

Finally, I asked the Perpetrators to turn about and face the Victims. They were unable to tell the Victims that they saw them. I put someone in to represent their Mother. At first they were distant. I asked the Mother to tell the Perpetrators she always had a place for them in her heart and would be there for them no matter what. Gradually, the Perpetrators moved closer to their Mother. They still looked confused, disorientated and in pain. In a low voice, held by their Mother they were finally able to tell the Victims that they saw them and their suffering. The Victims reported they felt better, lighter and more peaceful.  “I did not know you were human,” One of the Perpetrators whispered. “They told me you weren’t, but I see now you have feelings like me.”

I called the participants who were still seated to come stand as group where they could best see the constellation. They were representing American society. “We see what happened and how you suffered,” I asked them to say. “And we won’t forget you and your suffering.”  I asked two young women in the group to represent the Future. Maybe someday in the future this issue would be considered resolved and other concerns would be a priority. I asked them to tell the people caught up in the issue they would not forget them and their suffering and to have faith that the future would be a better place.  Bringing the constellation to a close I asked the representatives to look at the cards and share their experiences with the larger group. The feelings they felt and the impulses they had to move or say something were in align with the parts of the system they had been assigned. Ancestors had been just one person. She went back and forth between distain for the victims and compassion and concern.  My sense was she alternated between the different sets of ancestors and the radically different attitudes they possessed.  The representative for the Heroes who Advocated Human Rights said she was focused on and concerned about everyone and not just the victims. The woman who had been the Mother smiled and added that Martin Luther King had said he was there not to just set the Negro free but to free everyone from the chains of prejudice.   

The woman whose nephew had been killed by police spoke. She had once seen a cage where slaves were kept. Now she saw that everyone was in that cage no matter what role they played. Everyone was hurting and diminished in some way by slavery and its legacy. In the closing circle people stood beaming at each other. They had been willing to experience something that was upsetting. Behavioral science tells us people are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Yet the participants chose to go through this process. In return, they came away with a deeper insight into the dynamics of slavery and its impact on our society. Acknowledging what happened and agreeing to “what is” would not bring education and jobs to the inner cities. But it just might be a small step towards releasing the “frozen past” from the collective unconscious that underlies the social patterns of hopelessness and violence.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rconciling the Irreconcilable

Reconciling the Irreconcilable

A political constellation was conducted to look at the issue of fostering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Specially, the focus question was how can America enhance its role in fostering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians? While the historical roots of the conflict go back 3 millenniums American involvement dates back to the middle of the twenty century after the British withdrawal from Palestine. Our official efforts to broker peace started in earnest after the 1967 war. The high water mark of those efforts was realized in September 17, 1978 by President Carter when a treaty between Israel and Egypt was signed by Menachem Begin and Anwar El Sadat at Camp David.
While there have been other successes, such as the establishment of the Palestinian Authority through the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995 and the initiation of the “two-state solution,” a viable and lasting peace has yet to be realized. Despite significant investments of time, talent and money in the region by the American government for close to half a century peace has yet to breakout. Why should we care? Why should we even keep trying? Three numbers: 9/11.  American diplomats in the Middle East have admitted that our fate is tied to the fate of the Palestinian people. As long as the conflict remains unresolved the stability of a very unstable region will be even more at risk. The resolution of the conflict, even partial steps in that direction like the Camp David Accords, represent huge foreign policy victories for the incumbent US administration and reduce the threat to our homeland security.     
8 participants attended a political constellation session to explore this issue. Most had limited experience as representatives. Only one besides the facilitator had spent time in Israel or West Bank/Gaza.  Warm up constellations were conducted to help familiarize the participants with the energetic aspects of being in a state of conflict.  Actual personal conflicts that participants were experiencing were constellated. The participants appreciated the insights they gained. The facilitator emphasized that the archetype of conflict between individuals or groups is visceral and personal. Most of us can relate to polarized dynamics of conflict that are felt as helplessness or powerful and fearful or angry. These feelings are usually played out in roles or projections around victim, perpetrator or rescuer. The warm up constellations demonstrated that when we more objective about the conflict and less caught up in our judgments and feelings new possibilities surface that provide more insight and even resolution. Would it be possible to apply this principle to conflicts between groups over scarce resources like land and water?   The participants brainstormed on the number of different “actors” involved in Israeli-Palestinian conflict and came up about 25. The list was narrowed down to a top 8 that included: Israeli settlers, Israeli Palestinians, Israelis, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, holy sites (sacred to Christian, Jewish, Islam and other religions), the Holocaust, the American public and the international community.
The representatives were handed cards with one of the groups written on it but asked to hold off looking at the cards so they did not know which group they represented. Then they were told to find their place and stand there with no agenda but to notice what they noticed. The group arranged itself in the following manner (image to be inserted)
While still in the mode of a blind constellation the representatives were asked to report out. The representative for the Israeli Palestinians felt anxious and upset. The Holocaust felt a connection with the person behind her but also heavy and detached. The group circled up in the middle seemed interested in each other while the Israelis and Palestinians watched in a somewhat detached manner from a distance. Another unnamed representative (Sol) was added who felt drawn to the Palestinians and moved to where he could stand beside her.
He expressed the felt sense that she was key to a positive outcome. The group was asked to notice what shifted with the addition of the new representative. The US felt very attached to the representative for the Holocaust and moved close beside her. The Israeli Palestinians felt somewhat better and turned towards the group. All the representatives were asked to look at their cards and say who they were. The new representative was a solution that leads to peace. He felt that the Israelis themselves would need to come to terms with and acknowledge the trauma of the Holocaust. (image to be inserted)

With this acknowledgment the Holocaust was able to turn and feel more connected to the group. Another representative (48/67) was added to represent the trauma of the Palestinians who were expelled from their homeland in 1948 and 1967. When he was added the representative for the Israeli Palestinian felt much better. The solution stated that both Palestinians and the Israelis needed to see and acknowledge the pain and trauma of their past. However, neither of the two felt much interest in relating to their own or the other’s painful past. The American public felt almost obsessively protective of the Holocaust. She realized that her fixation gave her a sense of moral superiority.
As long as she held on to that payoff she could not see the others, their sufferings or the solution. The solution could see and felt connected to Israelis, Palestinians and Israel Palestinians and their respective traumas.
During the closing debrief it was stated that the shift that needed to occur to enhance Americas effectiveness in facilitating peace was about letting go of its sense of moral superiority. It was not clear exactly where this sense came from, perhaps from its role as a defeater of Nazi Germany or feeling like the protector and rescuer of those who suffered from the Holocaust. However, until the American public was able to acknowledge the oppression and suffering of every group in the system, it could not expect the Israelis and the Palestinians to acknowledge and grieve the suffering they have experienced and caused each other. This mutual acknowledgement on an emotional level would help open up the space for real negotiations and the resulting agreements that both sides could live with.