Cleaning up Messes in the Workplace

This is an excerpt from my new book, The Genealogy of the Soul, a personal guide to Family Constellation Work.

Constellations for Organizations and Businesses

The hidden orders of love that exist within families are blood bonds and very powerful.  However, we find that similar natural orders exist within all groups that gather. A business, a church, an organization, and even your circle of personal acquaintances have all become small systems similar to the family of origin. Using the constellation as a way to know your organization or business relationships can be a powerful tool.

The difference between a family and a social system is that in a family all the positions are fixed and unchanging unless a new system is formed. In businesses and organization, the positions are fluid and changing. People come and people go. However, these social systems do set up an order within their borders. Authority figures are parent-like, and coworkers are sibling-like. Even a kind of birth order can develop depending upon seniority. And like families, things can go out of order pretty easily.

While we were doing tendency work in the Tuesday group, several people used the constellation to set up a business or professional relationship with a boss or co-worker with whom they were having trouble. The results were revealing and usually allowed the person to see things in a new way and to make better choices.

Most groups have a top down hierarchy whether that order is set up according to seniority, training or education, or other factors. When something occurs within these systems to upset the established order, chaos can ensue. When change is introduced into a system, it must be managed based on these established orders for the change to be successful. I’ve worked with many organizations that failed to recognize this and botched things. Too often I’ve had the feeling of having just walked into a family squabble.

One of the drawbacks of using constellation work within an organization or company is that there are no representatives who are “clear” of the operating dynamics; they are all in the family. It is often best to do constellation work with one or two key members and a neutral group. You can also use your collection of representative objects.

One client worked as a nurse in a large hospital. She used our group to constellate the main departments of the hospital. The constellation made it very clear who was seeing who. One department felt unseen by the administration, the administration felt unseen by the community etc. What was interesting about that constellation was that nobody realized until we were almost done that there was no representative for the patients. This was perhaps the most revealing piece of the whole constellation. Sometimes we forget who it is we are serving.

In another organizational constellation, a group of colleagues were having difficulty communicating with one another. In the discovery process, I learned that this group had a founding member although the organization now operated as a team. The founding father was now just a “team member”, and the earlier order of the organization was interfering with the new order. To complicate matters, there were actually generations within the team operating much as the birth order arranges a sibling line. While not as determinate as a blood tie, it was strong. A new structure had been imposed over the old without proper recognition of the “grandfather” and the elder aunts and uncles.

Another business I worked with posed an interesting challenge because it actually was a family business. All the primary players were family members. One older brother had been running the business for a number of years but was experiencing difficulties in his life. A younger brother had been promoted to take his place, and this had thrown the system out of order.

For businesses and organizations, the constellation is just one of many possible tools, but it can sometimes get to the heart of the matter quickly. Large, organized groups often spend a great deal of money and time creating a vision statement, doing departmental assessments, hiring consultants, all in an attempt to solve problems erupting from deeply embedded systemic disturbances. These disturbances can sabotage the best efforts of very intelligent people.

Perhaps the most common error upper management can make is to bring in an outsider or displace a long term employee with one from a “lower” rank without carefully considering and even managing the transition. If done carefully, these times of transition can be negotiated so that the change is made in the right order. For instance, a younger member who is being brought in to replace an older member should have an appropriate time to “learn from” the older one. This honors the long-time employee, makes the best use of his experience, and also eases the younger member into place without throwing the system into chaos.

Likewise, we could use this philosophical way of viewing the world to look at communities, cultures, governments, and even nations. I’ve done a lot of work in Indian country and sometimes have to shake my head. If you take deeply entangled families with lots of developmental insults, a shared history of displacement such as that of Pine Ridge or Leech Lake Reservations, then you keep the borders closed (keep the white man out), and add to that the glass ceiling (not going beyond the parents) I spoke about earlier—you end up with the kind of violence and corruption I often see on the reservations. It is a downward spiral that is almost impossible to halt until a new generation takes over. Thankfully, I see this fresh possibility in the Tribal College students I teach. The new generations are gaining strength and insight, and the dynamic urge is a strong force for good. They want to start businesses, make movies, write books, and generally bring a new way of being into place.

Hellinger was wise to caution us not to think too big with the constellation. It is easy to inflate its purpose and think we can solve national problems or deeply-embedded cultural issues. In truth, we can only find strength one by one by one. And that is within our realm to do. At the same time, we use whatever tools are available given the opportunity. . . I leave this here for you to ponder.  Some are event attempting to do what they call “Global Constellation” to test the true power of this knowing field.

Things to Consider

Whenever you want a greater understanding about co-workers or an organization to which you belong, try using the tabletop constellation to see into the system to which you have chosen to belong. Attempt any of following using the small representative objects in your basket or gather a group together and do your own constellations. Use your own intuitive “knowing” sense to place each object (person or group) in relationship to the others.


  1. Constellate yourself and your coworkers or focus specifically on any individual that you struggle with.


  1. Constellate the business or organization and the people it serves.


  1. Constellate the levels of management and workers.


  1. Constellate different departments within an organization or business.


  1. Use the constellation to help you see into any possible changes in the future direction of your business or organization.

Remember that you are always seeking the order that brings the most strength to the most people. And don’t forget your customers or the people you serve.

(Note:  To order this book you can visit my website at or order from Amazon.)



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