Posted on November 1, 2019

Why our play time as systems workers is over…

As you know I love systemic approaches. Their power and potential is huge and I can’t stop exploring these systems thinking based strategies and ways of working. But only very recently, after years of researching, collecting, using and experimenting with systemic approaches, after many many interviews with thought leaders and experts and systemic practitioners in my summits, after using numerous constellations, deep democracy conversations, organization and relationship systems tools & interventions, difference integration methods, and loads of other approaches in my work with clients, not to mention all my writing and posting about them on social media, it’s time to get even more serious about it all. Not just because I want to, but also simply because I can no longer afford to “just play”. And if you’re a systems worker (or leader or manager) you can’t either.

Here’s why.

The call for systemic work

It was only recently that I attended the first module of my International Masters in Organizational Constellations at the Bert Hellinger Institute in Groningen here the Netherlands. As a group of abut 25 new participants we sat down and listened to the founder of the institute, Jan Jacob Stam, during the introduction of the program. “When we look at systemic work, we need to hurry up”, he said. His words jolted me out of the normal excitement I have at these type of moments and led me to a deeper more profound feeling. “We can’t expect society to wait for us. This work has been about safety. Now the work is more about guts than about safety.” It reminded me of the other moments in my life when I felt called forth. And as I listened I realized that those moments happen when your parents, guides or mentors leave, disappear or die and you’re on your own. That happened to this man, as Bert Hellinger passed away only weeks before this moment. I’ve seen and experienced it in other systemic approaches as well, where founders leave the physical plane and we are left with humongous shoes to fill.

It also reminded me of what Nora Bateson said in one of my interviews with her. We were talking about the societal and political systems in the world that were created to not question themselves, but that in the end serve only a few. “We need anyone who is a systems thinker or who works systemically to be very vocal right now”, she said.

And there it is. The call for systemic work is louder than ever.


“We can’t expect society to wait for us. This work has been about safety.
Now the work is more about guts than about safety.”


The constellation is not the instrument. Our systemic methods, coaching, expertise or facilitation are not the instrument. We are.

There are many different systemic approaches, and they all come with their own instruments, methods and ways of working. I find them equally fascinating, I’m familiar with many of them, certified in quite a few, and I talk about most of them with thought leaders and practitioners in the annual Systemic Leadership Summit that I host.

“It’s not the constellation that does the work. It’s your underlying ideas and who or what you are as a facilitator that does it.” This next sentence during the introductory talk in my Masters jolts me into deeper layers of understanding of what’s at stake.

Strange. I knew this and still, I realized how I need to be even more clear about the principles from which I work with clients when doing systemic work. I’m so familiar with questions like “who is the client?” or “who am I serving?” and “what is the instrument I’m using?”, etc. And still. As we were in this first module, it was like going all the way back to the foundation, the DNA of what I do I my work, when we were trying to answer questions fro a deeper level of knowing. Questions like “What is a constellation?”


I realized how I need to be even more clear about the principles
from which I work with clients when doing systemic work.


Quick fixes, changes in perspective or transformation

It was so interesting to talk about different levels of systemic intervention. It made me rethink why I’ve been in the change business for so long (but that is a different story, so let me stay with the systemic intervention for now).

We’re hooked on the quick fixes. In business and in life. And we hope that someone comes along and gives us the answer or helps us find the it in ourselves or in our organizations, so that we can continue our routines of moving on towards another “B” in our A to “B” type endeavors. It is possible to use constellations for that. Do a constellation, find a cause and solution and everyone feels happy. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t do anything in the long run. This approach is about looking backward, about healing the past and fixing what was. It is about running the same patterns from a better place of understanding and getting better at those same patterns. You and I both know that, unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work when trying to solve complex problems and dealing with the mind boggling amount of change we’re dealing with nowadays.

A deeper layer of systemic work is to help create a change in perspective by bringing in new information. It’s an invitation to irreversibly change some of the patterns that run an organization or a team. Once someone sees themselves, their team, their organization in a different way there is no turning back. It’s awkward, uncomfortable and exactly that edge of the unknown when you’re about to step into a next level, a new potential reality. This type of work is much harder, because many people don’t like being pulled out of their comfort zone. And yet this is exactly what I signed up for with this Masters. To work systemically and to say what I see, to add something new and really intervene.


We’re hooked on the quick fixes. In business and in life.
We hope that someone comes along and gives us
the answer so we can continue our routines.


The deepest layer is to help create transformation. Now transformation has been a buzz word for quite a while now and it works great in sales copy. But most don’t know what that actually means. If they did, they wouldn’t take it so lightly. It means that a living human system, whether that’s a family, a community or an organization, needs to completely reinvent itself. It means letting go of all old patters and do an identity change, while not knowing what the outcome will be or where you’ll end up. Not too many living human systems do this: it is very painful, creates disruptive energy, brings massive uncertainty and has huge consequences.

A bigger case

There is a great need for good constellators. Feedback from businesses in our country is not that they don’t trust the method of constellations: they do. And there is a great need for systemic work in order to help their teams, organizations to move forward. More and more organizations want the new perspectives and some of them need transformation in order to survive.

The thing is: they don’t trust the facilitators; mostly because of bad experiences, or because facilitators are not clear about their own underlying principles from which they do their work. So. We need more good constellators.


We need more great systems workers. We need to be visible for clients,
be clear to them about our underlying principles,
go meet them where they are and do the work. 


I’d like to make an even bigger case. There is a big need for more great systems workers. There are so many different ways to work systemically, not just constellations. What’s important though, is that we get out of the space that is small and wonderful and safe for ourselves and the clients we serve. There are much bigger issues in the world and we can’t sit and wait in our comfort zones for clients to come to us. We need to be visible for them, be clear to them about our underlying principles, go meet them where they are and do the work.

If you’re into systemic work, you know that play time is over. I know mine is.