Work hard, Play hard

Do you remember my friend?
My friend with the 50 euro note attached to his coffee machine in his cafe? ( see previous blog) He had pursued his big dream: a cafe in the main square in his neighborhood. Two years later I spoke to Simon again. I saw his empty terrace. A single person at the bar. What happened? Simon doesn’t know. As from the moment he started the cafe he had worked hard to make it a success.

He had worked day and night. The first summer had been fantastic. The terrace had been packed all day and people loved to pay him a visit, for a coffee, a drink and to chat a bit.  In the months following that summer, things continued the same way. His turnover was far above expectations.

Since then things have changed and everything has gone down. The terrace remains practically empty. Even the regulars just come sporadically.  The turnover is dropping radically and if this continues Simon will soon be forced to stop his activities. Poof, a dream gone!


Simon sighs deep when he shares his story.
Although he would love to turn the tides, he can’t. He tried everything. Coupons. Discounts. Extended opening hours. Reduced opening hours. Another menu. Different music. Hosting weddings and other festivities. Even karaoke, something he does not even like.


Simon states he would like to investigate what he could do to improve his situation.  
He is acquainted with (systemic) organisation constellations and tells me he would like to use this methodology. That is possible of course and I invite him for the next constellation gathering in which he can portray and examine his situation and test some solutions.


Here is a short version of the constellation:
That evening we come together in a group of 10 people.
First, from this group First Simon chooses the representatives for his company, the clients and himself.

One by one he places the persons in the room where we are. When all three persons are placed he joins me. This way, Simon has the opportunity to look at his situation from a distance. I invite him to walk around a bit, to have a look from all angles. What does he see?


What Simon notices:
‘The client’ stands somewhat disappointed on the sideline and takes a step backwards. ‘Himself’ looks exhausted, his eyes strictly focussed on the ‘cafe’.  ’The cafe‘ staggers and feels very uncomfortable with the staring of ‘Simon’. ‘The client’ states that she doesn’t know what to think of ‘Simon’. In the early days you were available for a chat, these days the only thing I see is you in a hurry. You don’t see me. I don’t feel seen and appreciated. You don’t have time for me, she continues.


For Simon it’s hard to see and hear this but he acknowledges that this is the situation.
Since he opened the doors of the cafe, the only thing he had done was slogging. He acknowledges that he became more and more exhausted. Out of fear the success would slip away he worked harder and harder to keep the success up. That this is counterproductive, well, that’s something you don’t have to tell Simon today.

Simon understands that through his actions he turned his back on his clients, literally.  The numbers controlled his mind.


The key to his success:
When we continue with the constellation we add a representative for ‘the key of success’. This seemed to be ‘having time off’. Real time off. To sleep. To loaf around. To play, as the corresponding representative told us. To take good care of himself. With the result Simon relaxes. Allowing his fun and creativity, sociability to come back. 


The test:
The introduction of ‘time off’ has the result that ‘Simon’ is capable to turn around and to have attention for his clients again. Attention for that part of the company that he likes the most and what he does best. The representative for the company blooms, happy to be able to breathe again. ‘The client’ takes a step forward, happy Simon is back.  

When Simon sees this, he feels emotional.  He realizes that hard work is good, but there also has to be a equal part of play time  That  it is good to have a balance between work and relaxation.  The harder he works, the harder he should play.   

And this, allowed him to have some free time, to have time to disconnect from his cafe, that he had forgotten.

At the end of the constellation Simon switches places with his representative and experiences the impact of that insight. He notices it gives a boost of energy.  He feels happy and that moment he commits to allowing himself to have some time to relax from time to time. To be able to do that it became obvious that he should outsource the accounting.


In addition he made some resolutions to keep his head fresh, his body healthy and his level of energy up.

  • Eat good and healthy food  
  • Exercise
  • Time out regularly  and do nothing  
  • Stay social
  • Enjoy the small things in life
  • Do something you truly enjoy doing

Simon can use all the help he can get. What tip could you add to this list?



NB. A constellation is a complex process to explain. To understand how it works it is best to experience one. People who’ve just experienced a constellation ask no questions about how it works. They are too occupied with a new sense of spaciousness and resolution around the issue or question they had previously struggled with.   

Would you like to experience the phenomena of constellations?
1
st of June 2019 I will conduct a special event on this tool in Luxembourg.

There are limited tickets available.
Please book your ticket via this link.

The fifty euro note

When it comes to anecdotes I have the memory of an elephant. Especially if it has to do with a topic that interests me. When I heard the following story, I thought it was brilliant.

The story of my friend
Some time ago, my friend had just heard that he would lose his job and was considering chasing his long-held dream. By coincidence a building- overlooking a nice square – in the village became available. An ideal place for his long-dreamed Bistro. He started thinking about what it would look like: the interior, the terrace, the parasols on sunny days. His clients chatting, enjoying the drinks and some nice food. He saw himself working in and around the bistro, interacting with his clients. Being proud of his own business.

He decided to reach out to a coach.
Together they explored the required steps to realize this big goal. At the beginning my friend was enthusiastic but as the time went by, he increasingly became more dispirited. He realized he had to make space for his dream. This included having to make choices that others might not going to appreciate. Having to take steps that will require him to show who he truly was. Making clear what his wishes were. Regardless of whether others would agree with him or not. He should completely go for it.

My friend felt as if he was getting smaller and smaller. Finally, he admitted: I am scared. 
Essential to the story is that my friend was bullied at school when he was younger. As you can imagine this has left its marks on his self-image. Even now, 20 years later he still carries it with him. The news that he will lose his job comes on top of this. He feels miserable.

The coach and the fifty euro note
The coach said nothing, thought for a moment and then without one word he reached for a fifty euro note out of his pocket. ‘How much is this worth?’ he asked. ‘50 euro’s’, my friend answered confused.

Exactly!

Next, the coach wrinkled the fifty euro note. Threw it around in the room. Onto the ground. Jumped on top of it while screaming and cursing. He went nuts on it. Then he picked it up, folded it open and asked the same question: ‘How much is this worth?’

The realization
In the meanwhile, tears were rolling down my friend’s face. He understood and felt the message immediately:

–     Despite the abuse of the piece of paper it is still worth 50 euro’s.
–     Despite the bullying and the loss of his job, his value remains intact.

For my friend this was the first step towards feeling better about himself.

Everything worked out fine for him by the way. He has worked very hard. He still keeps an eye out for others, but he does not ‘please’ them as he used to do. Instead he stands up for himself, sets boundaries and preserves them. Loves himself. To his own surprise he is completely supported by those around him. People are happy to see him grow. Blooming and happy. Being fully who he is.

And his dream?
That has come true: a fifty euro note is attached to the coffee machine in his café: A beautiful bistro located next to the nice square in the village. The parasols are standing on the terrace and he walks around proudly. He interacts confidently with his clients. Proud on himself and his own business. Just as he had imagined.

5 tips
If you ask my friend which tips he found to be most useful:

–     Find peace with your past
–     Compliment yourself
–     Reward yourself for your successes, even the small one
–     Work out
–     Surround yourself with positive people



  • Karen van Hout

NB. With a huge thanks to my friend. For privacy reasons the original story has been altered so that the main character cannot be recognized. Did you like the story? Feel free to share the blog.

It takes two to tango

Sonja enters the room. She is full of hope.
It’s the first time we meet. She tells me she feels like a doormat. Or better, she behaves like one. One look from another person and she already does what she ( thinks ) will be asked.

A reaction that is eagerly used. But Sonja suffers from this. Feels that this behavior does not suit her. Her energy level is very low, therefore she wants to break this pattern. She is very excited about what’s to come.

=> Everything starts with a decision.

Sonja enters the room. She looks concerned.
After some questions she tells me what worries her. After our previous conversation, she did some thinking. She really wants to get rid of that ‘please people behavior’ and also knows she needs it, but on the other hand she is very afraid of changing. She is afraid that she will turn into a nasty and selfish human being. A witch. I reassure her. The one person who is in control is herself. She is not a nasty human being by nature and will not become one.

 => Essentially you do not change, you become yourself more and more.

Sonja enters the room. She looks frustrated.
She has changed. She knows it. She stands up for herself much better. Knows what her boundaries are and takes them into account. She feels it. She sees it. She notices it. And it feels so good! But the ‘others’ unfortunately do not see the change. They treat her just like before. As if nothing has changed. I recognize it. It is a fact:

=>Sometimes it is hard to see new behavior.

Sonja enters the room. She looks spunky.
She did not let herself be discouraged and continued her new behavior. What has helped her is that she realized that her new behavior does not always suit everyone. That people often tend to approach someone as they used to be. What helped her is pointing out what she is running into. She realizes:

 => Sometimes it is hard for others to accept new behavior

Sonja enters the room. She looks delighted.
She succeeded. She has achieved results! She can be herself and at the same time maintain a good relationship with her colleagues. In fact, she is respected, her growth is seen and she even receives sincere compliments.

 => Sometimes it is just a matter of time

Sonja enters the room for her final session
We discuss the trajectory. ‘That we took out the core of my’ please people behavior ‘ felt very good. That was such a relief. This allowed me to be myself . I then applied the tools that I learned afterwards step by step. I feel good, much calmer and relaxed. ‘

She explains further: I developed a new attitude towards other people. I now know how much effort it takes to change behavior. How exciting that is. What I found difficult is that although I changed, my environment did not. Not directly. It is very difficult when people continue to respond to you as if you are still the same when you are not.

It sometimes felt like a refusal to see me as I am. Sometimes I felt really insulted by that. Yet I now understand it too. I know that my old behavior came in handy. And I see that I made it happen myself. I also see that the more I implemented the new ways, the better things got. ‘It takes two to tango’ as you always say.

I now know that you cannot just assume that someone is like they were yesterday. Or last week, last year. It is true what you said:

Meet each person every time as if it were the first time you meet him. You never know what happened in the time that you do not see each other, many things can change.

And to come back to my previous fear
I now know my behavior has nothing to do with who I am. I am who I am.
My behavior, I can choose. And you know what Karen?

=> I have changed, and yet again, I have not.  

  • Karen van Hout ( with thanks to ‘Sonja’ who gave permission to write this blog)

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How to ‘let go’ in 3 steps.

Leave the emotions out, look at the naked facts

‘Just let it go!’
Go with the flow. Relax!

Well-meant advice
Well-meant advice, but difficult to do when somebody gets under your skin. When you are in conflict with someone. If you cannot seem to make clear to the other person what you actually mean. If you are stressed. If you experience feelings of anxiety and shame. Insecurities. Particular beliefs. If you feel like you are the victim of someone else’s behavior. If you do not succeed in that one thing you would really like to do. If you lost someone or something of value to you. You constantly think about it.

Often this is not helpful at all, if you ask me. Unfortunately some kind of leaflet with instructions is not provided. Because how do you let go of something?

If you let go, do you drop everything? Is throwing it away the solution? Do you just take your hands off it? Do you block it out of your mind? Fold it up and clean it up? But then – what is next?


The leaflet
‘Letting go’ is a verb. As long as you are keeping yourself busy with it not a lot will happen. If you continue thinking about it and working on it, it will stay with you. If you are unlucky, it will even grow. Everything that you pay your attention to, grows. Whether you like it or not.

Desperately wanting to let go of something is like tightly holding on to something that you want to let go of. It cannot go anywhere.


Letting go in 3 steps

Step 1:
‘Open your hand’ and turn it until your palm faces upwards. Give air to what you want to let go of. Let it be. You have all the right to be stressed, sad or angry.

Step 2:
Look at it. Take the emotions out. What are the naked facts?
Things are the way they are. Nothing more, nothing less.

Step 3:
Accept ‘what’ you want to let go of. It is as it is.


What is next?
Relax. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to what you want to let go of. Let it be. For now, it belongs there. You will notice that as soon as you start to accept ‘what is’, it will resolve itself. Eventually everything goes away.

New possibilities are given the opportunity to surface. The first steps towards making the necessary changes can be taken.

Soon there will be a moment when you will realise that you have not thought about that one thing for a long time. Or that you did not have a particular feeling for a long time. You do not carry it with you anymore, you lost it.

That is how it works. That’s the magic:
As soon as you accept and embrace what you want to let go of, it will let go of you.

– Karen van Hout

Everyone counts. Everyone matters.

‘Going beneath the surface’

 

Above the Surface
Erik breathes a sigh of relief. Luckily he has found his team a new member. The team members will probably be as relieved. After the departure of their former colleague the position has not been properly filled. Colleagues came and went but now there was an applicant who seemed to be just right. The right education, experience and competences. And also quite important, the right personality. This woman is a keeper. Erik knows it for sure.

The team members welcome the new employee with great enthusiasm. Initially the woman is as excited and does what is expected from her. After a while however, she is shriveling as a flower in the dessert. Erik sees it happening. He does not understand why but he knows: she will also leave the company.

In the meantime, by coincidence, he comes across the systemic methodology. This gets him interested in the different options to discover the dynamics within his team and decides to set up a systemic constellation*.


Beneath the surface
During the systemic constellation props are met to represent the team. It becomes clear that there is something ‘not right’ within the team. On an day to day basis nothing seems to be the matter but when we take a closer look, we see there is definitely something going on. The team comes across as weak. Some members are about to leave. Emotions and feelings such as insecurity, sadness, anger, and confusion come to the surface. Erik is astonished. He was not aware of this.

 

The inaudible but tangible message
On inquiry, it shows that the team in its current form has been around for quite a while. Some time ago, as Erik still remembers vividly, he fired a member after the two of them got into a huge argument. This employee left abruptly without saying any goodbyes. Not a word has been said about it ever since.

From one moment to another, suddenly the employee was literally completely excluded. There was no farewell. No credits were given for what he had done for the company. In fact, the complete situation was hushed up. The message ‘If you argue with me, then you do not exist anymore’ seemed to glimpse through.


Power of the system
The exclusion of a member goes against one of the basic laws of systems: everyone belongs to the system, the team in this case. If someone leaves the system then this is supposed to occur under fair circumstances.

If someone is excluded like in the story above,  then this will weaken the (team) system. The unspoken message sounds inaudible but is no less tangible for the team. Similarly, the person who will fill in the gap will also feel it. This person will get dragged into the dynamics, behave the same or like here, leave as well.

 

Disturbed dynamics can be restored again.
In the first instance, Erik does not want to go along with this line of reasoning: “This is nonsense! It is the way it is. We got into an argument and the employee left, period. That does not say anything about the rest of the team.”

Well, it is clear Erik needed some extra encouragement:

Indeed, it is the way it is. You cannot change anything about that. The person left. In theory, that is fine. However, the circumstances under which the person left have resulted in damage.

Erik sighs. He considers whether there might be some truth to this observation. Indeed, the circumstances were not very appropriate. But what can be done about it?

The good news here is: Fortunately, disturbed dynamics can be restored again. For the comprehensiveness of this blog I will leave it by giving a clue: What would happen if you would include ‘what has been excluded’ again?

 

Everyone matters
Erik looks at me with suspicion; ‘Are you really saying this? Can it be that simple?’ After some time of consideration, he decides to give it a try. It will not hurt. With hesitation he places a prop who represents the fired employee, back into the constellation of the team.

Erik immediately notices a change. The current constellation does not seem to be accurate anymore and he adjust all props until he feels it is ‘right’ again. When we look at the ‘new’ constellation the team appears to be stronger and comes across as a more coherent whole. Calmer.

Erik anxiously asks, ‘I do not have to hire that person again, do I?’ Besides from the fact that nothing ‘has’ to be done – no, that is not necessary. But you could consider (still) saying goodbye appropriately. Would that be an option?

 

Appropriate goodbye
This seems to be something that Erik would be willing to do. He increasingly realizes that the way how the former employee left the company was not appropriate, and takes responsibility for his part. He decides to openly share his insights with the team but before he does this, he calls the ex-employee. He asks whether he would be willing to drink some coffee together, allowing him to apologize for the way things turned out, and to thank him or her for his years of dedication to the company.


=> What kind of effect do you think this act will have on the former employee, the team, the organisation, the new member of the team and last but not least, himself?

  • Karen van Hout

Eline’s top 5 tips for managers with a ‘wobbly’ team

In the Dutch language we have the following expression: ‘As the wind blows, so does her skirt.’ When I ask Eline whether she knows this expression, she looks at me and nods. She laughs because she realizes that this sentence sums up her whole story.

Eline is a manager. She struggles because everyone in her team goes his or her own way. The promises are not being kept and the atmosphere between the team members has its ups and downs. They also have a lot to say on Eline. ‘They wobble,’ she says. And, ‘I have no control over this team.’

As our conversation proceeds it becomes clear that Eline is wobbly herself. Afraid to upset her team members and willing to keep the peace, she allows agreements to change constantly. How the wind blows…

 

If you wobble, your team wobbles with you.
Eline admits that making decisions is not one of her strongest points. ‘The team’ always wants her to make different decisions and Eline often wonders whether they are right. As a result her strategy changes all the time. More often than not deadlines are stretched and to the least extended. Agreements altered or not fulfilled. Attending someone to his or her behavior does not have any effect because everyone knows: today it is this approach, tomorrow it will be different. And if not tomorrow, it will be the day after.

As our conversation goes on it becomes painfully clear to Eline: It is not surprising that the team behaves as it does.


If your team wobbles it is time for action!
The worst thing you can do is to postpone making things right again. Postponement means that you accept the situation the way it is. It affects your credibility. The power the (team) system will come into action and ultimately everyone will ‘wobble’. The problems (read: your problems) will not become any smaller. So it is time for action. Now!


Make sure that you stand firm yourself
It may take some time but it is possible to turn the tide. And this starts with yourself. Instead of looking at the team first, it is better to look at yourself and to examine your way of leadership.

In addition to my tips mentioned in the blog Will they still like me, Eline has made a top 5 list of the tips that have helped her in this process. One extra tip I would like to give you is that Eline has made use of a notebook in which she wrote everything down. This helps her to be inspired when she faces a difficult situation.


Eline’s top 5 tips

1.     Know who you are, what you do and why. The better you know yourself, the more confident you are. Consider this knowledge to be the foundation of your actions. Know that you do not have to act as if you are different than the person who you truly are.

2.     Take the position of the leader. Take the lead and pay attention to your team members. With the emphasis on ALL team members. Know what drives them and what concerns them. Encourage each to get the best out of himself in their own way.

3.     Formulate your communal (team) contribution to the success of the organization. Give the employees something to hold on to. Where are you heading? Spread this message clearly and make your team members co-responsible for the success.  Eline added something what I fully support: celebrate the successes you book.

4.     Be clear in your communication. How tempting it may be to equivocate, it is important to be trustworthy. Especially when the message is complicated. Be clear and straightforward in your communication, make clear agreements and come back to them. Always! In case of  undesirable behavior, respond immediately. In private. If you see desirable behavior, respond immediately as well. Give a compliment, preferably in public.

5.     Walk your talk. Eline has already mentioned it in the fourth tip: be trustworthy. What you say may sound nice but what people see is of more importance than any of your comments. Your words are not of any significance until you live up to them. Take the lead here: show everyone what you expect them to do.

Which tip could you add to this?

If lobsters would have doctors

Changes.
They always hurt. At least a little.

The question is whether the ‘change’ itself hurts, or whether the pain actually makes you change. An interesting question that can be answered in several ways.


How do you deal with it?
Isn’t it so that we always try to avoid pain? As well as the change that is connected to it as a consequence? But if you decide to, bravely, go through it, what would be the best way to do ?

By coincidence I came across a short film which touched upon this question. In the short film, Rabbijn Twerski mentions that he had read an article about how lobsters grow. He did not find the topic itself to be very interesting but there was something about the story which caught his attention. And mine too.


I will tell you what it was:
He read that lobsters are very soft animals. They live in a hard shell which is so hard that it cannot expand. But also lobsters grow. You might think that this would be impossible because of the hard shell but the lobster found a solution to this:

When a lobster grows, its shell becomes very tight. The pressure increases and this very soft animal is starting to feel uncomfortable. He searches for shelter under a rock so that it cannot be attacked. Then it lets go of its old shell and produces a new one.

The lobster continues to grow and eventually this shell will become too tight as well. He returns to the rock, releases the shell, and rebuilds the next one. And so the process goes on.


The objective of the story is:
The lobster is motivated to grow because it does not feel at ease anymore. The discomfort it experiences, makes it take the steps necessary for growth and change.


If lobsters would have doctors
A smile appeared on my face when the Rabbi expressed his idea that if lobsters would have doctors, they would never grow. He thinks that the doctor would give the lobster medication so that it would feel fine again and would not feel the need to let go of its shell. It would remain the same way forever.

I had not seen it that way before but I think that the Rabbi is right. Isn’t it exactly the same with us humans? If you do not feel the discomfort (anymore), the urge to change disappears.


What you can take from this:
Times of setbacks are times of growth. Pain or other feeling of unease make you take the steps that are needed to feel good again. In the meanwhile, it is fine to look for protection and help. It is even recommended to do so. A safe environment gives you the opportunity to let go of the ‘old’, and to make place for the ‘new’.

Enabling you to go on afterwards.

– Karen van Hout

The 3 golden rules everyone should know

Once upon an time there was a small tree growing between large trees. He behaved as if he were big. Just as big as his fellow trees. He wanted to join them, looked them in their eyes, laughed if they laughed, bowed with the wind if they did, and stood up when they stood up. He told them big stories.

As a small tree that also wanted to be big, he raised his twigs high, and he held his leaves tight to look as large as he could. His attention focused on the others.

The big trees accepted it at first. In the beginning it was funny, but as time went by they lost interest in the small tree which kept his twigs up higher and higher and telling them increasingly greater stories.

Lonely stood the poor tree between the big trees. Slowly his twigs began to fell down…the leaves malnourished. Fatigued, he just stood there. He didn’t understand and felt profoundly miserable. After some thinking he decided to put on his ‘bold shoes’ and ask the friendliest tree what to do. Why did he not belong? He so had done his best, right?

 

The kindest tree listened to him, thought for a moment and said,

‘My boy, like a big tree cannot pretend to be small, a small tree cannot pretend to be a big tree. It is as it is: A small tree between large trees should behave like a small tree between large trees. Pretending to be different than you are is like swimming against the tide and this only costs you energy. Energy that you could have used for caring for yourself. For feeding your roots, your trunk, branches and your leaves. Energy that you could have used to be who you are and to become what you are supposed to become.

 

We have a number of rules here in the forest:

 1. Each tree has its own unique place. So do you. Take your place. That’s your right. Only from that place can you do what you have to do. To make your own contribution. Standing on someone else’s place simply gives you unnecessary burden as you have now experienced. Leave ‘that what belongs to someone else’ to that person and only carry what belongs to you.

2. We were here before you. You came with us later. That is the order that rules. As a new tree it is impossible to walk ahead of the older trees. The fact that you came later does not mean that you are worth less though. You are of as much value as we are. You are good and valuable the way you are. Precisely because of what you are. Remember that well!

3. Giving and taking should be in balance. We, larger trees, exchange the same. You as a small tree may take from us, the larger trees. We know that you cannot fully give us back what we can give you. That’s not bad, that’s how it should be. In turn, take care of the trees that come after you, or others who need it. That is enough.’

 

The small tree listened to the story of the friendly big tree. A sense of relief flowed through him. He did not have to be like the others! He was allowed to be who he was. It did not matter that he did not have such a thick trunk yet. It did not matter that he was not that tall yet and did not have a huge green crown yet. That would even be weird, he suddenly realized. He is the way he is, and that’s enough.

The tree has followed the advice of the friendliest tree. He has taken his own place and has taken good care of himself. The energy he previously put into his environment, he used to take care of himself. And it became obvious! His trunk grew thicker, the roots a little deeper and the leaves are shining in the sun. To his surprise people came to see him and they told each other what a promising tree he was.

 

Proudly he stood between his larger friends. The new smaller trees looked up to him admiringly. They behaved as he behaved. When he laughed, they laughed. They bowed as he bowed. They looked him to the eyes. They wanted to be just like him.

With the lesson fresh in his memory he shook his full head gently and said, “Believe me! Pretending to be different than you are is like swimming against the tide and this only costs you energy. Energy that you could have used for caring for yourself. For feeding your roots, your trunk, branches and your leaves. Energy that you could have used to be who you are. Which makes you grow as only you can grow. So you can do what only you can do. You are fine the way you are. And that’s the way it is.’

 

  • Karen van Hout

Why, what, when and how to delegate -tips

Do you remember Susan? The main character of a previous blog? She was extremely busy. Probably overburdened as well. But after she learned how to leave her team’s tasks and responsibilities up to them, she saved more time and space for her own tasks. As a manager she started to feel more at ease and the relationship between her and the team increased every day. Her department flourished. Susan was happy, but again she faced the issue of time, which she still lacked.


Reasons not to delegate
Until now, the word ‘delegate’ was not a part of her dictionary. She was convinced that it was not done to pass some of her tasks on to the team members. They were already caught up in work, remember? In addition, she also thought that it would cost her too much time to explain what needed to be done. That it would be more effective to do it herself. Also, what if the result of the delegated task would not meet her standards?

 

Reasons to delegate
The prospect of having more time was the decisive factor. She knew which qualities were present within her team and she wanted to make use of these qualities. An additional advantage was that she could simultaneously encourage and motivate her employees to grow. As individuals but also the team as a whole.

 

Decide WHAT to delegate
First of all, she made a list of her tasks and divided these tasks into categories:

  • Which tasks do I have to perform myself?
  • Which tasks are suitable to delegate, and what would the risk of this be?
  • Which tasks could somebody else perform better?
  • Which tasks could somebody else perform just as well as I could?
  • Which tasks could someone else learn how to do?
  • Delegating which tasks would lead to more spare time?

She placed these answers into a matrix.
The green squares represent the tasks she felt comfortable about to delegate.


Decide WHO to delegate to
With the help of the following questions she approached the list she made before:

  • Who would like to perform this task?
  • Who has time and space for another task, or who would be able to create more time?
  • Who would be most suitable for this task?
  • In what will this person have to improve?
  • How could I contribute to this?

 

Instruction and guidance
Because it was new to Susan, she first began to delegate the smaller tasks. This allowed her to practice how to discuss the task in question. We explored how she could give instructions most effectively. How she could share her expectations of the results, the why, how, who, and when. She practiced how to let go of some of her tasks, the accompanying responsibilities and authorizations. She learned how to step in when needed.

After a while she noticed the enthusiastic feedback and positive results. This gave her the confidence to increasingly delegate more bigger tasks.

 

Results
Not much is left of her initial concerns. Admittedly, sometimes the outcome could have been better but she also knows that ‘good’ is good enough. She has learned to expect fine results instead of perfection. Of course it costs time, especially when a task is being delegated to an employee who is not yet competent enough to do the job. Particularly at the beginning this requires instruction and guidance.

And maybe that would be a reason you do not think that delegating a task would be something for you. That is fine.

But Susan now strongly believes in the value and effectiveness of it. It is of mutual benefit to Susan as well as to her employees. It required some preparations but the employees now enjoy developing themselves. The collaboration has led to many improvements. The trust on both sides grows every day and Susan has more time. That was what she wanted.

 

Karen van Hout

4 Advantages of gender differences within the workplace

In a previous blog I wrote about Monique. How she came to the decision to compose a diverse team.

Monique noticed that she had made a good decision. As she expected, the different traits and talents of the people she chose added value to the team. She was content.  It has become a good cooperating team. The desired results were being achieved and from time to time they had a good laugh. The project was running smoothly.


Diana
Monique did however worry about Diana, one of the women in the team. Diana had her opinions about the men. She was very clear on this and expressed these opinions verbally as well as non-verbally.

  • She found that the men often took action too soon.
  • She called them childish because they were busy outdoing each other.
  • She did not feel as if she was taken seriously when she said ‘no’.
  • She found them lazy because it seemed as if they continuously delegated their tasks onto other people.

 

The assignment
Monique saw it happen. First she did not want to believe it but indeed: men and women differ from each other in behavior and in communication. She understood that this could occasionally not only lead to laughter, but also to misinterpretations, confusion, and annoyance.

But she also noticed that there were similarities. Each member of the team was incredibly driven. Motivated to become a successful individual who is part of a successful team. So she decided to make use of the things they had in common.

To be able to share this insight with Diana, she gave her the assignment to describe the gender differences within the team, and to analyze the advantages and the disadvantages.
After some resistance, Diana decided to give it a try.


The result
Because she had been so focused on the differences, it was easy for her to draw up this list. She experienced more difficulties when examining the advantages of these differences. However by thinking critically, being an observer, and talking to her colleagues, she discovered the following advantages:

  • By letting men and women work together, the men were prevented from taking action too soon while the women were stimulated to take action.
  • The fact that the men proudly acknowledged and shared their achievements among the team, gave the women the opportunity to do the same.
  • While women consider a ‘no’ to be a clear ‘no’, Diana realized that men often consider it to be something that can be changed into a ‘yes’. She now perceives the negotiation that follows after saying ‘no’ to be an opportunity for woman to continue the conversation and get what she aimed for anyway. She also knows that she has to be very clear when refusing something.
  • The annoyance that the women always seems to be working and the men apparently do nothing, also disappeared. The men inspired the women to perform their tasks more efficiently. At the same time, the women motivated the men to complete the tasks that were assigned to them.


Diana’s conclusion:
Men and women in the workplace respond differently. She saw that the unwritten rules were just there. The different reactions are not personally focused. And do not have to be brushed away but may be there. She concluded that men can learn from women, and vice versa. That the differences are the cause of the team’s success.

 

What’s next?
So this is not a plea for change. But a plea for creating mutual understanding and awareness. So that you can anticipate this and thus achieve better results. Whether they are business or personal.

 

 

Comment of the author: I know that some women consider this to be manipulation. But this is not the case. And by the way, if it makes our lives easier then what would be the issue?

Try to look at it as a chess game. What will be your next move?

 

– Karen van Hout

‘Will they still like me?’

In this blog I would like to introduce you to Susan.
She is team leader of a team which consists out of seven people: four women and three men. Susan is extremely busy. She feels like she has a lot of weight on her shoulders and she cannot find the time to work on her management tasks.

 

She asked me to take a closer look at her team.
Susan says that she often thinks that her team members do not take her seriously, which places her into a difficult situations.She finds it difficult to accept this because she does the best she can. She knows how busy her team members are so she helps them by taking work out of their hands whenever possible. Susan works her tail off for them. Still, every time this approach seems to end up in conflicts. It seems as if her team crumbles down every day. ‘Exhausting’, she sighs. She doubts whether she is actually suitable for this position.

 

The (team)constellation
During our conversation, we literally take a closer look at her question. She places props to represent her situation. First she decides where to place her team members and then she places herself. When she positions the prop for herself in between the team, she immediately sees it. As a result of placing herself in the middle of the team she does not  take her own position. So regardless of the fact that Susan is officially the leader, she does not take the lead at all.

 

The system
She is quite disappointed. Susan wonders, does she have to place herself out of the team? She says that she considers herself to be a part of the team. She does not feel any better than the others. ‘We all should be equal to each other, right?’, Susan asks herself.

‘How can you answer this question  if you take a look at the broader context, Susan?’, I ask her. You are a part of a system consisting out of a leader and its seven team members. And yes, everyone is equal to each other but, and this is the most important part, everyone does have his or her own spot. Every spot, or position if you like, comes with own individual responsibilities, tasks, and privileges.

You are the leader and therefore you should fulfill the spot of the leader. Not the place of one of the other 7 members. Or as an eighth team member. Beware of the fact that if you do not fill in your own spot then sooner or later someone else will. This always lead to conflict. In this particular case, conflicts about who does what. It’s a logical course of action.

 

The spot of the leader
It is very clear to Susan. After trying to figure out what would be the best place for her, she picks up ‘her’ prop. Susan’s ‘what feels best’ outcome is a place not in but next to the team. From this position she thinks that she will stand close enough to the team to be a part of it and yet being able to be a good leader at the same time.

Immediately she experiences a feeling of calmness. Her body lets go of tension as she relocates her prop. Susan mentions that this place feels a lot ‘better’ and that she feels more secure. She also thinks that this move enables untangling everyone’s functions, tasks, and responsibilities. This will result in the needed clarity.

 

But… will they still like me?
This is Susan’s next question. Her new spot feels less personal than she is used to. And she wants her team members to do well. We further talk about these thoughts and along the way she finds her own answers. It has come to her attention that:

  • She currently turns everything into something personal- while it is not.
  • It is unnecessary and impossible to be friends with everyone
  • By taking work out of their hands she takes away the responsibilities of her team member
  • Her team members are perfectly capable to do the job
  • And last but certainly not least: A change within the team starts with yourself

 

Results
Trough time I see Susan changing. During our last conversation I noticed she walks differently and comes across as more confident. Even her voice sounds different. Susan feels good and says that because of the arrangement and accompanying conversations she had almost automatically taken the place that belongs to her.

At first Susan was not aware of it, but something about herself changed which led to a different attitude of her team members. She noticed this by the declining of conflicts within the team.

It became clear to her that it can be very alleviating to leave the team members’ tasks up to the team members and to have time for her own agenda.

She then experienced one of the biggest eye-openers: the work continued and the desired results were easily achieved.

 

A happy team
Susan learned that her position within the team is different from her personal relationships. Also, she realized that she can be herself while being a leader at the same time, and still be respected as such.

The team members have expressed their happiness about Susan taking the spot of the leader. The result is that everyone has the time and space to perform their own tasks and to take their own responsibilities.

I consider the best comment to be that she can now focus on her own work, while the others feel like they are more supported than ever before.

Susan’s confidence continues to grow every day.

–    Karen van Hout

Why mixed teams perform better

Monique faces a great challenge; she has the opportunity to create her very own team for a long-term project. At first glance, she has some candidates on her ‘list of favourites’. Colleagues who she knows and likes to work with. You could say, ‘job done’. But Monique knows more is needed to complete the project successfully.

So she first determines which qualities she deems necessary to achieve success. On a personal level, she asked herself the following questions. Does she only want people she has worked with before or is it smarter to involve new members? What should the ratio ‘upcoming talent’ vs. ‘Recognized experts’ look like. Etc. Would it make sense to look at the male / female ratio? And which ratio would be the best? Will it make any difference? Monique went to investigate.

Homogeneous teams
For Monique, a team consisting only of women would feel most comfortable. But she also knows that such a team is one-sided. A team with much of the same, how valuable this one contribution in itself is. In addition, in the early days she already experienced that in a one-sided team there is generally less supervision of agreements and performances and a greater chance of group thinking. Issues that will not benefit the final intended results of her project.

The mix, heterogeneous teams
Monique is researching what a mixed team could do for her. She finds out that mixing different qualities and talents will make her team richer. She discovers that greater diversity ensures that more sources of independent information and therefore different insights are available. Because of this diversity one has to talk to each other. Therefore the issues will be viewed from different angles in order to arrive at the best solution or conclusion.

One that will probably sound very different from what a homogeneous team can ever come up with.

Monique’s decision
All in all, she decides to put together a mixed team. Attracting people who are different from each other. In background, experience, character, but also to have a good look at the male-female ratio. She realizes that one single man in a women’s team, or a single woman in a men’s team, will not make the difference. She decides to strive for an (for her) optimal 50/50 male / female ratio.

Monique is excited but also a bit anxious. Her colleague who has already been to this rodeo, reassures her: ‘Yes, a mixed team can be a hassle but not as much as you think.’

Accept the differences
He says: ‘Differences may give friction but without friction no shine. Accept the differences. If you do that, then others will too. The more emphasis you put on refuting the differences, the greater these will become. The fact is that we are all different. And yet all the same. Nothing more nothing less. Let the differences work in your favor:

A mixed team is smarter:
– Working with people who are different from you, challenge you to think differently than you are used to.
– Team members of a mixed team set company interests more often before their own.
– In a mixed team it seems that members seem to give each other much more space to develop and encourage each other to deliver good performances.
– Which leads to a better working atmosphere.
– In companies with a good working atmosphere, work is done more effectively, benefiting productivity.

And the team itself?
Do not be afraid that the team members will have objections. It is known that generally it is more fun to work in a mixed team. Often the atmosphere is much better than in one sided teams. In general it`s indicated that one functions better. One will be more challenged and for sure have a lot more fun.

In short:
The hassle is a small price to pay for the benefit you will have from a mixed team. All systems are go Monique.

And last but not least: If you ‘hit a roadblock’, just call Karen.

From a systemic perspective: The story of Laura

Laura works in a department with six other colleagues. She is busy. Too busy actually, but deep in her heart she loves it.

She knows this. She has always been this way. One look from your side and she has already done it for you. No matter what it is. As if she has a sense for it and exactly knows what you need. Indeed, Laura is doing well.

Initially the other colleagues accept it. Sometimes Laura’s behavior is irritating but at the same time it can be useful. She takes a lot of work out of their hands. So nothing is being said about it.

Why do I feel I am not in the right place
After a while the situation becomes uneasy. Small conflicts arise. It seems as if Laura runs the department and this was not the idea. Deep down Laura knows it too, but do you remember? She cannot help it. She does not understand it either.

In the end, it is too much, she cannot handle it anymore. She does not enjoy her work as much as she used to and sometimes she even considers searching for another job. At night she is exhausted and on Sundays the following week comes across as an enormous challenge.

Why does she feel like she is not in the right place? Why does she always think that she has to do everything for everyone? Having to care for them? Having to take the tasks out of their hands? If she will switch to another job, she is afraid that she will experience the same thing so she chooses to find out more.

The systemic perspective
During a conversation it becomes clear that she comes from a broken family. Her parents divorced when she was about ten years old and as the oldest child she was considered to be responsible for her two younger brothers. Her mother shared many things with her, including the anger and concerns that went along with the divorce. Laura knew everything. Her mom needed to work hard to keep everything going but together with Laura’s help they were fine.

During a workshop a (systemic*) constellation underlines this image. A bell starts to ring in Laura’s mind. Because of the divorce and the absence of her father she ‘placed’ herself in his spot at the age of ten. With all the consequences that comes with this. She never got rid of the sense of responsibility that she felt at that time, leaving her to carry it around for 25 years.

Laura’s solution
Until now. Now she has been given the opportunity to leave the place of the parent, give it back to whom it belongs, and place herself in the spot of the child. Also, to let go of the weight she has been carrying on her shoulders for such a long time. She takes this opportunity!

She feels like she has been set free. She describes it like emptiness. Space! A space that is hers again. Relieve. The tension has disappeared and a realization of freedom arises. She has not experienced this freedom for a long time and she embraces it.

She learns to use this space for herself and to exclude everything that does not belong there. While at work, she also notices that she has improved in leaving things the way they are. She does not take responsibility for the tasks of others anymore. She enjoys it.

What happened next
Her colleagues also notice the change. They compliment her and feel like they can approach her freely, knowing that Laura does not ‘mother’ them nor the department anymore.

Laura chooses to stay and continues to enjoy working for a long time together with her colleagues.

 

 

NB: Name and (possible) situation are fictional.

– Karen van Hout
Systemic Coach/Counsellor and Trainer

Why behaviour is not the cause

We often attribute the cause of an event to behaviour. Which makes perfect sense because ‘the behaviour’ is what we see. And so we can identify it. And as a result to ‘what we see’ a response with a connecting conclusion is possible:

–  John always responds cranky to an assignment. According to his manager this causes a dispirited atmosphere in the team.

–  Lisa’s three-year-old son takes over the entire household – his will is law. Lisa believes that this is the cause of the tensions between her and her husband.


Action = Reaction
In You do not have a relationship, you create one I have already explained that an action always results in a reaction. So indeed, if someone acts cranky then others will respond to this accordingly. Which, in John’s case, will have its effects on the team as a whole. Similarly, we can assume that the behaviour of Lisa’s son causes tension between the two parents.


So far, so good
A logical solution would be that Lisa’s son and John would ‘just’change their behaviour in a way so that it does not result in any undesirable consequences. However, often it is not that simple. In order to be able to truly change behaviour we should have a look at the underlying causes. What makes it that John responds so cranky? And why is Lisa’s son so demanding?

A way to identify underlying causes can be found by looking through a, what I call, systemic perspective. This can be explained by zooming out the situation. To be able to do this, you do not only look at the individual but you also include the whole environment in which the person finds himself (the system).


The system
You can see the system as a group consisting of people that belong together (context). In the case of John we look at the whole team. In the case of Lisa’s son we look at the whole family.

All members of the team and family are directly or indirectly connected to each other. All members influence and are being (visibly or invisibly) influenced by each other. If one person moves, then the other is automatically set in motion as well.

A system ‘lives’ according to numerous basic conditions concerning ‘belonging’ (as opposed to exclusion), ‘seniority’ and ‘balance in giving and receiving’, and always working to maintain the balance between the different elements (= self regulating).


In the system
A disturbance of the aforementioned basic conditions will result in imbalance. Because everything and everyone within a system is connected to each other, such a disturbance effects the whole system.

The system does everything to restore the balance. These movements are invisible, but can nonetheless be felt by all the members of the system. A reaction on such a sensible movement results in visible behaviour:

– The bigger the efforts and movements to restore the balance are, the more ‘trouble’ you will experience. This can cause unrest, irritations, and compulsiveness.

– When the balance has been restored (the basic conditions will be met) then this will be experienced as a more peaceful situation.

 

It works both ways
In short, behaviour is not the cause but an expression of something that occurs within the system.

Concerning John: all team members had the feeling that they needed to give more than they were given back in return. John was the person who expressed this feeling through his behaviour.

Concerning Lisa’s son: the boy expressed demanding behaviour because he sensed the already existing tension between his parents. This was his way of communicating what had gone wrong even before he started showing challenging behaviour.

As a friend noted: ‘We often do not realise that we do not only influence our environment but that our environment also influences us.’

This sums up the whole story.

 

–     Karen van Hout

What do you take from this story? Feel free to leave a comment.

You don’t have a relationship, you create one (4 tips)

‘You don’t have a relationship, you create one’ 
I use this saying often. Sometimes it causes some uproar, but more often it gets support. Because if you take the time to let this one really sink in, you’ll realize it’s true.

I will explain why by giving an example, and I will give you 4 tips to look at your relationships in a way that might be different from what you’re used to.

Let me introduce you to Martin and Jeanette. At first, Martin and Jeanette got along really well. After a shift in positions in which Martin got a new position and Jeanette took on Martin’s old one, the atmosphere between them became heated. They were convinced they had a bad relationship.

Many conversations took place, to no avail. Situations and incidents were discussed in detail. The question of who was at fault kept being moved back and forth. They could not solve it.

1. Under the surface:
Both Martin and Jeanette understood that they had to look below the surface in order to find a solution. In order to make the dynamics between them visible and therefore discussable, a systemic constellation was made. In addition, the following became apparent during this process:

2. De-faulting:
In the systemic thought process, one does not speak about good or bad. It is the way it is. It happens the way it happens. Nothing more, nothing less. Martin and Jeanette stopped blaming each other.

3. Processes & Patterns:
Without the veil of blame, they could take a good hard look at the process between them. For both of them there was now room to see what Jeanette was doing that affected Martin and to see what Martin was doing that affected Jeanette.

A process, that until now had been unconscious, became clear. Martin kept looking over Jeanette’s shoulder: ’What is she doing to my work, is she doing it right, should I interfere?’ Jeanette was very aware of that. Got annoyed by it. Didn’t want to hear anything about it and turned ( literally) her back on him.

4. Influencing instead of controlling:
In order to be able to achieve– from our point of view – a better relationship, we have the urge to want to change the other. But instead of wanting to change the other (in other words, to control the relationship), it is smarter to take a look at how you can influence it.

This requires you to be as flexible as possible. If you can be flexible towards the other’s behavior, if you are flexible enough to change your own action, then you have the control over what exists in the system between you and the other. Another action results in another reaction: a change on your end results in a completely different relationship.


You don’t have a relationship, you make one:
So if you want to know what makes a relationship good or bad, it’s interesting to find out what causes the escalation between two or more people. Or what it is that makes the relationship successful.

Jeanette and Martin first were convinced that they had a bad relationship. By looking at their relationship as described above, they realized that they were what made their relationship bad. They saw in which ways they influenced each other (whether conscious or subconscious) and what they could do in order to improve their relationship. They applied these insights.

In short: First Jeanette and Martin gave each other more space. Jeanette had room to breathe again, was able to get off of her island and to acknowledge Martin’s previous work. This acknowledgment made him feel good. He in turn realized that he had not been able to let go of his previous position. He also realized that it was now in Jeanette skilled hands and her responsibility. Thanks to this insight, Martin was able to let go of his old position and to focus on his own new tasks.

This way they were able to turn a bad relationship into a good relationship. And they are still doing that. They now have space and room between them, and something they never deemed possible anymore: mutual understanding, respect and even agreement.

–         Karen van Hout

 

Would you like to know more about this topic, feel free to contact us.

How much can you take?

Which thoughts came to your mind when you saw this title? Did you think about all the challenges that you have encountered until now? Did you think about your overfull closets? Money? Physical exercise? Sickness? If you know me well enough, you will know that I like to play with words. So yes, I am talking about something completely different.

This Christmas blog is about receiving. Just getting something. Without having to do anything for it. Just like that. Just because you are nice. Because you deserve it. Because the giver wanted to give you something. Just because.

We are so used to applying the ‘a favour for a favour’ rule that it becomes uncomfortable for us to happily receive something without having to do something in exchange. How tough is this for you? How many times do you say ‘thank you, but you did not have to do that’?

Of course this differs among people. Maybe you really enjoy receiving the one gift after the other without batting an eye. In that case, I sincerely congratulate you!

But how many people are not at ease when they are given a cup of coffee. And even some pastry to go with it. By an effort especially for you. A big bunch of flowers. Or does the feeling of discomfort start when you are treated on a dinner or a night at the movies. How much can you take?

I firmly admit that I sometimes struggle with these situations too. The act of giving seems to be so much more enjoyable than receiving. But why is that the case? Why is it so difficult to just openly appreciate a kind gesture or a pretty gift? And just to be happy with it? No, give! Giving is a lot more fun than receiving.

I would like to ask you whether that is really true. Or could it be that something else lies at the base of it? I think that for a large part it is easier. Because what makes receiving so difficult? Do you consider yourself to be worth being given something? Do you think that you are obliged to give something back if you receive? Do you feel the strong need to do something in exchange?

Systemically, there should always be a balance between giving and receiving. During my studies the following rule stood out to me: the giver has the right that, what he or she has given, will be accepted by the other. So.. if you do not receive, you subtract the opportunity for the other person to give you something.

In other words, you seem to give something back by just being happy about what you have been given. I consider that to be an eye-opener. What do you think?

Merry Christmas!

 

Karen van Hout

If you have any questions or would like to talk about this topic, please feel free to contact OFWOOD.

 

Homesickness is not a point of discussion

The big wish
‘Homesickness is not a point of discussion, you know.’ I startled myself by the sentence but I had already said it. And I felt that it was true. And still is. I cannot deny it, I am homesick and it demands to be heard.

‘We could always go back,’ was the answer. Really? My heart skipped a beat when I heard those words. Could that be possible? My husband and I looked at each other. The details of how, what, when, and where were unclear but the decision had been made: we are moving back to Luxembourg, the place where we had such a good time.

Homesickness hurts. Physically it feels like inexplicable sadness. To be honest I did not really know what it was until it suddenly came around the corner. At the beginning it is not very present and it is often outweighed by everyday events, but as time goes by it becomes stronger and more present. This goes on until it comes to a point where the feeling cannot be denied anymore and something needs to be done about it. So that is what I am going to do.

Take control
As you know I am convinced that you have control over your own life and therefore I encourage you to follow your heart. Do whatever you want to do! Make sure that you will not regret the things that you have not done. Do not let yourself be stopped by any what-if’s and should-have’s.

As I say quite often, you do not always need to know everything about the road that will lead you to your destination. At the time when we made this decision we did not know that either. What we did know was that it would be a matter of time. If you strongly focus on what you want, any road will get you there.

Celebrate every step
That is exactly what happened. We made a clear plan to make our return to Luxembourg a reality. And now, one year later after our decision, the first steps have been taken. As a highlight for us, our departure this summer has been met with a lot of encouragement and understanding. Thank you for this!

No goodbye
Of course we will miss a lot of things by following our heart. Fortunately, following your heart does not always mean that you have to let go of everything and anything. So this is no goodbye. Both because of personal and business relationships we are still connected to the Netherlands, and we always will be. So I am hoping to see you many more times.

See you soon!

-Karen van Hout

(This blog was written summer 2017)