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

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 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.