The foundation of systemic phenomenological work


23 November 2017| Organizational Constellations, Societal

Brasilia Airport

Victor Rafael Celestino is a Professor at the Business Administration Department of University of Brasilia. Since May 2017, Victor has also been the acting Director of Corporate Affairs of the company that runs the airport of Brasilia. This company has only existed for five years, while the airport was founded about 50 years ago. Until five years ago, the airport was managed by the government. In 2012, the government granted the concession for airport management to a consortium of a Brazilian company and an Argentinian company. After some time, the Brazilian company left the consortium, as they were accused of financial misconduct.

Today, the airport employees originate from three different groups, which are more or less the same in size. Some of them were originally government employees and were hired by the consortium. The majority was hired after the concession was granted, some by the Brazilian company and another group by the Argentinian company (but most employees have the Brazilian nationality).

Victor recently had to fire a well-known employee who originated from the government group and he is about to hire a new person for this position. He wants to find out how this is impacting the three groups.

I noticed Victor was trembling a bit.

We decided to start with a representative for the 50-year old airport. The representative immediately tensed up and she very slowly moved backwards. I asked Victor how long after Brasilia was founded, the airport opened: “They opened at the same time.”

I remembered the city tour I took of Brasilia a few days earlier, when the organizers of the workshop explained the origin of Brasilia to me: to protect the country of Brazil. With the capital Rio de Janeiro and the city of Sao Paulo being located so close to the coast, it would be too easy for other countries to invade it. The city of Brasilia needed to protect the country of Brazil.

Meanwhile the representative of the airport had closed her eyes. I walked up to her and asked her to open her eyes, and to look around to choose a representative of her origin. She very slowly turned and turned around the room where 45 people where sitting. Finally she invited a woman who looked like she was a descendant of the African slaves. The woman declined, saying she had been involved in the airport during the period of public ownership. She literally tried to hide. And out of my mouth came to her: “It was not your fault. It was not your fault.”

The representative of the airport was confused. I suddenly realized, not knowing why, that we needed more than one representative for the origin and I followed my impulse: I invited five representatives who where sitting next to each other to simply stand up and represent the origin. Still not really understanding why, but it was important to me that all three main population groups of Brazil were represented in the looks of these five people: the Indians, the African slaves, the Portuguese/Europeans.

The representative of the airport tightly held on to me, leaned on me. Then she grabbed my hand and pulled me down to sit with her on the floor. I was aware I was apparently representing something for her, maybe her lifeline, but I could feel I was still holding the space for the whole and could remain in my role as facilitator.

Another representative stood up, next to the group of origin: a short woman with the most indigenous looks of everybody in the room. She strongly beat her own chest with her fist, over and over again and looked angry.

I asked Victor: “Who was the owner of the land before Brasilia was founded?”

No answer was needed, everybody in the room sighed and many people had tears streaming down their cheeks.

It seemed that with this representative the constellation had arrived at the origin of the country of Brazil beyond the origin of the city and the airport of Brasilia.

The lady who declined to be representative before, was invited by the representative of the country’s origin. They stood next to each other and the airport went to them and kneeled down. The other representatives of the origin came closer.

I invited Victor in the constellation and he said to the representative of the country’s origin: “I see the price you paid.” He was standing next to the representatives of the origin and the Afro-Brazilian. All three groups represented… Then from somewhere else in the room a woman starting making singing-mourning sounds. The airport said: “Dead people, I hear dead people somewhere.” And then Victor remembered: whilst constructing the airport, bones were found, probably an ancient burial ground had been there before.

The representative of the country’s origin said: “I don’t belong here anymore, I see stars and the galaxy far away,” and she stepped away, in a direction that could be considered the direction of the far future.

The representative of the airport managed to stand up, but was confused and very much taken aback by the origin. I asked half of the people in the room to stand up and represent “that which it all may lead to”.

Then a most amazing process started, which is hard to describe. Everybody joined the constellation. As a facilitator, I just needed to step aside and make (holding) space. Victor and I sat down next to each other in our chairs and let the process have its own way. The airport was in the middle of everybody, standing with her hands wide in the air and turning slowly to see everybody.

After some time Victor started humming the national anthem. The airport kneeled down in front of us, and held our hands. Everybody sang the national anthem, loud and clear, and I never heard nor felt such strong collective roots in one room. After that song, they sang the song of their national flag. It was so beautiful and touching.

Later, I heard that the day when this constellation took place could not have had a better date: that day was the day the Brazilians celebrate the national flag. The next day, today, November 20, would be the annual Black Consciousness Day, when the Afro-Brazilians are honoured.

So, now back to Victor’s original question… something about an airport…

He now understood why he was trembling during the starting interview with me. And he understood from his earlier senses at work that there needed to be a deeper sense to the problems he was encountering at the airport. Although this constellation will most likely need some time to digest, he already has some ideas of how to bring this experience forward.

And I felt so grateful for what I have learned from Jan Jacob Stam about the ‘Ba’ (origin of it all) and ‘Ya’ (where it all goes to). I later explained this to the group. I had seen the representative of the origin of Brazil (Ba) transform into the ‘Ya’, and the group felt the importance of understanding and feeling this movement.


Barbara Hoogenboom

20 November 2017


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