The foundation of systemic phenomenological work


27 July 2017| Family Constellations, Organizational Constellations, Societal, Systemic Coaching

Seeing your history, will help understand the here and now and can support change for the future.

A report from Latvia

I am in Riga. I was invited by Iveta, who organizes systemic trainings, to do the last module of the Systemic Coaching training and the first module of the System Dynamics in Organizations training.

On the first evening, I take a walk through the city by myself, passing the Antonijas Street. It feels in my chest as if two movements are trying to come together, but it doesn’t happen just yet. I walk into the park and suddenly these two movements drop down in me and become like a stone in my lower belly. What happened here? Later, Iveta tells me that many people died there in that park. I ask her what happened at the time of the regime transition, after 1991. Did all the state companies end and were new privately owned companies started? Or were the former companies “converted” into commercial companies?

She is very happy with the question. No one ever asked it, or was ever aware of it. It seems like the old ones simply stopped and new ones took their place. That is to say the legal-economic entity. However, these ‘new’ businesses comprised the same people, thoughts and patterns as the old ones.

I need to get an idea about the history of the organizational field here. And not only that: It seems very important to understand what the Soviet period meant for the people living in Latvia. In that period, they learned to never speak about their family or work, as not to raise any questions. Today, no one talks about the Soviet period, about what it meant. I was told that every single family has lost many family members in very cruel ways. And it still is uncommon to share private issues and concerns.

So, what do you do as systemic trainer? From a systemic perspective you cannot ignore history, no matter how painful it is. We also know that it usually takes a few generations before traumatizing events can be ‘looked at’. Those involved in the event do not talk about it, they just survive. Their children do not talk about it, because they want their parents and their families to survive. Only then, the system conscience can practice its influence, when the direct danger has been gone for a long time, and the personal conscience has survived. Their grandchildren can then be employed by the system conscience, in order to represent the history. That’s how it usually goes…

Now I’m supposed to work with people who are born during the occupation and who do not (want to) talk about it. That period is (b)locked in the memory. Partly because it is too painful, partly because they are loyal to their parents, who do not want to talk about it, and partly because they still don’t dare believe there won’t get punished for talking about it, for being open. Former KGB agents are still employed in companies, and by the government and police, for example. And after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, they feel the threat of this happening to Latvia too, where still 40% of the population are ethnic Russians.

In my general introduction, I explain, amongst other things, that change begins by accepting the world and its events as they are. By saying yes. That everything you lock out the backdoor, will eventually come back in your system through another door.

We do a constellation. Pam – fictitious name – is the CEO of a company. All her predecessors have been fired for theft. She wants to understand what the theft is a solution for. Moreover, she doesn’t want to get into that pitfall, and she already recognizes theft amongst the employees.

The company was founded shortly after 1991 by a Latvian entrepreneur, who is still a shareholder, and a German company. Thanks to the German investors there was money and technical expertise to start up the business. At some point the Latvian owner owned 51% and the German 49%. Three years ago, due to global expansion of the German parent company, they needed to acquire a majority of the shares, so they were got a 51% majority.

The first ones to be represented in the constellation were the Latvian investor, the German investor, the Latvian company and the CEO.

Special attention was paid to the two investors, as if they wanted something from each other, over and over. The other participants, standing along the side line, made remarks such as that the Germans would still owe the Latvians. After all, all foreign investors in that period have benefited from “poor Latvia”. And yes, that is true.

What is also true is that this Latvian company would never have become what it is now if the Germans had not provided the money, the expertise and other means. A recognition for that contribution took place. This was a relief for the system.

What this constellation made me realize at once was the huge inequality in this country when it comes to exchanging in giving and taking. During the Soviet occupation, for a period of 50 years, lives, houses, possessions were stolen, taken away without asking. How can this be made up for? By taking something which is not yours, without asking?

This constellation offered the opening of this painful piece of history. One participant whispered softly: “Could it be that the employees steal unconsciously to compensate for what has previously been taken from us?”


And internally, I declared this first module of the first course in System Dynamics in Organizations in Latvia as “officially started…”

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About the Bert Hellinger Institute

People are constantly evolving. With each other, without each other. In families, in teams, in organizations. Systemic thinking makes us aware of the “why” of our being and doing. Organizational and family constellations create room for movement. The BHI provides courses, workshops and training programs in the field of systemic work, constellations, leadership and coaching. This is how we contribute to the development of people, organizations and society.

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