by Richard Boyd, Body Mind Psychotherapist and Organisational Consultant, Perth, Western Australia
Organisations have traditionally viewed themselves in terms of their own concrete reality where very formal boundaries can be drawn, and all external inputs and outputs seen in their total view. Likewise the processes and rules that establish the basis for interchange and relationship between the organisation and its external entities are often then able to be quantified and documented.
This approach expresses but one layer of the reality that an organization expresses itself in. This view is mechanistic in its outlook and while valid it is not the complete picture. There is now emerging evidence that life conducts itself at both a mechanist (particle) and a quantum (wave energy) level. Research by Bert Hellinger and the views of theorists and scientists such as Ken Wilber and Deepak Chopra, point to the effects of human consciousness within group dynamics, organizations and those we connect with. If their theories are true then an underlying quantum view exists in organizations that needs to be understood and addressed for an organization to have complete business consciousness about itself.
In their view the quantum view exists across all objects in any system but the real issue is for organizations to consider the human dimension of organizations where quantum effects are more pronounced and influential. The key reason that the human aspect of organizations commands attention over other resources of an organization is that humans have consciousness. In quantum terms the presence of consciousness in a system or “field” immediately creates potential changes into the “seen” reality of the organization.
The law of Physics describes this principle as “The Observer Effect” and which has been an accepted principle of the laws of quantum reality since the 1950’s. Basically one theory or view for the basis for this law is that energy exists in two potential states at any given point in time and space. Energy is either wave-like or it is in particle form. The flip-flop between the two states is triggered by the consciousness of the person observing that point in time and space and influences the final particle state outcome by the presence of having their unconscious or conscious awareness being present. In this way we create the reality around us and this is true within organizations as human consciousness is a constant element in organizational makeup. Inanimate objects and resources do not possess such levels of consciousness and so are not the focus of this discussion for this reason.
Another key consideration is the subtle and hidden ordering principles that pervade energy in all its forms, and which is expressed at all levels of reality. Physicists such as Arthur Koestler and Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon observe that complex systems will evolve from simple systems much more rapidly if there are stable intermediate forms than if there are not. For instance our society exists as a whole entity but is dependent on some intermediate structures and systems which allow a society to exist. A community is one sub-unit of society, and the family is both a sub-unit of society and of the community. Family and the community are “intermediate forms” of society. History teaches us that society collapses when families and/or communities break down.
Their second observation is that while it is easy to identify sub-wholes or intermediate stable forms such as the family or the community in social structures, these parts do not actually exist in an absolute sense anywhere. They do exist as an impermanent but yet stable entity while they have cause to exist, and yet may be quite subtle in nature. This led to the creation of the term “Holon” by scientists and sociologists to describe the hybrid nature of these entities in real life and social structure. They exist independently and are self contained when viewed in isolation, and when looking downwards into their makeup, one finds smaller building blocks or composite parts. If one were to look up then they notice that this entity is a small building block or composite part of some bigger structure. This model supports the concept of the interdependency of all things in social and physical reality.
The behaviour of this type of intermediate structure or system is that they exist and function quite well within themselves, are often autonomous self reliant units, which have a degree of independence, and handle contingencies without asking a higher structure or authority for instructions. Simultaneously this intermediate system is in fact also subject to control from multiple higher authorities or structures. The first property ensures that a Holon is a stable form which can cope with and adapt to disturbances. The second property signifies that they are interdependent intermediate forms, which provide the proper functionality for the bigger whole. In effect as Physicist Ken Wilbur points out, the whole is reflected in the sum of its parts but also in each of the parts. The ordering principle in human and social systems such as organizations is that they are comprised of “Holons within Holons within Holons”.
Holons exist across the scope of reality from the sub-atomic energy level up to macro structures such as societies and even mankind. In an organization this Holon reality can be easily observed and its effects noticed. The scope of this article is to consider the reality of the individual, then the family, and then the organization as the “Holon within Holon within Holon”. Other intermediate forms exist in organizations but that lies outside the scope of this article.
There are certain laws which exist at both a gross and measurable level, and then also other laws whose effects are hidden or very subtle, but which nevertheless are found to be existent in any systems. In the 3 Holons or intermediate structures of the individual, the family, and the organization, systems we are considering we are looking at the laws and effects of the energy of consciousness/subconsciousness. Any system obeys laws. Authors such as Ken Wilber and Deepak Chopra argue that as consciousness is energy it also operates to laws and principles, and contains subtle or hidden information as information is in the very nature of consciousness energy.
The laws outlined here have been uncovered and observed to operate in all cultures and across past and present times. The observers and recorders of these laws and hidden dynamics have been sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, physicists, biologists, and other scientific disciplines. Researchers and psychologists such as Bert Hellinger and Carl Jung have been instrumental in documenting and raising awareness of these timeless principles of consciousness.
Each Holon may contain its own unique laws and hidden dynamics that as a stable intermediate whole, it possesses without needing to obtain permission or authority from the Holons or higher structures that it is part of, and subordinate to. The laws mentioned here are those which permeate and are relevant to individuals, families and organizations. Later I will touch on how the violation of these laws and hidden dynamics will create systemic entanglements within and possibly between the various structures or Holons, and whose effects which can be felt up and down the various Holons.
According to Bert Hellinger, the principle systemic laws of consciousness that apply are:
- What is, must be allowed to be. If any part within a system is suppressed or minimized then the system will be in conflict. Even if the judgement is that this part is undesirable it must be recognized and allowed to exist.
- There must be a balance in the giving and taking or the expression of the opposing parts of a system. If one part of a system dominates to the exclusion of the other parts then the suppressed part(s) will express in unpredictable and in unintended ways that may destabilize the whole system.
- Each part has a right to belong to the overall system. If a part is denied the right to exist or is effectively suppressed from being existent, it will become a sabotaging or disrupting principle in the system.
- The system must recognize those who came first over those who came later. Systems actually operate to a honoring and recognizing principle that expresses as a priority ranking based on time in the system. Systems destabilize when the acknowledgement of this principle is violated and overturned. A priority part may need to recognize that it leads from the last position in terms of its place in this time hierarchy.
- A part may need to have priority as it contributes to survival or to the whole system more than other parts. The other parts must acknowledge the legitimate right of that part to have priority in the system.
- Systems are both dynamic and in flux, yet also working to stabilize and consolidate at any one time. Systems will evolve and parts will be born, live and eventually die in a system. Recognition and honouring their place and priority in the system will allow stability and fluid evolution to occur.
The above rules run through each level, but also cross over each level of the intermediate structures we call here “the individual”, “the family”, and “the organization”. This is where the systemic entanglements or a clash of one system level issue can intrude into another system.
In organizational leadership this effect is often visible and as leaders are priority parts in the organizational system, and their impact on the organization, the family and themselves as an individual can be significant. Traditional Organisational Development and Cultural Transformation programmes largely omit considerations outside that of the organization as being “out of scope”, irrelevant, and a distraction. The traditional view is that the main focus of organizational systems, processes, and the individual is in terms of their job role and their cognitive approach to their work. The recognition and inclusion of the hidden dynamics and systemic laws and principles across the interconnected individual-family-organisational Holon systems is missing in such programmes today, yet these considerations exert considerable influence on the unconscious and conscious aspects of each of these 3 systems. This in turn results in systemic outcomes that will impact positively or negatively the more traditional measures and KPI’s that organizations are more accustomed to focusing on.
In order to gauge the potential impact of how the identified laws can play out in each of the 3 Holons, let us touch on each of these systems briefly again.
The most basic or lowest level intermediate system or Holon in this discussion is the individual. The individual is a system via the individual’s psyche which observes the hidden laws and systemic forces of consciousness and energy. In Jungian psychology the unconscious internal world of a person is made up of innumerable images and associated feelings which are in a constellation around the primary seat of consciousness. The process of childhood development within families imposes on the individual forces and constraints that result in parts of the personality to become developed, accepted and “primary”, whilst other parts, often opposite poles to the accepted parts of personality, to be disowned, suppressed and forced into unconscious life as “secondary” undeveloped aspects of personality. In this Jungian view, every person lives in duality within themselves, with disowned sub-personalities opposing accepted and owned conscious sub-personalities. The disowned aspects of personality along with other aspects of our unconscious life are collectively referred to as our “shadow”.
These sub-personalities exist as a “family” or a constellation and are all active but not all activated at any moment in a person’s conscious life. The conscious person has a primary seat of consciousness where one aspect of self is expressed at any one point in time, but other primary and disowned selves can “assume the seat” of personality in a dynamic and sometimes unpredictable way, with sometimes unintended resulting behaviours, actions and results. The person may also at this Holon level within themselves either be stable or unstable due to observing or overriding the basic systemic laws of human and social energetic systems that apply.
The second level or intermediate form of Holon is the family system that an individual is born into and evolves from throughout childhood. A family system is also a constellation with the various family members assuming roles in a constellation or system that can either be unstable or stable in form. Family systems also have conscious aspects which are the acceptable face or social mask of its members, both within the family unit, and facing to the outside world. Families contain disowned or suppressed elements which can either be individuals or information such as secrets and energies such as shame and scandal. Stronger elements may suppress weaker elements if basic systemic laws are not followed and honoured, and conflict arises when the systemic laws are not honoured and followed, much the same as within the individual who by suppressing parts of themselves will eventually come into internal conflict with themselves, leading to outcomes such as depression, anxiety, sleeping disorders, emotional instability, and psychosomatic illness.
At this stage there are now two Holons in scope of discussion with the individual and family Holons being considered. The laws of Holons also show between these two structures. Individuals have a degree of autonomy to make decisions without recourse to the family, but will also need to defer to the higher authority of the family from time to time. Likewise from a systemic perspective the sub-whole of the individual has no absolute existence from the inverse view of the family Holon, they are in fact a part of the family but their reality in the family includes other elements that go outside of themselves to include the family wide perspective.
From a family systemic perspective you cannot completely extract any individual in a reductionistic or mechanistic part-like way. The whole family is reflected in each of the individual family member parts beyond what each family member in isolation as a smaller individual Holon system brings to bear. The subtle and hidden implicit knowledge, stories, consciousness and predispositions are all now sense-felt when the subordinate individual Holon is “observed” as a family system or Holon composite part. When the systemic rules of a family are violated the effects of this are felt across the family system. The individual in the system is likewise either directly or indirectly affected by such systemic violations as the system attempts to come back into balance under the new dynamic at play. In turn the individual is then affected within themselves with the family imbalance and their own constellation of sub-personalities can be affected.
At the next higher level we find the organization Holon exists where the individual is one of its parts. At this stage there are now three Holons in scope of discussion with the individual, family, and organisational Holons being considered. The laws of Holons also show between these three structures. Individuals have a degree of autonomy to make decisions without recourse to the organisation, but will also need to defer to the higher authority of the management in varying roles within the organization. Likewise from a systemic perspective the sub-whole of the individual has no absolute existence from the inverse view of the organisational Holon, they are in fact a part of the organisation but their reality in the organisation includes other resources and elements that go outside of individuals to comprise the organizational Holon entity.
From an organisational systemic perspective you cannot completely extract any individual in a reductionistic or mechanistic part-like way without affecting the organizational stability, although in the macro sense one sees staff turnover happening all the time without a macro effect on the organization as a whole. This is true but this also is related to both the priority of the individual in the system, and also what honouring there is of the individual both when in the organizational system, and also when they leave the system. At some level some corporate memory leaves with each person and so the system is affected when the individual is removed, and likewise the skills and experience of a new employee adds to the consciousness pool of the organization, and so affects it immediately in this way when they join. The greater the priority of the person in the system, or the longer that a person has served in the organizational system, will be reflected in their effect upon the organizational system when they leave.
The organisation is reflected in each of the individual organizational members beyond what each organisational member in isolation as their own self-contained Holon system brings to bear. The subtle and hidden implicit knowledge, stories, rules, and consciousness which comprise organizational culture are all now sense-felt when the subordinate individual person as a Holon is “observed” as an organisational Holon part. When the systemic rules of an organisation are violated the effects of this are felt across the organisational system. The individual in the organizational system is likewise either directly or indirectly affected by such systemic violations as the organizational system attempts to come back into balance under the new dynamic at play. In turn the subordinate family system , and the subordinate individual system are then affected within themselves by actions emanating from the organizational system.
Contemporary organizational management practices are increasingly decided on short term timelines which are designed to impact positively on share price, shareholder value, and perceptions within the marketplace. The short term, shareholder driven view of running organizations often violates the systemic laws and hidden dynamics that exist within organizations, affecting the organization, and the subordinate families and individual systems that underpin the organizational life. These effects are neither considered nor quantified in the typical business case that drives executive thinking in the corporate decision making process. Organisations that would strive rather than just claim they stand for excellence and view their staff as their most important asset are starting to embrace the hidden dynamics paradigm. Organisations in Europe have been approaching organizational development and troubleshooting from this perspective with tangible results.
Briefly we can consider the Hidden Dynamic laws and how some contemporary organizational issues have been observed to play out in European organizations when in conflict with these laws.
- What is must be allowed to be. The European experience has been that suppression of opinion, of departments, and of individuals will lead to a negative systemic outcome in the organizational system. Company mergers, takeovers where “traditional” ways, processes, and individuals are overlooked or moved sideways, are typical triggers. Outcomes include underperforming business units, increased resignation, systemic failures within processes within the business, loss of customers, whistle blowing of corporate misbehaviour, and resentment going “underground” in the corporate culture. Families and individuals in these situations felt increased stress, addictive behaviours, illness and relationship breakdown.
- There must be a balance in of giving and taking or the expression of the opposing parts of a system. The European experience is similar to point 1. The excessive salary and options awarding to executives, while minimizing staff pay and benefits, as workloads are increased, is a classic example of a trigger. The outcomes, in addition to point 1, also include increased absenteeism, criminal behaviour by staff such as theft, wrongful claiming of overtime etc. The organizational culture collapses as survival creeps in, and revenge behaviours such as embarrassing leaks to media become common. In families and individuals the additional outcome of depression and anxiety from the victimized felt sense often occurs.
- Each part has a right to belong to the overall Holon system. The European experience has been that the remaining system members “mourn” the excluded parts of the system via decreased production and efficiency, and passive aggressive refusal to acknowledge or embrace any introduced new way of operating. The increased use of downsizing, and outsourcing key functions and departments, triggers such reactions. The families and individuals experience alternating rage and depression at the lost identity and helplessness of the dislocation from being part of a greater sense of purpose.
- The system must recognize those who came first over those who came later. The European experience has been that that lack of honouring creates resistance in the acceptance of the persons and processes that replace the “old” until the “old” is recognized and honoured. The takeover of family businesses, or the replacement of a management group with “new blood”, or the retirement or replacement of a key technical or leadership individual, can trigger this outcome. The system resists until the previous was honoured, and leadership recognizes that they are effectively “leading from the last position”. Families and individuals report a loss of identity, purpose, and note a period of “mourning” the loss of the old status quo.
- A part may need to have priority as it contributes to survival or to the whole system more than other parts. The European experience is that the organization suffers from accidents and mistakes when this principle is not honoured. Company restructures often trigger this dynamic, or the employment of “new blood” who fail to recognize the priority of the individuals in the system. The families and individuals report low self esteem issues surfacing, anger, and withdrawal of support for the organization, with selfish behaviours becoming evident.
- Systems are both dynamic and in flux, yet also working to stabilize and consolidate at any one time. The European experience is that the failure to embrace both these dynamics simultaneously will result in a crisis within the business, lost business, customers and staff. Systems will evolve and parts will be born, live and eventually die in a system. The issue of corporate overload and operational mindsets, without the container of a strategic planning orderliness will often trigger this dynamic. Families and individuals report an increase in stress, a loss of job satisfaction, increased illness, and loss of role recognition by others, and in themselves.
Corporate Energetics intimately understands these dynamics and brings to bear a systemic consulting model in its Corporate Transformation model for organizations.
For more information about this new tool for Organisational Development and Cultural Transformation, Contact Us and speak to one of our consultants about how we can work with your organisation from this systemic mindset.