Knowing our place – a systemic perspective


Within our healthy relationships, we have a place that ‘feels right’. A place where we have a sense of belonging, can ‘play our part’ and instinctively know how to be in relationship. The same goes for our personal lives – for example, in our families where we always have a place – as well as in organisations. Within the systemic perspective, this is about paying attention to one of the fundamental ordering principles for a healthy system – ‘the order of place’.

Your place in an organisation is based on your continued ability to carry out the implicit requirement to deliver value back to your organisation – whatever that may be in the context of your role.

All roles and functions within a healthy organisation have a rightful place in the context of delivering the purpose and vision of that business. They are all important in the success of the organisation. Plus, every employee has a role in terms of key aspects of how the organisation operates, for example in the areas of strategising, decision-making, managing resources and the execution of decisions.

A healthy indicator is when there is a particular and unique arrangement of positions within an organisational system relative to its purpose, and the people working in it are seen for the role they deliver.

During my time working in various corporates, I have often experienced the phenomenon where some functions have been operating out of their place. It could be where a function has become ‘too big’ relative to its official role in the organisation – for example, where heads of functions are taking more or bigger decisions than is in their remit.

This is not necessarily always intentional or done consciously.

It could be that a CEO or MD is hesitant and unconsciously deferring these decisions, and other members / functions are stepping into this void. They fall into the trap of becoming ‘too big’ and operating ‘out of place’. When it’s at an individual level, this is especially easy to do, if it’s something we have the habit of doing within our family systems.

When our roles or functions are not fully operating in their rightful place – they are too big or too small – it is not a sustainable or healthy model of operating and will have a negative impact over time. It often shows up as resistance, restlessness and/or a loss of energy. In simple terms, it is dysfunctional.

This dynamic often ‘plays out’ further into the organisation – and so the systemic phrase “As above, So below.” really resonates. In other words, the dysfunction at the ‘top of the organisation’ often manifests in the layers below.

A system can function healthily if it takes the follow basic principles into account:

  • Everyone has an equal right to a place within the system
  • There is a correct order of positions within any system
  • In any exchange, there needs to be a balance between give and take – this includes a balance of exchange between the organisation and its external world
As coaches and consultants – both internal and external – it’s also easy to find ourselves getting out of place with our clients.

From a systemic perspective, the role of consultant and coach is to be of ‘service’ to our clients. It’s our job to help them to achieve their full capabilities and sometimes, facilitate their decision-making, but keep clear of making actual decisions or steering them towards certain decisions of our own bias.

We are a resource, a sounding board, and our ‘role’ is to create and hold a safe space for deep exploration, conversation and meaningful reflection. Sometimes, our clients might need to hear our observations and objective insights. They can benefit from our provocation, challenge and a sparring partner to look at issues through a variety of perspectives and lenses. Sometimes, they need support and to be ‘held’ in a safe space, so they can be still, quiet and really listen to their own inner wisdom.

As consultants and coaches, we are not here to direct or make decisions for our clients. If we do, we can create a situation of over-dependency. We can become ‘too big’ and therefore create a situation where the client becomes ‘small’. In this instance, we actually weaken the client, and in so doing, also weaken the position of the coach/consultant in the longer term.

This doesn’t always happen overnight or immediately – it can creep up over time – but it’s not a healthy dynamic, and over time can create resentment in the client. They will eventually consciously or unconsciously reject this kind of support. It will often create resistance elsewhere in the client organisation, too, as people around the client can sense an unhealthy dynamic.

Here is a helpful checklist for consultants and coaches – internal and external – to make sure we are operating from our rightful place in relation to our clients:

  • Avoid taking on the task/an element of a task that the client, or someone else in the client organisation, is being paid for
  • Stay at the side of diagnosis, and provide insight – do not step into the role of decision-making and implementation
  • Acknowledge the history, and those whose efforts have gone before
  • Ensure there is a healthy balance of exchange (give & take) in the relationship

The delightful six-year-old girl, Tiana in the video below, has a lot to teach us about being in our rightful place. She is so honest and pure in making her request. Tina wants her mum and dad not to get too big, but to also not get too small – she wants them to be still, nice and at the height of her heart. She wants them to be in their rightful place as parents and doesn’t want to replace either of them – and if they are in their rightful place, she can be in hers as the child. Children and animals can teach us a lot about taking our rightful place, in our relevant relationships and the ‘systems’ we operate in.

Do you recognise an unhealthy dynamic of people or functions operating out of place in your organisation? Do you long for a more systemic approach to coaching in your business? If you do and would like to explore a systemic intervention that will settle your whole system, please get in touch with me (emailTwitterLinkedIn or just comment below).

More Articles

What does a healthy organisation look like?

Is your organisation healthy? From a systemic perspective, there are several guiding principles that ensure a healthy flow of energy – thereby producing a consistent flow of ideas, employee engagement and ultimately harnessing potential (& performance) of the wider organisation

Read more >