Can You See What I See?

As someone who works with enterprising families as an outsider, there are naturally disadvantages to not being part of the inner circle, and a lot of work always goes into trying to play catch-up.

However, for every disadvantage there are always (yes, always, if you look hard enough) advantages too.

Some families hesitate to bring in outsiders for fear that they will not be able to offer much that will be of value.  

I beg to differ, and this week we’re going to look at one of the most important abilities that a skilled outsider can bring to a family.

Following Up on a Promise – Quickly

Last week in Hope – Not a Strategy, but a Strength I referenced a facilitation training program that I’d taken part in a few years ago, called ORSC (Organisational and Relationship Systems Coaching).

I really rushed through a key point because it wasn’t germane to that post, but noted a desire to deal with this sometime soon in another post.

Alas, here we are, it’s been burning at the back of my mind ever since and I need to get this done now, because in reality I cannot believe I haven’t yet shared this key learning.

Perhaps because it was ingrained so deeply I had forgotten to write about it, but here we are, let’s go.

A Family as a Relationship System

During the ORSC training, most people in my cohort worked mainly with organisations and groups of work colleagues, and these people were almost always NOT related by blood or marriage.

Whenever we did introductions and I noted my work with business families, eyebrows were raised, and I can’t help but think that some of my colleagues were happy to not have to switch places with me.

A family is indeed a relationship system, and it’s often much more complex than any system that’s simply employment-related.

A key learning from the training was just how much of a resource we could be as an outsider to any system, if we could help reveal the system to itself.

Because it took a while for me to absorb the full meaning of that statement when I was right in the middle of it, I’m going to assume that a bit of explanation and amplification would be welcome.

My Go-To Example: My Aquarium

When talking about systems theory with people I almost always talk about my aquarium as a ready example

The fish I love to watch swimming about do not know that they’re swimming in water, because they’re in it. Similarly, we breathe air but rarely think about it, until we dive into a pool and suddenly realize we crave the very air we took for granted.

Back to the aquarium, I, as an outsider, and, importantly as a curious observer, can see a lot of what’s going on, including many things that the fish don’t see.

Do We See First, Then Reveal?

You might think that a trained observer may be searching for clues about what’s going on within the system, and then reveal them for the benefit of those in the system, so that they can learn new things about their inter-relatedness.

While that does happen and is useful, much of what a skilled facilitator will do is work with members of a system in ways where the system members are discovering things about themselves and their relationships “live”, and the facilitator is learning these things at the same time.

It’s the outsider’s ability to act as an observer, one who’s not enmeshed in the system, that gives them the independence necessary to properly play this role.

When any group, especially a family, decides to have an important meeting that they plan to “self-facilitate” (i.e. a member of the system runs the meeting) I typically grimace and try to explain that their results will likely be sub-optimal.

Yes, I do realize that it can seem that I’m simply trying to sell my services when I do this, so I try to do this judiciously.

Great Value from New Perspectives

A trained outsider can offer new perspectives to those who are part of the system, and, I might add, will likely have an easier time revealing what they see to those on the inside.

You do recall what sometimes happened to “the messenger” in bygone days?

When it can be done via an activity where everyone has important revelations together, it’s even more powerful.