The Hidden Orders In Human
By Bert Hellinger
An interview with Bert Hellinger about his methods applied
in organizations by Humberto del Pozo, in Santiago de Chile,
What is your model like when applied to solve relationship
problems within organizations?
First I will have to explain what is my model like. The
model is derived from the work with Family Constellations.
That means that in a group, a person can select representatives
for the members of his family and place them in a space in
relationship to one another. And as soon as those people have
taken up their places they feel like the people they represent
without knowing them. So by means of the Family Constellation,
we get a real picture of what is going on in the family. If
we apply that to organizations, for instance, if we choose
representatives for the managers of divisions of a company
and a manager places them in relationship to each other, we
get a clear picture of the organization and of the feelings
that the different members have.
What do you mean by clear picture of the feelings
of the managers and why is it important to have such a clear
Lets say the chief of an organization sets up representatives
-including one for himself- of his managers and he does it
intuitively -without thinking in anything specific. He very
quickly gets a picture of how the managers relate to each
other and to him. So he may be surprised that some people
just look away from him and are oriented outside of the organization,
which he might not have noticed before.
That means they are not satisfied with what is going on
inside the organization. For instance it may be that the chief
executive does not exercise his authority in a way which supports
the managers, so they do not feel secure and they don't feel
that they can give their best to the organization. Now, if
they are competent people they may be looking somewhere else
where they may continue their work.
The question is of course if you see this, what steps can
be taken to remedy this situation? A consultant doing this
work with Constellations in the organization, will take certain
steps to find out what is a good solution for all the people
concerned. For instance, he will turn the chief executive
to face the other managers, and will turn them to face the
chief executive. And it may be that some of them are not at
the right position. For instance if one manager has joined
the organization at a latter date and if he then tries to
take the first place, this might annoy the others. So you
can put the managers of the various divisions in a certain
order, in which each one of them feels that he has the right
In an organization you have different kinds of 'Orders'
which you have to consider. The first is the one according
to function. And the chief executive always takes the first
place. The administrator who is his right hand, as we say,
stands at his right side. Then the other ones stand according
to the importance of their division. But we don't know beforehand
exactly what division is the most important one. So we can
try to find out. Just by changing the place of the various
representatives we find out what they feel is for them a correct
order according to function.
There is a second 'Order' operating in families and in organizations,
and that is according to signiority. That means that a person
who joins an organization at an earlier date takes precedence
over those who came latter. Not that he has a right to command
over them. It is just a rank, a dignity he has, by having
been in the organization for a longer time.
Now, if there are several who are on the same level of function,
the one who came first to the organization must take the first
place and such place is left from the key executive, then
come the rest.
Where does this come from?
It is an observation. I will give you an example. I was
once a consultant for an organization where they where having
trouble to agree on the agenda for the next year activities.
And I thought, who came at the earliest date, and then I had
him stand at my left. I went through all of them until they
where exactly in the order of seniority. Then they sat down
and they leaned back and said ¡what a relief! So you
can see it has an effect if this order is observed.
What does this mean for the real practices within
an organization, for instance for meetings?
If they meet at a table, and if they are within a division
and none of their functions are different you would place
them in the order of seniority, otherwise those who have the
highest responsibility come first according to function. Now
if at the meeting there are people from functional divisions
of different importance and there are several people from
each or one division with equal rights, they should be together
placed within their subgroup according to rank of seniority.
Since when have you been working with this method
Formerly I have been a teacher, and very early I applied
group dynamics within a school. We were very successful in
self determination within that school. That was in South Africa.
So I learned how to work within a large group in a way that
the individuals feel on the one hand challenged and on the
other hand feel that they have the right place and take responsibility
according to their rank and according to their function.
It was a school of 140 boys. A boarding school, with only
one man in charge of the whole school. So the whole school
choose representatives to represent the boys. They choose
five representatives from the upper class and then one from
each one of the other classes. And they were a board of pupils
actually, and they ran the whole school. If there were any
difficulties they managed them on their own. Once a week they
reported what was going on, and we gave some orders and so
it run quite well. This was the first experience I had in
group dynamics, and it was very valuable. Then latter on I
did psychotherapy and after a while I started doing Family
Constellations and then I was asked some times to advise various
organizations: hospitals, psychosomatic clinics and other
institutions, on how to solve organizational problems. And
so I tested some of the insights I had gained through Family
Constellations on organizations. So I developed a body of
knowledge which can be easily applied to organizations.
In business contexts what would be a challenge for
each one of the members of a team of managers and what would
be their contribution to the organization?
The first thing is they would have to agree to the authority
of their chief executive. Now the chief executive has to use
his authority to make it possible for the managers of the
subdivisions to do their best. He is actually in the service
of the other managers. And if they understand this, that he
is in their service by using his authority, then they have
a certain freedom, where they can develop their sphere. Now
if there are various divisions, it is important that they
are coordinated and this is done of course by an exchange
on a regular basis, where first they report actually what
they do in their divisions, second what they need in their
divisions and third what is the next thing they plan. Now
if each of the managers reports that in a boarding meeting,
all have an idea of what is going on in the whole of the organization.
It is very important that while each one of them reports that
nobody interrupts. Nobody speaks until everybody has presented
what is going on in his organization. If that has been done
all the others understand what each one needs in his division.
Now they may contribute to support what is going on there
and they also see what the others can do for them. Then there
will be an exchange. They will see how they can really cooperate
for the best of all the individual divisions.
In your experience what are the main problems encountered
in the work as a consultant in organizations?
One is the question if whether the chief executive exercises
his authority in the service of all the others. Now sometimes
someone wants to be very democratic and it seems like he supports
the others, but there are many things that must be decided
from the top. For if they have to discuss all the details
which one man can decide, all the time, they loose a lot of
energy, and it is a lot of waste. So the chief executive has
to be a real authority. And authority is readily accepted
if all the others feel it is in their service. Authority is
rejected and opposed if a man claims power without using it
for the benefit of the others. This is one important point.
Second, the individuals must have a clear description of
their responsibilities. There must be clear boundaries between
the various divisions, and nobody must be allowed to interfere
in a way which obstructs the work being done there. And of
course there must be cooperation between the various divisions
in the way which I just described.
What kind of conflicts of authority are more common
when, for example, an owner appoints a general manager?
The owner of a company has always the highest authority
and the general manager can only exercise his authority if
he has the support of the owner. So the first thing is that
he respects the owner and reports to him and gets his support.
In any organization the most important step for improving
is that people respect each other, that is the most important
thing. People who are respected give their best. And the person
who must be respected first of all is the general manager
- the chief or the owner. If he is respected, he gives liberty
and freedom to his collaborators to do as they feel is best.
Can you give examples of when the chief is not respected
so that we might understand better what you mean with respect?
Lets say a general manager thinks he is better and he wants
to change the organization according to his ideas. Then there
will be others in the company who are loyal to the owner,
so he creates a division, which is very detrimental for the
development of the organization. Now a manager who doesn't
respect the one in top, must be fired. There is no other solution.
Very often trouble is also created if one in a lower position
is very ambitious and wants to climb to the top and wants
to oust others from their places. This creates insecurity
among the others, then they are often obstructed and the energy
flows just into quarreling.
How do you see that when Constellations are set
You see that immediately, because people feel hatred or
distrust toward others, and in a Constellation they feel like
the real people. So if you see that, then you can arrange
something so that it is settled among those concerned.
How is that done?
The chief executive has to do this. He calls a conference,
and the best thing to do is to allow everybody just to tell
what his needs are, and what are his aims, so that he can
do his work in the best possible way. And if all have listened,
then each one of them says what must be changed in the whole
set up so that the aims of all those who have expressed their
concerns are satisfied.
As a consultant, how can you manage to arrive to
a solution by working with the representatives of the people
concerned and setting up a Constellation?
If you work with a small group of managers, including the
top executive and a few other people who may even not belong
to the organization, and you just place the people who have
already been set up in a Constellation -for example, by the
chief executive- in the right order, everybody can see where
all the others, including the representative of himself, feel
good. Now because you have representatives, nobody who is
really ambitious for instance, can obstruct the Constellation,
because the people reflect what is actually going on. And
those really concerned are just watching it, so they are told
to listen by just watching. This is of course very effective.
They can't defend against it, no reason will help them, because
it is so clear in front of all those watching the Constellation.
Just reordering the people in the Constellation
is it clear what the solution is for those participating in
Not only for them, also for those watching it, for they
see how people react. So this is of course a very powerful
tool to demonstrate what is going on and also to demonstrate
what is a good solution for the organization.
Observing your work I have noticed you also have
people say things to each other or do some gestures with regards
to another, what is this for, and what do you seek in doing
I let people sometimes bow in front of a person that they
have despised. Just a small bow of respect. And you can see
how it changes the climate immediately if such gestures of
respect are sought. And sometimes if somebody has hurt somebody
I let him say "I am sorry", just like that, nothing
more. And if it is expressed it changes the climate immediately.
What if someone has been fired unjustly?
If in an organization a person is fired unjustly all the
others feel insecure, so their loyalty is no longer the same
as it had been before. Thus the gain envisioned if somebody
is fired must be compared to the lost which is going on among
all the other employees afterwards. So it must be considered
Now if someone has been unjustly fired and if that is the
proper thing to do, the person who did that may say "I
have seen that I unjustly fired you ...". And if is appropriate,
the man who fired him, can recall the person and say to him:
"I see I have unjustly fired you and I reinstate you".
This would immediately reinforce the loyalty of all the employees.
Sometimes that is not appropriate, then there should be a
gesture like: "I am sorry about that", and if he
can not be reinstated, at least he feels respected. Sometimes
it is also appropriate to give him some support to find another
place to continue working.
How do you manage this in Constellations, for it
seems you are talking about what can be done in real cases,
in reality, not with the representatives in a Constellation?
As I told you, in a Constellation, I will show that. If
the others suddenly feel insecure, unhappy or uncomfortable,
I would bring in a representative of the person fired and
we will try out what are the appropriate words to say and
so on. You will thus immediately see what effects it has on
the person that has been fired.
What do you mean by "try out" in a Constellation?
Lets say the manager who fired the employee says to him:
"I see it was unjust". Maybe the employee is not
satisfied. Then what can be tried is that the higher authority
takes up the case and tells him. Maybe he might now feel respected.
You can also try out if it is necessary to reinstate the person
Can you give other examples of how useful can this
method be in organizations? I have in mind seeing you setting
up a Constellation with representatives of people who were
sought to be part in a project, during the workshop yesterday
In that particular case I remember it was not quite clear
who exactly is the key responsible person... is it the person
who designs the project?, or the man financing it, or the
owner of the land where the real estate development will be
constructed? So it took some time to find out by the reactions
of the people. At first I was of the opinion that the one
who finances the project is the most important, but it turned
out that not, just by the reactions of the representatives.
Then it turned out that the man most important was the designer
of the project, and that he then needs the support of the
financer -who stood at his right side-, and of the owner of
the land who stood at his left side. But then from the reactions
they manifested towards each other it turned out that the
designer and the owner of the land both had the same interest
and that at their other hand had to be the man who offered
the financing. It became clear that the man who designs the
project did not trust the financer, so it was also clear he
had to look for alternative means of financing the project
just to strengthen his own position with regards to the financer.
Latter we choose a representative of the project and we
placed her in front of all concerned and suddenly they were
all facing it and focusing on the project, which strengthened
all of them. So this is what a Constellation can show. How
the arrangement can be solved properly.
Can this method be used to find solutions in research
or marketing projects?
Well if this would come out I could draw on my experience
with relationship systems, so in some way it could be done.
But what you must know is that in this kind of work the expertise
of those concerned must be respected all the time. So a consultant
can just have a say about relationships, but not about content.
That must be up to the people who know their job.
What can an organization do to prevent the emergence
of relationship problems within it?
Well if those in charge have some idea of the Orders which
work behind relationships, for instance the exchange of giving
and taking which has to reach a balance, and they consider
it, they can avoid a lot of trouble. In the other hand each
organization is something living which runs into trouble from
time to time, and if there is a crisis these are means to
look at it and to find solutions to go on.
Can this method be applied by someone within the
organization or is it necessary to have an external consultant?
If they know about these Orders they can do it on their
own. An external consultant is necessary only if their own
resources are exhausted. It is also a matter of respecting
their authority. The same if you do, for instance, couples
therapy. I would never work with a couple as such, because
then I would interfere in their authority. But if they individually
ask me for some advise... I can tell each of them, and then
allow them to set it on their own. And in the same way I work
with a company. If a chief executive asks me for advise I
can give him a few tips about what to do, and it might be
enough, and okey. If he needs more he will come back and so
on. I am just at his service.
How can someone gain experience or knowledge about
the Orders which operate within relationship systems?
This can be done by watching, participating or setting Constellations.
You rapidly gain a lot of experience by being a representative
in other's people Family Constellations or company Constellations,
for you experience yourself the feelings of what is right
for the one who you represent and for the others involved
in a system from their reactions, and you also gain an understanding
of the importance of trusting and articulating in words your
When do you propose to set up a Constellation?
Well if they have run into real trouble and don't know how
to go on, then this has to be done. It is a very powerful
Thank you professor Bert Hellinger for this enlightening
It has been a pleasure to me.