I was listening to some recent conversations about creating belonging in organizations. One area of discussion was related to teams and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard. It reminded me of my corporate days when I was facilitating teams. I focused on ensuring different viewpoints were heard and respected, as each voice was key to creating cohesiveness and reaching the team’s identified goals.

Since that time, I have also studied systemic dynamics in families and organizations. One key principle guiding this work is that of belonging. The way you belong in your family has a strong influence on how you belong in different aspects of your life, including work. We also bring our family patterns into the workplace whether we are conscious of it or not.

To better understand the concept, we need to explore what is meant by the systemic principle that everyone and everything has a right to belong. In this instance, we look at inclusion of people, events, and hidden truths. If these family elements are excluded, they may create patterns and dynamics that replicate or expand.

Here are some examples:

  • A family member dies young or unexpectedly and no one ever speaks about them, as if they didn’t exist. Individuals in future generations may create a separation to hold the space or someone may find a way to include the missing family member through illness.
  • Someone has a secret that they never discuss. I have seen this with secret families, as well as miscarriages and abortions that were never revealed. Individuals in the next generation may carry secrets as physical pain, addiction, or find other ways to include what is hidden.

Now consider a couple of patterns of exclusion in a corporation:

  • An employee is fired and walked out the door; nothing further is said about why. The next person brought in to fill the position quits, the next is fired. What is not discussed still lives in the system resulting in a repeating pattern.
  • A company is acquired and its employees are told not to mention the name of the organization they came from; as if it no longer exists. You are being asked to exclude a part of your career history, a part of who you are. Will you ever feel like you truly belong to the new company?

Our family represents our first experience of being a member of a team. How we belong to our “family team” can establish patterns of belonging in other aspects of our lives. Maybe on that first team, it was unsafe to share your perspective. Maybe you were the odd person out in terms of your interests. Or maybe there was an unconscious separation caused by someone or something that was never discussed.

How might those influences affect your willingness to participate in a team discussion, feel that your perspective is valued, or have a sense of team camaraderie? On the flip side, how might your experiences affect your willingness to listen to the perspective of someone else, give credence to a differing opinion, or want to be a welcoming presence to another team member?

The understanding I have gained from looking at family and organizational systems has changed my life in many ways. Among other things, it has helped me see how not having a sense of belonging in my family, led me to take jobs and participate in team efforts where I couldn’t belong no matter how hard I tried.

If this topic or these examples resonate with you, and you want to explore how they apply to you personally, please contact me to discuss the opportunity of doing systemic constellation work.

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