Tag Archives: work systems

International Adventures in Swedish Lapland

After being postponed twice due to Covid, the 3rd International Conference on Bowen Systems Theory was held at Sörbyn Lodge in Swedish Lapland, June 13-15, 2022. With a program title, Managing Relations in a Changing World: Bowen Systems Theory in Organizations, Families, and Communities, the conference included sessions on four tracks:

  • Theory
  • Organizations and leadership
  • Social work
  • Family

The conference was truly international with local speakers who give their talks in Swedish. There were a number of speakers from the Bowen Center and other network nodes in the United States. Alejandro Astorga from the University of Chile represented a growing interest in Bowen theory in the Spanish speaking world (although he delivered his talk in English). A large contingent from Estonia attended. Nearby Finland was also represented as was much more distant Australia.

One of the highlights of the meeting was a short film by Ann-Christine Haupt entitled Min Mormor och Jag (My Grandmother and I). The film provides a glimpse into the lives of the indigenous Simi people in Sweden. I was astonished at the parallels, in modern times to the plight of the native people in America. The Simi people are being driven from the land as reindeer habitats are being destroyed by logging activity (and climate change).

Sörbyn is quite remote. Getting there involved flying to Luleå, itself a city of under 50,000 and then renting a car or taking a taxi ride that was almost as costly as international airfare from the US! Nonetheless, the resort–primarily a fishing retreat was an idyllic location for the conference, other than the mosquitos. The photo above shows the lake right outside the conference venue which was a building that had once been used for community gatherings including dances. Sörbyn is actually a lively outpost for the study of Bowen theory and many local residents attended the conference. Being in such a location rather than the usual type of conference setting such as a nondescript provided a rich experience of place.

We also learned about the past, present, and future plans for that area of Sweden from the mayor of Boden. In the past, there was a strong military presence in the region due to the proximity to the Soviet Union. Although the need to build back some strength due to current Russian activity may emerge, current plans are to focus on green energy and industry including construction of a green steel plant that would use local ore for production. It is being in contact with this kind of information and the experience of place that makes travel such an unparalleled method for learning about other people and places.

The Conference

Video of my talk on Challenges and Opportunities for Bowen Theory Research in Work Systems

Audiovisual support at the conference was outstanding. All presentations were recorded and posted to YouTube, although you must have the link to view the recording. I have posted my presentation here. After the conference, I completed my plan to publish an article and Two Theorists on Work Systems is now available in the journal, Systems.

A Hiking Adventure

Forest hike

Following the meeting, a group of conference attendees who stayed an extra day to tour the area hiked in the nearby forest. Tatiana Rynbäck of Women Adventure Travel who graciously welcomed a man into our group was our guide. Tatiana is originally from Ecuador adding another international dimension to our experience.

While many local people commuted from home to the daily conference sessions, international travelers stayed at the lodge, either in cabins or a small hotel on the property. A chef from Atlanta with a passion for Scandinavian food prepared world class meals at the restaurant, Kallkällan (the Spring) during our stay. The menu included regional specialties such as reindeer, local fish from the many rivers and lakes in the area, and sauces made from wild berries. It was a little too chilly for a swim in the lake but we all agreed the little beach would be a lovely spot to spend a warm summer afternoon. The locals assured us that there would be some of those in August as well as snowy days for skiing in the winter.


Overcoming Irrational Forces in Work Systems

Are you curious about why some work system engagements go so well and others are so difficult when by all appearances, the presenting issues seem similar? Have you thought about irrational forces at work in human systems and the power those forces have to hijack good thinking? What can a consultant do to help people recognize “emotional process” in the workplace and learn to function better in the face of it?

This is the topic I explored in my dissertation research. I studied how organization development consultants use Bowen theory in their work. I found that consultants who ground their practices in Bowen theory take a different approach and stance than other organization development consultants. The biggest difference is in stance. Consultants who use Bowen theory take a systems perspective and make every effort to remain neutral and stay outside the organization’s emotional process.

Emotional process describes how people respond unconsciously to each other. Murray Bowen, who developed his theory in the mid-20th century believed that awareness of the process, and an effort to engage the “thinking brain” could improve individual functioning. In turn, improved individual functioning makes for better functioning families and work systems.

Following this line of thought, the consultants help their clients become aware of emotional process and support their efforts to come up with thoughtful solutions to their problems. The consultants often engage in coaching to help individuals within an organizational system represent their points of view more effectively with their bosses, their subordinates, and in meetings.

The consultants who use this approach find it effective, especially when they engage with clients who are interested and motivated to learn a new way of thinking about work systems. Based on my research findings, I am developing a reference model for Bowen theory-based organization development consulting. When I have completed the model, I will post the details. In the mean time, get in touch if you would like to learn more.Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

Coming soon, more time for consulting to organizations!

I am excited by the prospect of spending more time consulting to organizations with motivation to build capacity, improve effectiveness, and grapple with transformational change. For most of my career, I have been engaged in organizational change efforts as a manager and leader. In addition, I have provided consulting services such as meeting facilitation, strategic planning support, leadership development, team building, and organizational design on an part time basis.

Now, I have the opportunity to focus on this important work. In today’s rapidly changing world, it is critical for organizations to cultivate thoughtful responsiveness, and develop capacity for continuous change. My approach blends natural systems theory, adult learning models based in neuroscience, and well-established organization development processes such as action learning. Although individuals and organizations usually have capacity for transformational growth and change within, sometimes it takes an outsider to recognize the potential.

Nothing is more satisfying to me than collaborating with other people to generate ideas for improvements to a work system, and making plans to implement them. My most positive consulting experiences involve working with leaders to plan meetings or other events that engage groups around particular issues. Although I may write a report with recommendations for action based on the meeting or event, those recommendations are the synthesis of collaborative work, not delivery of disconnected stock solutions from an outside “expert”.

If your work system seems a little stuck, or you could use an outsider’s perspective on a tough issue, I would love to hear your story. Perhaps we can collaborate on a strategy to unleash the potential from within and enable the people within your organization to enact transformational change.Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail