A Different Kind of Family: Reconstruction Lessons for the Participants and the Guide

© 2000 Eileen Strider, www.striderandcline.com

I first experienced a family reconstruction in the 1989 Congruent Leadership Change Workshop. I was stunned by its power. It was as if a special key had been oh-so-gently inserted into this man’s lock box of memories. On that day, I never imagined that one day I would be guiding a reconstruction. Or that — as a guide — I would still be stunned by its power.

How I came to guide a reconstruction

I’ve been studying Virginia Satir’s work for over ten years now. I experienced a family reconstruction for the first time in the 1989 Congruent Leadership Change Workshop with Dani Weinberg, Jerry Weinberg and Jean McLendon. I was stunned by the power of the reconstruction. It was as if a special key had been oh-so-gently inserted into this man’s lock box of memories. His family’s past came to life, in all its wonder, pain and happiness. Then, if possible, even more gently, Jean McLendon guided this man to a fuller appreciation of his grandparents, parents, siblings and finally himself. On that day, I never imagined I would ever be guiding a reconstruction one day.

I’m not a therapist. I work in the information technology services (re: computers) industry. It is an industry where "hardware" refers to that plastic case with electronic circuits inside that is sitting on your desk called a PC. And where "software" refers to the invisible code inside that electronic equipment that makes it tick. Yet, every day, I experienced that "hardware" is really the shell each of us puts on to protect ourselves in that work-a-day world. And software are those mushy, baffling, energizing, depressing, etc. feelings covered up and protected by our "hardware." This kind of hardware and software interests me much more.

So, I have tiptoed out with some Satir tools into that information technology services world. I’ve used Temperature Readings as the format for regular staff meetings. Wayne Strider and I introduced the Change Model to McDonnell Douglas at a time when downsizing and reorganizing were relatively new management strategies. I’ve worked with individuals to identify a family rule that might be affecting how they worked with others. I’ve helped professionals untangle some puzzling communication using the Ingredients of an Interaction. I now know that all of this was useful and preparing me.

Then, the day came, unannounced. People come to our Strider & Cline annual Leaders’ Forums looking for ways to experience and practice using Satir techniques. It was during our 1999 Leaders’ Forum in Mt. Crested Butte — a special place in the history of Virginia’s work — that the opportunity presented itself and I offered to guide a reconstruction. The Star’s focus was not her family of origin but her consulting company. In addition to the Star, two other company members were present. They had recently joined her company and didn’t know much about the history of relationships in this company. All three were excited about what they might learn from reconstructing their company.

How I felt guiding a reconstruction

Two seconds after I offered to guide the reconstruction for them, I heard this little voice inside me saying, "Who do you think you are? What makes you think you could guide a reconstruction? You’re not a therapist! What if your lack of skill harms these people?" All good questions. Yet, there was a second little voice saying "You can do this. And you don’t have to do it alone. So, what kind of support do you want to do it?" This second voice (my Barbra Streisand part, I think) won out. I asked Wayne Strider, my partner, if he would support me. He said yes and we talked about how to guide the reconstruction together. I also sat down privately with the Star to see how she was feeling about doing the reconstruction. We talked about the kind of support she would like for herself during the reconstruction. The time seemed right for me to step out confidently and humbly.

The reconstruction was a work of art as I find all family stories to be. Virginia’s tool served us well with some support from our self-esteem tool kit. The Star described and sculpted the founding of the company with Leaders’ Forum participants in the roles of her two original partners. She sculpted a vignette of these three original founders’ struggling with their dream and searching for a workable direction. The pain of one of the original founders leaving the company was palpable. The Star at one point during the reconstruction physically felt ties binding her to several people in the company, which no longer fit for her. The tugs and pulls came from her close personal friendships with these two people while at the same time their business connections were diminishing. Asking her how she would like to relate to these two people in the present, she very clearly changed her position with them to a more comfortable one, maintaining the personal friendships while lessening the business connections.

Then one of the two new members was born into the company and things changed even more dramatically for the Star. As the second new member was born into this company, the three of them discovered how past relationships with each other might be affecting their company. The two newest members had worked together in another company before joining this one. The company founder, the Star, found herself the outsider. This power of sculpting their current connections with each other was very powerful for them. They realized their connections were not what they wanted them to be and talked about what they might do to change them. And they shared with each other some of their hopes for their future together. This is how they describe their experiences in the reconstruction and what’s happened for them since then:

The Star says "My vision for my company has always included bringing together the unique individuals with whom I’ve had great working relationships into situations where they work with each other, melding that incredible diversity and talent. The reconstruction took me from a place where I was feeling bad about what was happening as I made these connections to a place where I reflected on what I learned as I brought people together and what made sense for the future. The reconstruction helped me see how my relationships needed to change in order to preserve friendships while growing a business.

After Leaders’ Forum, I was able to go back and have the (sometimes tough) conversations that enabled me to connect differently for a better result. It helped me to ask more easily for what I needed from others. The techniques also highlighted the fact that I could think through and sculpt the future connections in my head before enacting them for real!"

One of the Company Members recalls "It has been 8 months since our company reconstruction, and I still get a very special feeling when I think back to that morning. Something happened that could not have been possible through conversation or action in a very compressed period of time. It was powerful and positive in helping us start to grow toward a different level in our working relationship."

And I learned first hand that "guiding" isn’t about leading; it’s about following. It’s about following the Star. I experienced being fully present with the Star and recognizing a meaningful path to follow. Yes, I had a few moments where the path to follow was not clear to me. Inside I could feel myself getting a little anxious. Then, I reminded myself that this was a gift for the Star and not about my own performance. I gave myself permission to be patient and her path became clear to both of us. Knowing Wayne was there and supporting us all gave me great comfort.

What I would like to have happen now

I look back now to my first experience of a reconstruction and recognize that the seed was planted then. I’ve been watering and feeding that seed for over ten years. I’ve continued my studies with Jean, Jerry, Dani and others. Wayne and I have developed Leaders’ Forum into a gentle, safe, supportive place for others and us to practice and learn. I’ve discovered I much prefer to work with the support of one or more partners in this kind of work. And I’ve found many great partners including Pat Snipp and Wayne.

And what of Stars? I used to think we referred to the person whose family was reconstructed as a Star because that person was the focal point. But during the guiding of this Star’s reconstruction, I realized there is another reason we call them Stars. They are my guides. I now realize the importance of following the Stars that appear in my life. They appear when I’m ready and have the courage to follow them. The Stars are my teachers. I trust they will continue to appear and guide me down the path that bears my name. And especially, I thank this Star for her gracious guidance.

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