From smaller to larger systems: Theory U methods and tools applied in nuclear family scenarios.

In this article I discuss the application of Otto Scharmer‘s Theory U in nuclear families as helpful tool. The Method developed by Scharmer is a change management modell. During doctoral studies he studied a similar method in classes taught by Friedrich (Fritz) Glasl. The principles of Theory U help amongst other things to break-through unproductive patterns of behavior.

Children do have this amazing capability of “sensing the whole” by just being around a group of adults, or in a room or a building. Very often they can clearly feel and do re-enact emotions of adults, of situations or even the dominating energies in empty rooms. They are sponges soaked with different energies.

“Have you ever noticed children sensing the current energy of a room? Ever looked at reactions of kids in a negative atmosphere in detail? They act as receptors and transformers. Through them you can really make the ongoing problems in teams visible.” — Sandra, Family Coach

Sometimes this leads to inbalances, blockades and levels of absencing in families or inside our young family members. Especially if there is too much of negative energy around for a longer period of time. As a dad myself I’m very motivated and excited about tools and methods that can be used at home (the family as a small organization) as well as in larger organizations and in business. Years ago when I discovered theory U I began to prototyp things at home. The results were amazing. Todays nuclear families (in german the so called “Kleinfamilien”) are more and more a representation of the larger system in “our western society”. Todays parents are under rising pressure (money, time & more) at least here in Switzerland. Updated statistics show the inappropriate support from the national framework. Compared to other countries Switzerland belongs to the statistical bottom and offers a very bad base for families in Europe. And its getting worse while the Swiss and EU-economy is undergoing emerging disruptions in the next years.

“Most cross-institutional change processes fail because they miss the starting point: co-sensing across boundaries. We need infrastructures to facilitate this process on a sustained level across systems. And because they don’t yet exist, organized interest groups go out and maximize their special interests against the whole, instead of engaging practitioners in the larger system in a process of sensing and innovating together.” — Otto C. Scharmer, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan

What are possible solutions? Less complexity, a complete re-modelling of family support structures and governmental frameworks are very obvious. Otto C. Scharmer with his Theory U suggests that we deepen our levels of listening, that we sharpen our co-capabilities eg. through mindfulness and empathy with co-sensing. Through a cooperative, a collective way of co-sensing and co-forming across boundaries the required changes can be implemented to the specific parts of our systems in our society, eg. the nuclear family. Small families or “Kleinfamilien” are happening at a microcosmos level and are very important organizations influcening the current and the emerging macrocosmos of our global society.

“You cannot understand a system unless you change it.” — Otto C. Scharmer

What can we learn from Otto C. Schamers Theory U for nuclear families? Going through the process, organizations can enhance their co-sensing abilities while learning to live a way of open mind, open heart and open will. Through a new level and form of “inner empathy”, problems can be addressed using different methods and tools. Important is that the attention is not on focusing the problems themselves but crystallizing a best possible future we want for our system, and then “operate from a whole”, as Scharmer emphasizes. Well-formulated intentions and purpose thinking are becoming more vital for all kind of systems or organizations.

Source: Presencing Institut, Otto C. Schamer
Source: Presencing Institut, Otto C. Schamer

How modern, how agile, “how co-” is your family as seen as an organization? Imagine that as parent you co-sense your family as a whole — not only through deeper listening but even through more open forms of communication and through simple forms of presencing. Scharmer connects the words “presence” and “sencing” to “presencing” as an umbrella term for his theory U principles.

No matter if you have preschool kids or if you are surrounded by teenagers at home: Simplified Theory U mechanisms can always be applied as they are very soft, individual, empathy-based and do activate the inner self of each member inside a group. Its also a playful way of re-connecting the dots as in our modern society time for discussing family problems in plenum is often rare. Involving children in decisions at a certain age is not only an integrative way of collective co-shaping and -creating it also helps to strengthen the corner pillars of the family as a whole. Being able to see the family as an organism can be helpful if you want to solve problems. “Connecting to the source” as Scharmer calls it, allows us to uncover the reality in our system as it is and to see problems more clearly. Lets remember that if “the chain is only as strong as its weakest part“ its very important to look at all aspects of a system.

If we break down Scharmers Theory to a simplified modell that is easy to understand and can be applied for nuclear families then we are still in need of a professional guidance, eg. of u.lab hub members nearby. In my opinion its important to connect to a Coach with field experience if you want to successfully implement a complete new way of thinking in a nuclear family. Its easy to try and test Theory U methods and tools in any kind of organization but think of it as longer process that needs to make use of iterations: Shifts can’t be forced and need time.

A first clear outcome for nuclear families is that there is a strong need for support. Families can profit of the use of the Theory U toolset by themselves, eg: deeper listening, guided journaling or just “journaling”, prototyping, coaching circles and sensing journeys. The application of each tool is rather simple and can be simplified if used in a family environment.

To get to know the single tools please have a look at this link where you can find the Theory U tools:

A propos Theory U and family:
Sometimes all we need is a “silly game”. Take a quick look at an inspiring adaption of theory U core aspects in Michael Bischoffs simple recording on youtube. At home he performs a simplified theory U with the kids and they seem more than just “enthusiastic”.

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