Here’s a powerful method for working with, and talking about, the unconscious projection of family relationships onto other situations (your team, for example).
1 Map your own family
Start by drawing your own family system – the one in which you grew up. Include everyone who seemed a significant presence to you during your childhood, for better or for worse – parents and siblings in particular, and perhaps aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents.
Map it out on a piece of paper. Draw a circle for each person, with the distance from you showing the amount of contact, and the thickness of line showing the quality of relationship you had (thicker = stronger). For example:
If you wish you can give more detail to your map by noting the mood of each relationship you’re mapping (supportive, caring, threatening, confusing etc).
2 Map your team
Now think about your current work team as if it were a family.
Who do you think takes up what roles? Can you see parents, siblings, cousins, outsiders? What is the age order in this system (it may not be the same as your actual age order)? Who is close in, who is further out? Include yourself in this exploration – specifically, who are other people in the team to you (older brother, younger sister, cousin, parent etc)?
Draw out your team ‘family’ in the same way you did when you mapped your own family.
Do you notice any connections? Similarities? Resonances between the family map and the team map? Can you see any way in which the relationships you take up in your team echo the relationships in your family? Does any of this suggest new actions you wish to take, new possibilities you wish to pursue, or things you’d like to stop doing?
3 Talk about it
Here is where the magic begins. Host a conversation with your team in which you share your family map, your team map, and the insights that have arisen as you compared the two.
If your colleagues are ready, invite them to do the same. Remember that what you’re sharing is each person’s experience – so be curious, gentle, generous, welcoming and as open as you can. This is an exercise in understanding one another, in knowing your shared humanity, not in convincing one another or proving a point.
If you’re willing to be kind enough, and interested enough, and truthful enough, you may just start to give yourself new language that you can all use to observe yourselves in action – and a way of catching the underground patterns that have you relating to one another as if you were people from there and then rather than the people you’re working with here and now.