Tool: Purpose Constellation

Why?

Conducting Purpose Listening in the form of a constellation can be a very helpful way to both engage in questioning and create a perceptual space that pools the rational intelligence of individuals or teams and enables collective intelligence. This can help radically simplify purpose processes and rapidly simplify and clarify complex issues through the images that emerge.

Through Purpose Constellations, an organization can gain clarity about its future potential, unlock effective levers to achieve that potential, and thus move into the future in flow. By placing elements in a space, their positions, including the purpose and the stakeholders of the organization, become apparent. Thus, through proximity and distance as well as the feelings expressed by representatives, areas of tension can be identified. Proximity is harmonious, distance shows dissonance.

Example

A software provider with around 200 employees decided to transform its culture in order to sharpen its customer focus as a result of a new strategy for the business on the one hand and to remain attractive as an employer for new talent on the other. After the as-is survey of Purpose and culture had been completed via Story Sourcing and Story Mapping, the transformation team conducted a Purpose Listening in the form of a Purpose Constellation in order to identify a clear picture of the future for the organization on which the further transformation process could be aligned.

What matters (Principles)

In order to successfully conduct a Purpose Constellation, it is important to consider a few things:

Rule 1: Identify a facilitator whom the group trusts to create a communication room that allows an open exchange even on critical or uncomfortable dynamics.

Rule 2: In the moderation, make sure that all elements have their say in each round and that a story emerges from the order of the elements called up.

Rule 3: Listening to the elements takes place by asking questions such as: What is the physical perception of the element? How does the element describe its thinking, feeling and acting? How does the element stand in relationship with other elements? Is it more of a pleasant or an unpleasant situation? What is missing? Is there anything else that needs to be addressed?

Rule 4: In addition to calmness and concentration, it is important to have a clear division of roles and to be in agreement on communication:

  • Representatives: Immerse yourself in your role; enter the room consciously
  • Observer: Listen for the insights you gain from observing
  • Speak in the order following the respective call of the moderator
  • Try to remain neutral and suspend emerging judgments and evaluations
  • Pay attention to the questions that come to you
  • Focus on what is important
  • Rely on the flow that occurs

Step by step

Lineup Planning:

  1. Designate a facilitator for the line-up, who will usually also take charge of the rest of the following points.
  2. Always start by setting a clear goal for the purpose statement: In our consulting process, setting goals in the form of questions has proven successful – for example, in the form of “How Might We” questions, developed by the Stanford Crowd Research Collective. This type of question is about figuratively planting a seed from which the future can organically emerge. The HMW question in the context of a Purpose constellation can, for example, support reinforcing positive factors, removing negative issues, discovering the opposite, or questioning assumptions. An example question might be, “How could we make the Purpose of XY organization relevant to our daily work?”
  3. Determine the elements needed for the constellation: These can include people and organizations involved as well as abstract elements. Often used examples for a Purpose Constellation are:

    People:

    CEO, top management, employees, customers, journalists.

    Organizations:

    Politics, Society, NGOs

    Abstract elements:

    Individual purpose, evolutionary purpose (possibly split into the elements of contribution and impact), culture principles and values such as “customer focus” or “empathy”, concrete challenges as well as the “missing element”.
  4. Distribute the roles: Representative(s) and Observer(s) – and discuss possible obstacles and stumbling blocks to be expected in the course of the constellation.
  5. Decide on the constellation form: open (representatives and observers know which person represents which element) or hidden (only the moderator knows the distribution of the elements), virtual (via a video call in combination with virtual whiteboard) or physical
  6. Execute the constellation:

    The purpose of a purpose constellation is to gain clarity on the evolutionary purpose of an organization and its individuals. As a process for describing an evolution, you may, for example, apply Theory U. In the following, we recommend a three-step process based on the sensing, presencing, and prototyping steps of Theory U: 

    1. Room 1 (45min): In the first room you acknowledge the present situation as it is. The elements position themselves as they perceive the actual situation. This creates a we-space with relationships on equal terms, helping current tensions become visible.
    2. Room 2 (45min): Based on the constellation in room 1, the elements are now asked to let the future potential emerge: How does a future present itself in which there is a shared understanding of purpose, intention and working principles? The elements ask themselves what it takes to be able to be the best possible whole – and how a journey into this state could proceed.
    3. Room 3 (45min): In the subsequent prototyping room, the aim is to make the emergent future visible in building blocks. We have made good experiences with integrating this creative phase directly into a constellation sprint and supporting it with ideation methods. Suitable methods for this can be found, for example, in the Lean Startup
    4. Review (30min): Conclude with a reflection: What went well in the Purpose constellation? What went possibly wrong? What will we do differently next time?

Important aids

Framework

Duration approx. 2-3 hours, depending on the preparation of the session (please work with timeboxing for the three constellation steps)
Formatvirtually virtually (e.g., working together on an online whiteboard during a videoconference) or in person in a suitable room
ParticipantsTeam of at least 6-8 members (no upper limit), in order to split the elements sensibly among representatives