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From Individual Systems to Systems of Individuals


Caitlin Walker and Marian Way teamed up to run a one-day taster in Systemic Modelling as the first pilot for a six-day training course, which started in April 2014.

A large group of interested Clean Language facilitators from all over the UK gathered to experience this method of working with the systems in individuals and the individuals in systems. The day addressed the challenge of how to get a group of individuals to put themselves in relation to each other.

Caitlin demonstrated her methods of spotting patterns and bringing them to light ‘with a light touch’. Marian invited us to model what we had just seen from the point of view of us as individuals; then as a group and finally, what we imagined might be Caitlin’s position. We then asked Caitlin questions based on what we had observed and the meaning we attached to it so that we could fill in the gap of the facilitator’s role by modelling her behaviour.

It was fine-tuned work that went very deep and required all of us, Marian and Caitlin included, to be comfortable with not knowing. That, Caitlin explained would be the frame for the whole training: “We train people to be in a state of not knowing and to be OK with that.”

We examined the Clean Set Up questions as a tool for self-coaching, to get ourselves into a strategic frame of mind and to be focussed and clear, which can save time and confusion. We can self-coach with the Clean Set Up questions in preparation for group meetings, phone calls, individual conversations. And of course with teams, these simple questions can transform a meeting and subsequent relationships between the individuals.

There were tips for getting relevant very quickly with a group, based on Caitlin’s experience of working with groups of young people who had not chosen to be there and so were not easy to engage or keep engaged:

  • Be present with whatever is true for the people with you
  • Be unafraid if people hate you and wish they weren’t there
  • Be agile – change things if you need to
  • Be OK about not knowing or getting it wrong – acknowledge this
  • Work with a partner so that you can hand over if you get rattled
  • Keep moving or the group disintegrates

The day was so packed full of skills, tips, detailed modelling, experiential exercises, demonstrations and useful anecdotes that I can only suggest you try it for yourself – I think we all found it eye-opening, indeed my jaw was on the floor on occasion!

We experimented with the Five Senses exercise; worked on personal outcomes; and facilitated small groups. We examined in detail what it takes to be a good facilitator and how allegiance always needs to be to the group, not to individuals.

For me, two areas of great learning were the level of honesty required to work in groups in this way and delaying bringing patterns to light in the group until 70% of the individuals will be able to clearly grasp them. This in turn enables the group to do more and more self-modelling and to be less and less reliant on the facilitator.. “If you spot a pattern and reference it before 70% of the group has done so, you will lose the group; they will feel they lack competence and switch back to watching you rather than being involved.” It was also helpful to examine ways of storing information spatially in a group.

Marian and Caitlin brought what they call ‘exquisite attention’ to how we operate in teams, as participants or facilitators, and their ability to work with what is true and actually happening in any one moment whilst collecting vital information about patterns in the system and within the individuals, was inspiring.

We finished by examining the beginning of any process with what Caitlin calls ‘Clean Scoping” - asking questions to understand during a first encounter what the system is and wants and what resources for change are present in the individuals within that system. She spoke of how she prepares a plan and puts in a huge amount of preparatory work long before the day when facilitation takes place. Then on the day emergent improvisation meets the truth of the situation and offers ways forward that are increasingly empowering for the group.

In the morning, when we had just begun, Caitlin said: “I’m interested in how a group can meta-comment on something they have just done. Do, reflect, do again.” It was an intense experience, identifying tenth-of-a-second first reactions and finding ways of holding lots of information about a complex network of inter-relation between teams of people, but a very rewarding one based on the belief that people are extraordinary, amazing and unique and that it is, in Caitlin’s words, ‘delicious and delightful’ to work with what is offered up.

Photo by David Vilches on Unsplash

About Sue Charman

Sue Charman's avatar

Sue Charman came to Clean Language from a theatre and storytelling background, fascinated by metaphor, inner landscapes and our own capacity for change, all of which are areas where story and psychology overlap. She discovered Clean Language via Caitlin Walker’s TedX talk and trained with Clean Learning during 2012, becoming a Level One Clean Facilitator in October of that year. She experiences both facilitation and training as inspiring, exciting and empowering for herself and others. Sue also runs “Wood Sisters”, a women’s modern mystery school combining meditation, myth, sacred time in nature and crafts.

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