Playing With Contextual Complexity: Relational Consultation With Family Businesses (Part I)

Playing With Contextual Complexity: Relational  Consultation With Family Businesses (Part I)

by Douglas G. Flemons, Ph.D. and Patricia M. Cole,Ph.D.
Nova Southeastern University

Over the course of ten months in the late 1970s, two of the most important figures in the field of family therapy, Luigi Boscolo and Gianfranco Cecchin (the Milan Associates), worked with Irving Borwick (a corporate director at ITT) and Bruce Reed (from the Grubb Institute in London) to investigate the applicability of Milan systemic family therapy concepts and techniques to business organizations.

The group concluded that there was no simple translation between the worlds of family therapy and organizational consulting; they considered their work with management teams unsuccessful and they disbanded (Borwick, 1986). Borwick (1986) came away from his collaboration with the Milan Associates with the realization that families and business organizations are significantly different systems and that “therapists who enter into business organizations must begin to develop new maps and new roles” (p. 439).

Therapeutic consultation with families and organizational consultation with businesses are each complex processes, requiring different sets of expertise and experience. What then are family therapists to do when they are consulting with a system that is simultaneously a family and a business? Family therapists, along with a variety of other “helpers,” are providing an increasing amount of consultation for family businesses (Robichaux, 1990). But do we have the necessary maps, the necessary tools to responsibly offer assistance? More…