Organizations

Bowen Theory has been used extensively by individuals interested in understanding the relationship processes in organizations. Whether it is a family business, for-profit or non-profit organization, a religious organization or school, relationship processes play a significant role in the functioning of the group. Leaders who understand this, and who are skilled at managing their part in the relationship patterns, have a strategic advantage.

An example is one concept of Bowen Theory: Triangles. When tension increases between two parties, they automatically "triangle-in" a third. This can happen as easily as one party talking to a third about the other. The content of the process may be "He said this, she said that." But the function of this process is tension reduction between the original two parties. The tension reduction function is happening most often outside of direct awareness. The parties involved have their minds on the specific content issue and upon the questions of who is right and who is wrong. When the party who is approached in this predictable dance has an awareness of the emotional process involved and can see the triangle, new options emerge. When this person can maintain viable contact with both sides of the triangle in thoughtful ways, but does not take sides, the original two parties have a better chance of taking responsibility to address the issues between them. When this happens, their ability to deal with their relationship and to address problems in the organization improves. The third party is, in essence, functioning as a leader in the handling of emotional process in the relationship system. This concept is useful when dealing with business partnerships, relations between boards and the organizations they serve, between clergy and their congregations, and in many other situations.

This and other concepts of the theory have proven useful for a number of reasons:

a. Establishing more open and thoughtful relationships

b. Providing rich mentoring relationships

c. Managing self when dealing with an irresponsible group member

d. Thinking clearly amidst a crisis

e. Challenging others to function at their best

f. Dealing with the complexities of succession planning

e. Solving problems creatively

f. Maximizing opportunities for the development of the organization

In the book, Family Evaluation (Kerr, M. and Bowen, M, 1988. Family Evaluation. New York: Norton, pp342-343), Dr. Murray Bowen defined family leadership in a very succinct way that reflects the kind of operational guidelines which are embedded in the theory. When knowledge of the theory is applied to an organization, one would expect to see leaders appear in the organization who demonstrate the following characteristics:

a. The courage to define self

b. The ability to be as invested in the welfare of the organization as in self

c. Neither angry nor dogmatic

d. Their energy goes to changing self rather than telling others what they should do

e. They can know and respect the multiple opinions of others

f. They can modify self in response to the strengths of the group

g. They are not influenced by the irresponsible opinions of others