Where are they now? Alumnus Oscar Westra van Holthe Part 1
Oscar Westra van Holthe, Tribe 1 alumnus, can walk into a room of people related in different ways: colleagues, families, departments; and instantly read the underlying social currents that run their interactions. From that newfound awareness, the group then has a path to heal.
This skill can seem like a superpower at first, but it is the result of years of learning and shaping. Oscar combined a traditional university education, Knowmads, and training in system dynamics, family constellations, and body-oriented therapy to create a toolkit to untangle group dynamics. With it, Oscar has started three businesses and is growing his fourth.
It’s been over seven years since he graduated from the first-ever class of Knowmads Amsterdam. We caught up to him one day in early December to hear the scoop on where he is now, what he aspires to do, and what he is currently doing.
1. What’s your pre-Knowmads background?
University College Utrecht Law & Psychology, AIESEC board Rotterdam Vice President; applicant for Kaospilots Rotterdam, forwarded to Knowmads (back when Knowmads was a full year program).
2. Why did you come to Knowmads?
Martin Cadet was doing a presentation on a University College Career Day. I was called by a friend organizing it to be in this workshop, since there were only three people. I was frustrated with the school system, constantly living under outside-imposed standards. I felt heard when I shared those frustrations in the workshop. My long-term wish was to build skills around what you can do, not what you cannot.
The thing about university is that you must prove yourself first. Only then, they believe you. By contrast, I experienced Knowmads as a space where people believe you first, and then trust your true creativity will find a way into the world, for example with a startup. The appreciation was what did the trick for me.
3. Introduce your businesses?
My first business is working as a systemic coach.
Core services: Family constellations. Coaching and facilitating.
Sessions with simple, effective work formats. Participants map out their inner world with play-mobil or with papers on the ground, for example. That is how you can let go of your story about yourself and open yourself to really working through the emotional resistance underlying breakthroughs. Only when we change the experience of ourselves, the world will resonate in accordance with that. You are making the unconscious, inter-generational, and invisible lines between yourself and parts of you and family members, but also colleagues, visible. That is how you see the big picture of your life.
My earlier and first company ever was ModelMinds: Making things visible, how to tell your story with support of visuals. Think about explaining your company’s vision or strategy in one minute.
Network of 10-15 systemic coaches & trainers who do constellations and coaching. We have developed a blueprint with programs to manage your culture dynamics structurally, and embedded in the business.
Corporate Culture Strategy
This business is the culmination of the first three, and it distributes the tools in an accessible way to corporations:
- Culture scans
- 1-on-1 Coaching
- Social maps (maps the dynamics between people)
- Social labs (interactive workshop: can be constellation or a face-off, at different levels).
With Corporate Culture Strategy, we teach people to deal with change.
The key to implementing new concepts within business is about linking the concept to the experience of people and how they benefit. Give them the space to connect to it. That way we help people work through resistance and make the concept their own; placing it within the constellation themselves. From the interviews we do with everyone from your team, department, or the entire organization, we create maps.
We do several different types of maps. We make supplier stakeholder maps to uncover blind spots. We map other organizations in the industry and see patterns like nonprofits competing against each other. When you unravel what is really going on –beyond the blabla vision statements– and you really acknowledge that, you can find new ways of inviting others into a new and transformative story.
We also do Change Experience maps – We map the history of the organization to determine how we can move forward. We ask, what needs to be acknowledged to move on? Things like hidden loyalties, and firing without proper goodbyes, keep this energy circulating within the social tissue of the organizational family. Similar to family life, there can be dynamics and conflicts between next generations of employees who weren’t involved earlier. These tensions seem untraceable, whereas you can very clearly understand them when looking into the history of the group. Standard consultancy ‘tricks’ don’t work.
We then make these maps 3D, merging all different constellations into one big constellation. Here we can see the distances between departments, interpersonal dynamics, and neglected emotions. We can measure what kind of company they are; what kind of culture they live in. We can even measure things on a biometric level, tracking the eye movements and walking movements to give us a clue of what kind of culture the business has. For example, when doing a constellation in a company, if 80% of the people on the team look at the financial guy, maybe finances are the most important to the business culture. The question then becomes: what are we not seeing by only focusing on –let’s say– cost-efficiency? What entrepreneurial opportunities do we miss when we are mainly focused on internal dynamics? When we are aware of these tendencies, we can either keep them, or open up to other ways of doing business.
We work with how people experience the dynamics within the team. After all, it doesn’t work to tell someone to NOT feel guilty if you do. It is about acknowledging the feeling, understanding the relationship that is beyond the individual symptoms, like burnout. Those are the people most sensitive to the collective social tissue that has grown out of balance. Small interactions can be changed. That way the whole jigsaw of relations must change as well. After all, if you suddenly do no longer dive into the conflict with your leaders, but ask what it is they need, you might change the culture for the long-term.
We also do deep dive sessions. With Tribe 16 we did an intake session on embeddedness. We created a map of the relations and tensions, but also of what is appreciated. This is confrontative, yet everybody feels seen. What heals is not what we would like to believe. Instead, it is the truth, though maybe painful, that heals.
With all of these activities, we work with the themes that are alive, not with the actual tasks that need to get done. It is my firm belief that once we get all the social stuff out of the way, there are no other options than these two: 1) relax and enjoy, or 2) get work done and enjoy that. I really believe that.
4. It sounds like there are several core principles underlying all your work. Can you explain a bit about it?
The Core Principle – The Human
We are bringing back the human in business. Eighty to ninety percent of all lost energy is lost in interpersonal social dynamics, which is stored in the social DNA and social tissue of the business.
In the personal 1-on-1 coaching session, we see that problematic behavior originates in childhood. For example, a problem that manifests itself in business is a woman who is mediating between her boss and another colleague, and neglecting her team in the process. As a child, she mediated between her arguing parents while trying to prevent a divorce.
We can thus see that personal breakthroughs are needed for professional behavior to change. At work you are learning something you did not learn when you were young. Learning about that in the workspace makes your work much more meaningful, the drive to change intrinsic, and the impact of that intervention lasting a lifetime. It makes your work also much more about human growth, learning, and development.
We all grow up. As we do, we become sensitive for the emotions from our ancestors. This can even go back up to seven generations. Traumas like WWII are still lingering in families’ social DNA. Things that were back than not possible to talk about (socially speaking), people were not able to talk about (because of illnesses or sudden death for example), we feel as children, who want it all to be seen. After all, when not all secrets are seen, part of the power and skills you have goes untapped and wasted in daily life.
And what we have at home, we also bring to work. People are quitting their jobs because they do not feel welcome or appreciated or supported emotionally. Most people leave because of their bosses. Why? Most likely people are pushed into repeating and re-iterating the patterns they know from when they were young. When you bring that to the workplace anyways, you’d better deal with it, before it becomes an inefficiency, leads to ineffectiveness, and stops the production and/or money flow.
We deal with these people dynamics. After all, businesses function in ways just like families. Like every family has its own secrets and informal ways of doing things, departments do have these different energies as well. Especially in mergers, when departments need to be integrated, they behave like families. Do you belong to the original or the new setup? In short, we make sense of the human mess within business projects, strategy, and more. It is a specialization that fits me very well, I must say.
Combining 3 other principles: Systems thinking, culture change, and engagement strategy
Systems thinking: Looking at the social system & the corporate system
We’ll take the example of burnout – A lot of organizations demand loyalty which leads to burnout. The people most prone to it are the ones most sensitive to the dynamics in the organization.
Once you change the experience of one person, everything changes. So, we take the experience of people and start from there. We understand where it comes from and then ground it in reality.
Culture cannot be changed but transformed once you change the experience of people and help them see themselves. Once you accept the culture as it is and help people understand the root of their experience, then they can change.
Eighty percent of breaking the dynamics within the culture, the team, can be done with awareness of oneself, the other, the relations one finds himself in, and of the system. But awareness is not enough. You also need some skills; communication skills.
Conflict comes when we project images or expectations on others, or identify with something they carry. So I use constellations to take off the projection, away from the other person so that the two people can see each other for the people they are, not the irritants.
When I did a constellation for Tribe 16, two people who were troubled with each other faced one another. The question was asked, “What do you see in the other?”
“I feel you don’t want to show yourself to me,” one of them replied. Someone stood next to them to represent that feeling of resistance.
It was such a beautiful moment when they then looked at each other. With the resistance between them in a tangible form, they could finally see one another. That was really two souls connecting.
In my business and during my week I really like to take time for things. I book my agenda for three to four hours per meeting. Because that is the maximum time people need for sharing their life’s stories. I’m not telling them what to do; they’re telling themselves what to do. I simply mirror with systemic techniques. So far, I’ve not been able to give better suggestions to people than they give themselves.
It’s really awesome, once you help people see the essence of themselves, things really shift. So, it’s really about giving that space to someone to explore their own truth and experience. It’s incredible how people experience their lives differently. It’s a very different level of connection I make with people.
With ModelMinds, we connected much more on the content; the storytelling and such. Now with Corporate Culture Strategy we’re connecting much more on a human-to-human level; deep, meaningful insights. It’s always an honor to be present with someone who shares his or her deepest essence. I hear stories they’ve never told anyone before. The picture is much more holistic: a huge overview of life. In the end you always come back to that part in the family history that has shaped you most. When we tap into the quality of taking the time, the patience to get there, I am using the quality of presence. After all, what heals is if you can come with whatever you have experienced, and it is received by another. Thus we focus on just a few clients.
I like the quality of connection very much; engagement.
See the rest of Oscar’s interview in Part 2 of this series!
You can find out more about Oscar and his work here!
Corporate Culture Strategy – systemic culture scans and maps
Blockbusters – systemic change making blueprint programs
Declaration of Human Business – on the future role of business
Systemic Leadership Training – systemic constellations training
Westravanholthe.com – systemic coaching and constellations