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Discussing the Undiscussable with the Enneagram

From recent work I’ve been doing, my attention has gone to noticing something subtle and blatant about the impact of the Enneagram both in individuals and groups – namely, to discuss the unnamed and often undiscussable in individuals, teams, and organizations. Here are a few examples:

At the highest level, the Enneagram has the potential for individuals to experience, often for the first time in their lives, that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with them. It is astounding how many people (and of all enneatypes) feel that they are fundamentally different and deficient in some way, and most would never say this out loud, either in public, to their closest friends, or even to themselves. However, when they discover themselves on the Enneagram, they get struck by two things. First, they understand why they feel so different from so many others (it most often is a function of their type, in some way) and how their type-based patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving creates this way particular version of feeling so different from others. Second, people discover that there are other people (individuals of their same type) who experience themselves in the world in exactly the same way. The relief they feel upon discovering that there really is nothing fundamentally wrong with them is glorious to experience and a wonder to observe from the outside. They are not alone, and this understanding makes information about themselves nameable and discussable.

Have you ever done an Enneagram-based team map, one in which you indicate the enneatypes of each team member on an Enneagram symbol and then facilitate a team discussion of team strengths and weaknesses using the enneamap as their guide? It is an amazing way to surface subterranean issues, to make explicit and discussable that which was previously implicit and too sensitive to even name. Suddenly, the Enneagram provides a team mirror and catalyzes the conversation, depersonalizing the issues as they are discussed. Rather than there being a conflict between, for example, John and Jane, that feels highly personal and terribly charged, it gets objectively understood as an issue between people of two different Enneagram types, who have two different worldviews and whose behavior is annoying and distressing one another because they don’t fundamentally understand one another. Conflicts that some thought undiscussable and irresolvable can and do get worked through with the Enneagram lens.

Similarly, team dynamics and processes that are either hard to recognize or difficult to name can also get discussed and resolved with guidance from the Enneagram. What happens to a team with body center styles and head center styles but no Twos, Threes or Fours? These teams may suffer from lack of relationship or morale challenges or problems with how they are perceived by outside groups, and the Enneagram helps them to even understand that this is a real issue. It also helps them find natural and productive ways to respond to this challenge without taking foolish measures, such as hiring new team members by type (as in the erroneous thinking that anyone of a missing type could be an asset without considering level of self-mastery and skill competency).

I do believe organizations have cultures that correspond to types, although it also appears when I try to understand organizations in this way, that some organizations are hybrid types. One of my client organizations is a Five: research is king, analysis is expected, and rigor and methodical follow-through just part of everyday life. It should come as no surprise that the most recent president of this organization, who took it from a medium-size company to a brand name, was and is a Five himself. And if they want to grow as an organization, they will be well served to use the development approaches for type Five individuals: integrate more of their heart into work and take more (deliberate) action.

Another client is, as they describe themselves, either a Seven or a Three. As I experience them, they are both. Their processes are the epitome of the average type Seven work-style: under organized systems and processes; everything is done or pulled together at last minute, with a flurry bordering on chaos, but results are expected and expected on time (herein lies the Three). For example, when I go on site for a meeting, no matter how many times I ask, I either am not told where the meeting room is or if I am told, it is emailed to me while I’m en route or, even more likely, when I get to the site, the room has moved. But they always pull the room together, get something close to the result they need, and then they reward the person who has pulled it together as if she or he is a competency super-hero (herein lies the Three once more). Not surprisingly, they like the term “rock star,” and give others this affirmation on a fairly regular basis. They don’t refer to themselves as “rock stars,” but they refer to each other in this way. It takes a “rock star,” I suppose, to recognize one. When and if this organization is ready to reconcile its Seven processes with its Three results orientation, the Enneagram could be very useful. For example, they could design themselves to retain the optimism and forward movement of Sevens and Threes, and to reconcile their under-process (Seven)/over-results (Three) orientation. How? Here’s one way. Imagine they were a high self-mastery Seven and could design their processes so creativity and freedom were supported, but also have accountability. As a high self-mastery Seven knows, all the freedom in the world is not true freedom; it is license to do anything but the choice to do nothing. The same could be applied to over-results. Imagine they were a high self-mastery Three who did get results but not by going into overdrive. They achieve results by being more present to what they are doing and what is around them rather than a single-minded focus on the end-result (emphasis on single-minded).

Most organizations don’t really like to examine and discuss their cultures very much. Doing so exposes too much: their assumptions, their greatness, their foibles, their contradictions. But to grow, thrive, and survive, organizations need to do exactly this and discuss the previously undiscussable. And the Enneagram can help make this much easier to do.

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Bliss Aime
8 years ago

Very insightful Ginger. I really find the ‘Undiscussable’ conversations with teams yield great outcomes and learning for the team. And I completely agree with your comments about Individuals in teams – we see it in every session we hold and now I have some language to help explain what’s going on.

Mauro Vedovello
8 years ago

I agree and I see that resistance in many organisations. For instance can you imagine a Eight type based company revealing its weaknesses? Its prejudices? Its overly reactivity? No, companies are stuck in their cultural model and can’t see past, and yes, the Enneagram is the tool to unlock this scenario.
In my case I can say that it takes a Six being able to think-outside-the-box to ignite the discussion of the undiscussable.

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