Archetypes in Organizational Systems

Looking at your work team objectively isn’t always easy.  In the work we do with teams and partnerships, I borrow a phrase from my colleagues at CTI and The Center for Right Relationships, “Nobody gets to be wrong, and everyone is right but only partially.”  Being objective and taking a step back to look for patterns helps individuals and teams see the bigger picture and reveals what the system needs next to evolve and succeed.

Archetypes in Systems

A system is an arrangement, or a pattern of parts which interact with each other within the system’s boundaries to function as a whole. The nature or purpose of the whole is always different from, and more than, the sum of its unassembled collection of parts.  Individuals in systems are called on to play different roles or archetypes to serve the operating pattern.

Our belief is that the roles individuals are called to play are neither good nor bad and are part of what is needed for the system to evolve.  Different roles are called for at different times and for different reasons. Consider someone within a team playing the role of Resister or Devil’s Advocate to ensure the group wasn’t too laid back in its response to a decision.  That person is not a resister, but stepped into an archetypal role for the sake of the system’s progress.

Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung described several archetypes that are based in the observation of differing but repeating patterns of thought and action that re-appear time and again across people, countries and continents.  In earlier work, Jung linked the archetypes to heredity and considered them as instinctual. Yet wherever he looked across cultures, he found the same archetypes and thus came to conceptualize them as fundamental forces that somehow exist beyond us. Archetypes have existed in ancient myths as elemental spirits.

We define an archetype as a model of a person, personality, or behavior.  For example: the Star, the Problem, the Victim, the Hero, and so on.  From a systems point of view, the individual is not the Problem or the Star, but rather taking on these roles to create wholeness, balance, and forward momentum so that the system can fulfill its mission. Sadly too often, we don’t understand the role we are choosing to play and why.

Knowing the role that is needed now and choosing to stand in that role, is what creates conscious evolution and transformation.  Below are some examples of common roles or archetypes that show up within systems.  Step back and notice what is happening in your work group and then ask yourself:

What role is needed now that will move the system to the next level?  

The Visionary
The Visionary sees what could be. This type of person perceives an ideal situation or result and uses that image to determine strategy and practices. Visionaries see large pictures. However, sometimes they focus so much on their vision that they grow disinterested or even frustrated with the tedium of daily tasks, project details, and current obstacles. Due to their aversion to minutiae, they often rely heavily on outside advice and opinions.

The Veteran
The Veteran looks at situations through the lens of “how it’s always been”.  They are experienced in their fields and have first hand experiences of what works and what doesn’t.  They have a tendency to be overly cautious and somewhat resistant to change.  They can develop a fear of failure and tell themselves things like “I’ll never let that happen to me again.”  The Veteran can be a wealth of knowledge and experience, but with a cynical view of the future.

The Warrior
The Warrior is a competitive professional who is inspired by challenges. Their mission is to excel, amaze, and above all, win. They work longer and harder, if necessary, to be the top performer in their field. This can sometimes be challenging in team situations when the spirit of competition outweighs the spirit of collaboration. The Warrior sometimes has difficulty in discerning between “battles to fight” and “opportunities for growth”.

The Healer
The Healer has a passion to serve others and maintain harmony within the workplace. This person is highly empathic and considerate to others’ feelings. They often volunteer to help on projects and mediate conflict between co-workers. This person believes in the power of acknowledgement and team work.  Sometimes the Healer can put the needs of individuals and social amity before the needs of projects and even themselves.

The Gambler
Gamblers are risk-takers who play by their own rules and approach business with a sense of adventure. This person is excited by new opportunities, follows hunches, and has a strong belief in the power of his or her own intuition, even in the face of doubt. Gamblers are always on the look out for lucky breaks and unnoticed angles. They are often impatient, looking for big gains in a short time with a minimum amount of effort.

The Statistician
The Statistician is a methodical thinker, who relies heavily on weighing facts and figures before making decisions. This person is highly focused on the details of the task at hand and in safeguarding against possible obstacles.  Sometimes, however, Statisticians suffer from “paralysis by analysis”. They get so caught up in a thorough evaluation of a situation, that they are unable to make decisions in a timely manner.

The Dominant
The Dominant believes that whenever you truly set your mind on your goals, you will eventually get everything you need and desire. As a result of this belief, Dominants have a great need to control every aspect of their business or department, from people to events and circumstances. Despite (or because of) their intense drive, they often feel they are losing control; which, (since they usually spread themselves too thin) they often are.  Delegation and trust can be difficult for Dominants.

The Submissive
The Submissive is a natural introvert.  This person prefers to follow direction, work quietly, and blend in. Submissives thrive in structured environments and routine, and focus well on their individual tasks. They struggle when asked to think or work “outside the box”, and sometimes their reluctance to speak up can harm their personal interests. These people prefer to be team members rather than leaders and usually are the first to acquiesce in conflict situations or open negotiations.