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How to resolve Succession Planning Challenges

By Tom Wittig

July 2, 2020

Succession Planning in Business and Organisations

How systemic constellations support the successful transition

Succession planning in business and in organisations can be a difficult and stressful period for all stakeholders. In this article, we are looking at hidden dynamics of succession and how to find possible solutions with family constellations. An introduction.

Succession planning is a leadership challenge

Eventually, in every business and organisation there comes a time when the founder or owner wants to retire or move on to do something different with her or his talents, live time and energy. This can be a very stressful period not only for the retiring person but also for the organisation, the family and other stakeholders such as partners, vendors and of course the customers. Leading through this time of uncertainty is a leadership challenge.

Where to find a successor?

There several ways to consider for finding a successor for the business:

  • Finding a candidate within the organisation
  • Hiring an external candidate
  • Selling the business to an external buyer
  • Selling the business to the team
  • A child takes over the business
  • Another family member takes over.

Every one of the possible approaches comes with its own set of questions, considerations and challenges. And this combination leads often to very different dynamics for the people who are involved and for the company.

Succession Planning Dynamics
Succession Planning with Systemic Insights

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In this webinar you can learn more about

  • Succession Planning as a highly dynamic process.
  • Example Succession Constellation.
  • How to resolve common succession challenges.
  • Considerations for succession planning.

Click on the button below to learn more.

Dealing with uncertainty

A transition and succession is a period of uncertainty. It puts a lot of stress on the individuals and stakeholders who are involved. This is true for

  • the time leading up the point of the transitions
  • the time during the transition
  • and often for a long time after the transition.

In fact, some consequences may not reveal themselves immediately but over a long period of time. And then it is challenging to see all the dynamics which led to a situation with severe problems and entanglement.

The successor candidates may feel uncertain about her own capabilities or if the owner is serious about giving her the assignment and responsibilities?

  • Will the owner be able to let go?
  • The organisation experience anxiety. What about us and our families?
  • An external buyer has other options and is asking whether he is buying a solid and sustainable business?

Each and every stakeholder is impacted and this makes is a challenge. The people who belong to the system and their relationships are complex.

Dealing with a transition and succession on top of the daily business and in face of the passing time can be an additional burden for the company owner.

Common problems during transition phases

Every transition has its own special circumstances and dynamic. The movements during such a transition are not only a matter of the number of people and their roles, but also their own family systems which are tied to them. Therefore, there is a sheer endless set of possible settings and each transition works out differently – or not.

There are several common and obvious problem which occur during a transition:

  • The owner still wants to be involved and can’t let go.
  • There is a name and reputation at stake. This is especially important for family businesses which stand in a long tradition.
  • The social responsibility is a factor which is particularly important to the founder and owner of a business. And even more important in the Small and Medium Enterprise sector.
  • The organisation may not feel comfortable with the new management and may event reject it. This can have severe consequences for both the organisation as well as the new owner or manager.

And there are also hidden dynamics and an undercurrent of issues which can make a transition very difficult for everybody involved. And more often than not the reasons are not obvious.

Possible ways to work through succession planning

Working with system visualisations, which are based on systemic constellations provides a way to surface the relationships, barriers, and entanglements in the system with all its members. During systemic constellations, the participants experience not only their own place and their own set of movements but get access to the hidden dynamics within such a system – and an organisation is usually filled with such hidden dynamics.

As a result, the person which is looking for a solution will gain insights and different perspectives about

  • What to consider in the particular situation?
  • Who belongs to the system?
  • What could be a solution which is in resonance with all the members of the system?
  • What works? What doesn’t work?
  • What is the own place and role before, during and after the transition?

These are essential questions which have to be answered in any transition. Gaining insights early and from different perspectives is vital in order to steer through the challenging times and to enjoy retirement.

In a successful transition the stakeholders are in resonance and free to go forward.

You can find more about this topic on the Constellateur YouTube Channel.

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Podcast Episode: Succession Planning Dynamics


In summary, the transition and succession phase is a period of uncertainty, of additional work and emotional stress and requires a lot of leadership attention, awareness and empathy. Founders, owners and managers should start early and make themselves and others familiar with the particular dynamics of the transition early on during succession planning. Working with family and organisation constellations and system visualisations is a prudent approach which can surface the problems and provide useful hints for a successful transition.

Happy hand-over!

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