In any system there are actually multiple systems within systems (what some theorists call ‘nested systems’). Circles of hierarchy describes the way that different Centre Edge systems are nested inside one another.
Taking the body as an example we could say that the central principle of my body is ‘to stay alive’, or ‘be healthy’, or something like that. The body as a whole system works according to the principles so far described, with boundaries, gates and guardians etc. Within my body are multiple smaller systems, for example my respiratory system, my immune system, my nervous system, all working along similar principles. Each of these also has their own central principles, boundaries and so on. Also, different organs of the body can be considered in the same way, my heart and my lungs etc. The same basic pattern of structures and relationships continues all the way down to the cellular level (NB – I am no biologist, and a biologist friend of mine has contested whether cells work in quite the same way, but that is for further exploration!)
The main point is that within any system operating according to the nine Centre Edge principles we will find multiple smaller sub-systems each working according to the same principles.
Circles of hierarchy in organisations:
This is particularly clear and also useful when we think of organisations. If we take a large multinational corporation, say Unilever, you can identify the company itself, and then within it you have divisions, regions and sub organisations. Each of these exists in relationship to the central principle of the whole of Unilever. Each will also have its own central principles, boundaries, gates, guardians and energy flows. Within each division we will have different departments – say marketing, sales, operations etc. Once again each of these departments operates according to the same principles – having to both function around its own unique central principle, while simultaneously staying in healthy relationship to the wider systems of which it is a part.
Many organisational issues such as how different teams and departments align or communicate, or struggle for influence and power can be clarified in terms of their alignment to each other and to the central principles of the overarching systems they live within. Many issues around conflict, communication, co-operation between teams (and also within them) can be usefully illuminated by exploring relationships between centre and boundary of different systems and sub systems.
Circles of hierarchy and our inner development:
Exactly the same patterns apply to our inner development and exploring aspects of our own personalities. So for example within my sense of identity as ‘Me’, I have my paranoid ‘side’, and my angry ‘side’ and many other aspects and energies that appear within the whole system that I call my ‘self’. Each of these ‘sub personalities’ can be seen as working according to the same underlying principles. I can reflect on ‘which of these is close to the centre of my identity structure?’ Which gets to take centre stage and under what conditions? Alternatively, which aspects of myself do I tend to marginalise (i.e. place at or near the boundary)? We might have ideas about parts of ourself that are closer to our centre (e.g. ‘I am usually very patient and kind’, but if we are honest, or check with our nearest and dearest they might suggest that other quite different ideas or aspects of ourselves are actually influencing the centre very strongly! Circles of hierarchy principle encourages us to be curious and playful in opening to all our different facets and seeing that none of them is ever quite the whole story of who and what I truly am.