Skip to content

The Satir Model

The Satir model comes from family systems therapy.  It’s a model that describes how the people in families interact with one another in ways that applies pressure to change to each other.  It can be particularly useful when trying to change teams in ways that allow them to be more effective together.

The Disruption

The model starts with a soon to be disrupted status quo.  Into this relative stability, a foreign element is introduced – like a coach or counselor.  That foreign element begins to destabilize the system, and the system fights back, trying to maintain its original trajectory before plunging into chaos.

The foreign element has disrupted things in ways that prevent a return to the old normal.  An effort was made by the system to reject the foreign element, and it failed – so the system is in chaos.

Constructive Chaos

Chaos is similar to William Bridge’s neutral zone part of managing transitions.  In this state, the old has been abandoned, but the new hasn’t yet formed.  It’s a painful part of the process, and it’s the low point at which many change attempts fail.  The pain of the chaos is too much, and as a result, the system does finally reject the foreign element and return to the previous status quo.

This spot is similar to depression in Kübler-Ross’ model.

Transition Out

The transition out of chaos in the Satir model comes from a transforming – or organizing – idea.  This idea is the catalyst to initiate the integration of the system into a new way of working.  While the new integration and performance is not instantaneous, it does provide the path for growth.  Once the period of heavy integration occurs, a new status quo emerges, and a new steady state exists until the next foreign element is introduced.

Agile Works

At some level, the Satir model is different in that it doesn’t presuppose that the new state is known at the beginning of the process.  Instead, it simply proposes that you introduce a change and see how the system responds to it.  In an ideal world, the change moves the system into a new, higher state of productivity and stability – however, that isn’t always the case.  That makes the model useful when you know you must change but are unable to articulate a clear end vision of what it should all be like.


As with other models that come from psychology and social sciences, the model is criticized for lack of research and for the application of the model outside the original family systems it was designed for.  While both criticisms are valid, most people recognize that at least at the level of small teams, we often find ourselves in the same kinds of dysfunctional patterns that we find in our own family relationships.

Additionally, the introduction of the foreign element is a bit dubious.  In Satir’s world, it was the introduction of the therapist or counselor.  In the context of an organizational change, the foreign element can be a change of attitudes, an environmental change, or really anything which destabilizes the system and forces it to change.