While studying psychology, I also worked as a therapist in an orphanage. I enjoyed it, but I still couldn’t shake the impression that therapeutic interviews with children lead nowhere. Whenever I worked with a child client, they seemed to move forward and improve during the hour-long session, no matter what problem they were dealing with. Only the next week, we were starting from scratch again. And this repeated week after week. I consulted with my supervisor about the whole situation, but we couldn’t find any way out. But then, one day, quite by chance, the solution presented itself.

At that time, the teachers planned to rehearse a play based on the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel with the children and cast the individual roles. I happened to be present when they chose the specific characters for the play. And I was surprised how much the children agreed on which character would be played by whom. I remembered that we had discussed the technique of social relationship mapping through role-casting at the university, and I tried it out with the children. I went around to a whole group of about thirty older kids and had them cast individual characters from another well-known fairy tale.

Thanks to this technique, I discovered two socially significant figures; today, we call them influencers. The first influential figure was a boy of about 12 years old. I was not surprised that the children chose him to play the role of the evil imp. However, the second, a positive influencer, was an unassuming younger girl who I didn’t think would have any influence on the rest of the group. I started to work intensively with the girl. We met twice a week, and I taught her how to accept her role and handle it.

Of course, I continued to meet other children, but with less frequency than before. Conversely, I now spoke much less to the troubled boy to whom I had previously paid a lot of attention. You can probably guess what caused this. I’ve succeeded in triggering a systemic change. All the kids began to get better, and the whole relationship dynamic improved. The kids started to be more friendly and respectful of each other.

Application of the technique in the employee world

And how does this relate to the employee world? Last year, I was heavily involved in the employee experience and moved around mainly in IT companies. Well, every “IT guy” knows the stories of Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, which are full of prototypical characters. Suppose you use the role-casting technique in the IT world and validate your conclusions with in-depth interviews. In that case, you will quickly figure out who to work with within a dysfunctional team or a troubled department to get the group dynamic going. Every work team is a relational system, and one should approach it accordingly.

If you develop every team member, it tends to be costly. And, it often does not lead to the same results as if you focus your intervention on a few carefully selected individuals.