The Four Shields Framework relating to individuals and organisational life
The Four Shields (of human nature) framework was adapted and developed by Steven Foster and Meredith Little of The School of Lost Borders, to act as a guide for personal development, or "practical ecotherapy". Foster and Little became experienced guides of wilderness rites of passage, and many whom they have guided have gone on to practice in different fields using this framework as their continuing guide for personal and professional development.
The title refers to the medicine shields of the original peoples of North America. These ceremonial shields were symbolic representations of a person's medicine, or life's purpose. they could as easily be called "the four mirrors", as they reflect back the qualities that a person embodies at any moment. The circle itself represents the whole person, inner and outer, and their relationship with the wider universe beyond.
Ok, maybe it's time to pause here and ask you to suspend your disbelief for a moment. "How can this ancient symbolic shield nonsense possibly be relevant to modern me and my organisation?" you may ask. Well, read on and try not to reach any judgements just yet. Like any schemata, this is simply a conceptual construct. It's designed as a map or a guide; a useful tool. If it sounds more rational, then let's call it a "Four Quadrant Framework of Organisational Behaviours".
The framework depicts a cyclical journey which begins in the south, with the child characteristics, and moves clockwise around the four quadrants, which each have their own qualities. The positive aspects are those associated with a healthy relationship with that quadrant or direction. The negative aspects tend to manifest when a person over-identifies with or becomes stuck in a particular quadrant.
By noticing our own behaviours and feelings we can begin to map where, perhaps, we may be stuck, or conversely, see that we have a healthy flow of energy throughout the cycle.In order to move from a direction we are stuck in, we need to adopt a behaviour which enables us to shift into the next quadrant. The inner circle of text in the diagram describes the way the characteristics of that quadrant tend to manifest in the individual.
In organisational life, we may see these qualities manifest slightly differently, or in ways which relate more specifically to the context of organisation. The outer circle of text describes the ways these qualities may manifest themselves in organisational behaviours or in individuals as a result of the tensions inherent in the relationships between an organisational construct and its members. It allows us to see what might need to be changed in order for an organisation to become more healthy, or to move from positions in which it has become stuck. The framework is not a set of rules, but is designed to be used as an enabling tool to facilitate creative shift.