Explaining Relationship Systems Intelligence

collective intelligence is a living network of connection

What is Relationship Systems Intelligence?

Before you can coach or lead a system, you must first be aware of the system itself and your relationship to it. This ability, which we call Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI™), underpins all that we do at CRR Global.

RSI is the result of years of research and exploration by CRR Global co-founders Marita Fridjhon and Faith Fuller. In the same way that Emotional Intelligence helps people understand and influence their feelings, and Social Intelligence helps to connect with others, RSI allows us to interact with systems as a whole.

To thrive in the midst of rapid change, evolving technology and global influences, we need to draw on the strengths of everyone in a system. Leaders are in search of innovative ways to engage and motivate their teams. Organizations need strong relationship skills, including systems thinking and creative collaboration. Diversity, collaboration and innovation are not only advantages, but survival skills that help teams to stay competitive.

In developing this form of intelligence, we become aware, accountable and intentional in our relationship with systems.

What is a relationship system?

rsi draws on strengths of the whole team

Imagine a relationship system as a network of connection, a dynamic intelligence that we call the Third Entity. It has its own wisdom and knowledge, which we can tap into when coaching a system.

“Is there something tangible and physical there that can be objectively measured as the Third Entity? No, there isn’t. But there are many invisible things that we hold as real …. [In mathematics] the square root of negative one is an impossible construct used to bring new knowledge and a fresh perspective …. In the same way, the Third Entity perspective brings fresh information to relationship issues. We cannot lay our hands on a Third Entity, but we can and do learn to see it, hear it and sense it.”

– Faith Fuller | Relationship Matters


Relationship Systems Intelligence is an awareness of and ability to work with this network of relationship as a living system.

Insights into using Relationship Systems Intelligence

1 – As a systems inspired worker, you are both inside and outside of the system.

Your experience is both personal and belongs to the system. You are part of the system and observing it at the same time. RSI cultivates the ability to step back and take a bird’s-eye view.

“Traditional systems thinking views a team, organization or family as a unit to be observed, and even diagnosed, from the outside. Systemic thinking emphasizes the relational aspects and dynamics taking place within the system. RSI creates a bridge by adding the awareness of of ‘inside out and outside in’ …. to take a step back and view the system from the outside.”

– Marita Fridjhon and Dr. Anne Rød | Creating Intelligent Teams

2 – RSI involves seeing, hearing and sensing the system.

If you’ve ever walked into a room and been instantly aware that the people in it just had a fight, you have already tapped into this aspect of RSI! We use many channels to communicate with each other. Even when the conversation is polite, at a gut level we have a different sense of what is going on. As we develop Relationship Systems Intelligence, we become consciously aware of these channels and the information they provide.

3 – Your experience, and that of others, are expressions of the larger system.

Systems inspired coaches and leaders are not threatened by different points of view. Instead we value various voices. While we do not have to act what every voice says, hearing them provides information about what’s happening and what a system wants to do.

RSI focuses on understanding the complex dynamics, communication styles, and conflicts within a group. The information we receive helps the system to move forward with intention.

4 – Systems are interconnected.

Not only do systems overlap, multiple systems can exist within a large system. Think of management, accounting and sales departments within a company. A global organization might have those same departments nested within systems for individual countries. While it is not possible to coach the entire system, working with these smaller systems provides information and will influence the larger whole.

We are always working with nested systems, including the systems within ourselves. When you have a conversation with a particular colleague, which member of your internal system tends to show up?

5 – The role of a systems inspired coach is not to direct, but to reveal the system to itself.

Once made aware of what is happening, systems are intelligent, creative and often know what needs to happen next. As coaches, we influence rather than manage. Although you will collaborate with systems to establish a coaching agenda, the system will ultimately lead the way.

In a Relationship Matters podcast, Marita Fridjhon emphasized that as a coach, you may not be able to work with every system.

“I need to be really clear with my own self on my own level of evolution. I must be willing to meet where they are as a system …. It’s not a good thing for either of us to have the coach impose the agenda.”
– Marita Fridjhon | Five Principles of RSI podcast episode

Five Principles of RSI

After more than 20 years of working with teams and systems, we know that five principles predict how every system will behave. We call them principles because they are like laws of nature, and hold true for every system.

  • Each relationship system has its own unique identity or personality. Sports teams, musical groups and bands are vivid examples.
  • Every member of the relationship system (team or partnership) is a voice of the system. Systems inspired coaching uses tools to hear all voices and opinions, inviting the most extensive creativity in developing strategies.
  • Relationship systems are naturally intelligent, generative and creative. When what is trying to happen seems disruptive, ask the question – what is trying to emerge? What is this system trying to reveal? Lift the gaze to the larger whole.
  • Relationship systems rely on roles to organize and carry out functions. All roles – including leadership – belong to the system, not to individuals within the system. Empower team members to share the load and lean into the system for solutions, rather than feeling pressured to have all of the answers.
  • Relationship systems are in a constant state of emergence. Change is constant, so create from it rather than reacting to it.
Venn diagram of five principles of Relationship Systems Intelligence

As coaches, we choose tools and skills to work with a particular issue. The principles will always hold sway over the way that the system responds.

Faith Fuller gives this comparison: working with the five principles in systems coaching is similar to being aware of the whole species while studying individual lions.

“If we’re studying lions, first, we must learn about them. How do they look, smell, sound and behave? Each individual lion is unique, but each is also part of the Third Entity of the collective lion species. All lions have some common qualities. It is useful to know how they function so we can predict their behaviour when we face some on the trail!”

– Faith Fuller | Relationship Matters

RSI incorporates ideas from multiple thought leaders, and is an extension of Daniel Goleman’s ideas of emotional and social intelligence. In his 2006 book on social intelligence, Goleman suggests that we are “designed for sociability, constantly engaged in a “neural ballet” that connects us brain to brain with those around us. Our reactions to others, and theirs to us, have a far-reaching biological impact, sending out cascades of hormones that regulate everything from our hearts to our immune systems, making good relationships act like vitamins–and bad relationships like poisons.”

This white paper on RSI explains more about the development and thought leadership behind the model.

“The system moves, pushes, restricts conditions, encourages, suggests, seduces and commands: it seems to have a will and voice of its own.”

– Esa Saarinen

Using RSI, we can intentionally work with any size of system.

Relationship Systems Intelligence recognizes the dynamic and intelligent nature of systems. Many students of our signature ORSC program say that these concepts feel instantly recognizable. Systems inspired coaching is an elegant framework with over 45 tools and skills that foster collaboration, adaptability, and collective problem-solving. The skillset is neutral and expands to fit systems of any size – teams and large organizations, couples or partnerships, and even the system within yourself.

Want to tap into the collective wisdom of a system? If you’re ready to begin your ORSC journey, please connect with your partner country to learn more.

The research behind RSI

CRR Global’s co-founders drew on a wealth of thought leadership in developing this concept.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is all about understanding and managing your own emotions, as well as responding to the emotions of others. Once you become aware of how emotions are affecting you, you can consciously choose how to work with them.

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Social Intelligence

Those with social intelligence are able to understand and navigate social situations. They are aware of social cues and norms, and interact comfortably with others. Empathy, communication, and cooperation are skills that help to build and maintain relationships.

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Systems Theory

Peter Senge introduced the idea of systems thinking, which helps us to understand our role within a larger puzzle. By recognizing the interconnectedness of life, people become more aware and accountable for their actions.

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Collective Intelligence

Research by Malone and Woolley highlights the importance of social sensitivity in teams. Listening to all voices and fostering collective problem-solving helps teams to perform better.

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Process Work

Amy and Arnold Mindell considered how paying attention to the emotional signals we send within relationship systems can help us to expand collective intelligence. Deep Democracy also considers all perspectives within a group or organization, including those that may traditionally have been overlooked. By embracing diverse viewpoints and addressing underlying dynamics, systems become more creative and effective.

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Systems Intelligence

Saarinen emphasizes the potential of interactive human systems, where people contribute collectively to shape the system’s future and opportunities.

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Positivity Research

Losada and Heaphy found that factors like shared responsibility and a focus on the whole team, rather than individual interests, contribute to positivity in teams and improve overall performance.

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Agazarian’s Theory of Living Human Systems

Agazarian’s work explores how to adapt roles within a system to achieve the system’s goals, emphasizing flexibility and adaptability

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Explore the Systems Inspired Library

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