Family systems thinking views the family as an emotional unit. When applied to families, systems thinking—evaluating the parts of a system in relation to the whole—suggests that an individual’s behavior is inseparable from the functioning of his or her family of origin.

The Development of Family Systems Thinking

Family systems thinking is based on Murray Bowen’s family systems theory, which holds that individuals are inseparable from their network of relationships.

Bowen’s theory suggests addressing the structure and behavior of the broader family relationship system impacts the character of the individual. Bowen also claimed that the change in behavior of one family member would necessarily influence the way that the family functions over time.

Family Systems Approaches

Family systems approaches generally fall under the categories of structural, strategic, and intergenerational:

  • Structural family approach looks at family relationships, behaviors, and patterns in order to evaluate the structure of the family. Also examined are the subsystems within the family structure, such as parental or sibling subsystems. 
  • Strategic family approach examines family processes and functions, such as communication or problem-solving patterns, by evaluating family behavior in real life situations. Some techniques used may include reframing or redefining a problem scenario or using paradoxical interventions—those that suggest the family take action that appears to be in opposition to their goals in order to create the desired change. Family systems consultants believe that change can occur rapidly, without intensive analysis of the source of the problem. 
  • Intergenerational family approach acknowledges that there is a generational influence on family and individual behavior. Identifying multigenerational behavioral patterns, such as managing anxiety, can help people see that their current problems may be rooted in previous generations. 




Dr. Ian MacNaughton, Family Enterprise Advisor




Dr. Ian is the principal of TransitionPoint Coaching, a consulting company that works with business owners and their families. Recognized as one of Canada’s most qualified and trusted business family coaches, Ian has more than 35 years of experience as a family systems consultant and as a change management and organizational consultant.


Dr. Ian advises a number of family businesses and maintains a practice as an executive coach for leadership development. Dr. Ian is also the former owner and CEO of a second-generation family enterprise. Dr. Ian is Family Enterprise Advisor to Lugen Family Office’s clients.


Dr. Ian has an MBA and a PhD in human sciences. In addition to being a certified Family Enterprise Advisor, he has multiple certifications in Family Firm Advising and is a registered clinical counsellor. He is a long-time volunteer with PACE Children and Family Centre in Vancouver, an early intervention and education centre for preschool-aged children and their families.

Dr. Ian can help your family:

  • Resolve conflicts and use disagreements constructively
  • Plan effectively to create a multi- generational business
  • Bring your family values and vision into the business
  • Successfully negotiate family and business challenges
  • Develop family councils and other decision-making processes
  • Facilitate family meetings
  • Communicate constructively on a consistent basis
  • Reach peak performance through neuro-Optimal training

To Learn More About Family Systems Consulting, Contact Us Now