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Kantor’s Four Player Model Through the Lens of CDT

2011 February 21

The pioneering family systems therapist David Kantor developed a model of group dynamics that includes what he calls the Four Player Model (Isaacs, 1999).  Kantor suggests that in any social system there are four primary roles that individuals perform: Moving, Following, Opposing and Bystanding.

Movers initiate.  Without them, there is no direction.  Followers support the current move.  Without Followers, there is no completion.  Opposers critique the move.  Without Opposers, there is no correction.  Bystanders are those who take a step back and ask if there is anything else the group should be focusing on.  Without Bystanders, there is no perspective.

Each of us has a natural tendency to fall into some of these roles more than others.  Kantor defines a healthy system as one where any individual is capable of engaging in any of the four roles at any time.  In an unhealthy system, only certain individuals occupy certain roles.  Hence unhealthy systems are more likely to get “stuck”.

What happens if we add the layer of Constructive-Developmental Theory to the Four Player Model?  The grid below explores how each of Kegan’s three adult developmental stages might perform in Kantor’s four roles:

Socialized Mind

Self-Authoring Mind

Self-Transforming Mind

Moving Someone whose meaning-making is dependent on being in relationship with others would most likely shy away from being a Mover.  At-risk for them would be the devastation of others not moving with them. Someone whose decision-making is based on their own internal compass would most likely be comfortable advocating a new direction for a group.  A limitation would be their bias towards directions that suit their own ideology. A person who utilizes a multi-frame perspective should be adept at any of the four moves.  He or she should be able to generate original ideas that would support moving.  Such original thought should also equip them to oppose without feeling threatened by conflict.  They should feel comfortable following when doing so is genuinely of benefit to the group.  Finally, they should make ideal Bystanders because of their ability to regard the group from a variety of perspectives.  Limitations of a 5th Order teammate might be their hesitancy to commit to any one direction because of being subject to the dialectic between points of view.
Following The role of following should be natural for the Socialized Mind.  Such a person might well encourage others to follow, as well. A 4th Order thinker will be skeptical of moves that are against their own ideology.  Bringing them along with the group will depend on giving them the space to arrive at their own decision on their own terms.
Opposing Opposing would most likely be extremely difficult for a 3rd Order thinker.  To do so flies in the face of mutuality.  Furthermore, a 3rd Order thinker might also try to smooth-over any Mover/Opposer conflict within the group. Self-Authored thinking would be ideal for opposing.  Even if they agree with the Mover, they should be able to play Devil’s advocate because their sense of self is not subject to agreement.
Bystanding Similar to opposing, bystanding will most likely be difficult for one whose thinking is embedded in relationships.  To do so would require psychologically stepping outside of the local environment, something that would require them to literally “go out of their mind.” Similar to Opposing, a 4th Order thinker should be well-suited to Bystanding, though biased by their own personal ideology when doing so.

So what does all this mean?  To me it suggests that the best team will have a diversity of developmental levels within it.  A team of all Socialized Minds might be afraid to make any but the most basic moves while a team without any 3rd Order thinkers might be short on Followers.  A team of Self-Authoring Minds might be at risk of never achieving consensus.  A team of Self-Transforming Minds might be stuck Bystanding.

7 Responses Leave One →
  1. February 21, 2011

    Nicely done, Peter. You’ve made an original connection among these frameworks, so far as I know, and done it well.

  2. April 21, 2011

    Nice column Peter. As I keep thinking about my workshop on “Dissent”, both setting the conditions for expression of dissent and encouraging people to speak up (opposing and/or bystanding), I began guessing that there was a connection to these orders of consciousness – and you’ve laid that out here! Still wondering how to promote the development from level 3 to level 4, which I’m thinking may take the form of taking on different perspectives – as in the conflict resolution technique where you invite the parties to trade places, and speak from each other’s perspective. :)

  3. pwp478 permalink
    April 25, 2011

    Thank you, Abby! It’s wonderful when similar thinking collides at the right moment. I had a very interesting conversation with a member of the Public Conversations Project about how much the skill of perspective-taking is central to everything they do. If that’s what successful high-stakes dialogue takes, then, clearly, the developmental lens has something valuable to offer! So much to research; so little time….

  4. July 10, 2012

    Some great insight Peter! Follow my Institute’s Facebook ( or Twitter (@KantorInstitute) if you’re interested in receiving updates on my work

  5. Peter W. Pruyn permalink
    July 23, 2012

    Thank you, David!

    I’ve been very interested to see that this post has consistently been in the top five pages on this blog searched for since I posted it.

  6. alison milne permalink
    January 23, 2013

    Wow I love the linking of these 2 models as Im learning about both at the moment. I can see how too much of level 5 thinking leads nowhere or round in circles.

  7. Peter W. Pruyn permalink
    February 8, 2013

    Hi, Alison. Thank you for your comment.

    I wouldn’t quite go so far as saying that 5th Order thinking always goes in circles. I would guess that most 5th Order thinkers are still able to recognize the role that a deadline plays in decision-making, whether engaging in strategic planning or deciding when to step on the brake when the light changes to red. What I would say is that 5th Order thinkers are likely to be more comfortable with the ambiguity of not deciding until they have to, more than other Orders of Mind might be.

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