In several contexts lately it has become clear that many of us have drifted into confusing circle meetings with the work of the circle, and even circle meetings as the substance of sociocracy. Evidence of this is that we discuss process and enforcing process without discussing the quality of our decisions and their application in our work.
Training in sociocracy often focuses on circle meetings because (1) they are unique to sociocracy and (2) sociocracy is presented in groups with diverse occupations making discussions of operations difficult. In mixed groups, it is more difficult to use work-specific examples that everyone in the room understands. Thus the focus drifts to process instead of the accomplishment of the circle’s aim.
Circle Meetings Are Not the Aim
Sociocracy is an elegant method of organizing work, not meetings. There are many, many methods for organizing excellent meetings. All can be used in circle meetings if they allow consent decision-making. The aim of a circle meeting is not following a process; it is what you do when you walk out the door. The meeting process is designed to facilitate making policy decisions. The aim of policy decisions is accomplishing the aim of the circle.
A good policy decision will enable the circle to accomplish its aim more effectively, more energetically, and more harmoniously.
Circle Meetings Are About Operations
Meetings are work because the circle is making decisions and decisions are hard, but the focus of a circle meeting is what happens outside the meeting. Its focus is operations. When you make that shift in thinking, it is easier to avoid excessive attention to process. If the circle has consented to an incomplete or unworkable policy decision, it needs to be revisited whether the proper process was followed or not. Arguing process does nothing to correct an ill-advised policy decision.
The aim of the circle meeting is to make the best decision that can be made under the circumstances, that will allow its work to move forward. Moving forward is important because the circle tests its policy decisions with action. Action brings feedback. Feedback informs correction and enables continuous improvement.
Organizing and executing operations are the aim of sociocracy.
Are Your Meetings Substance or Style?
Process is only important when it helps the circle make better decisions more effectively. If the circle is making decisions based on experience, information, and measurements—on feedback rather than SWAG or preferences—it will be easier to determine whether its meetings are focused on substance or style.
For non-native English speakers, SWAG stands for Stupid Wild-Ass Guesses,
which are common and not always ineffective in decision-making.
Sometimes a SWAG is a good place to start.