Category Archives: Leadership and Self-Organization

Sociocratic principles and practices are based on each individual developing leadership skills and sharing the responsibilities of power and decision-making  that democracy lacks. What is leadership? How do we all become leaders? How do we support leaders? How does leadership depend on  followership?

Policy Decisions

In order to ensure equality and freedom, the core democratic values, sociocracy requires that policy decisions be made with the consent of those delegated to implement them. Policy decisions are confusing to many people because as citizens and employees, we are rarely asked to make them. Policy decisions are those that determine how we will act in the future. How will we do this? What will guide our actions?

A policy decision tells us how to make choices in order to act in alignment with our purposes and goals.

Policy Decisions Guide Operations Decisions

While many of us make decisions moment-to-moment according to choice or unacknowledged purposes, the most effective think carefully about their long term goals. They define our purposes. These might include a desire to live more an environmentally responsible life, to create our own company, to raise children who are socially and environmentally responsible, to provide emergency services to war-torn countries. These are policy decisions. They state our purposes.

Policy decisions then guide our daily, moment-to-moment decisions. Does this action contribute to achieving our purpose? Does it align with my values? Does this contribute to my goals? These are operations decisions How we “operate”? How we act must align with our purposes if we are to achieve them.

Each policy reviewed regularly and changed when based on experience or changing conditions there is reason to modify it. Like budgets, they are not “forever” decisions.

Consent Is Required for Policy Decisions

Policy decisions are made with the consent of the people who will put the policy into operation. Requiring consent ensures equal consideration of every member of the group. Each member’s objections to a policy must be resolved before the policy can be adopted.

In sociocracy, you are guaranteed of your ability to collaboratively determine your living and working conditions whether you are a citizen, an employee, a member, a neighbor, or a student.

Consent is defined as “no objections.” Giving consent does not require unanimity, agreement, or endorsement. It means one has no objections to moving forward as proposed and a commitment to act in accordance with the policy. There may still be concerns or other preferred options, but these can be tested based on information obtained from implementing the policy. The objective is to move forward with the best action available at the moment.

Objections must be based on reasons why a policy will affect one’s ability to implement the decision: A proposal that makes our work more difficult  and will decrease our effectiveness. A decision to adopt an action that conflicts with the group’s purpose. An objection must address the purpose of the group and our own ability to work toward it.

Consent is required within the group putting the policy into effect. Not everyone must consent to all decisions.

Policy Decisions Are Distributed

Since policy decisions are made by those who must implement them, they are distributed to all parts or levels of an organization.  In organizations governed by an autocratic hierarchy, policy decisions are made by the board and top management. The top leadership makes the decisions about how the loading dock operates even if they have never been on the loading dock, much less worked there.

In addition to the loading dock workers understanding their work better, they will understand their policies better if they set them and will be able to adjust them as necessary. There is no waiting for the general manager to get around to addressing the problem.

Self-Organization

Policy decisions include financial, physical, and human resources decisions. Where will money be spent?  Which roles and responsibilities do we need filled? What is our daily schedule or deadlines? Or what social activities will be planned?  Who will fill roles? What are our standards of quality?

The right to make policy decisions is necessary for a group to self-organize, to self-manage.

Followers Make Movements

How to start a movement?

A fabulous 3-minute video by Derek Sivers on how to start a movement.

The first follower is an underestimated form of leadership in itself… The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.

The leader has to have the courage to stand alone, and then make it easy to be followed, to share openly. The leader must support the first followers as equals, not as subordinates.

Followers Make Movements

New followers emulate the followers, not the leader…. Nurture the followers because that values the movement, not the leader.

The lone nut becomes a leader because there are followers.  The followers of the followers create the movement. Leadership, in this context, is over-rated.

A movement has to be open to attract followers.

About Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers on TED
Derek Sivers on TED

Derek Sivers was a professional musician when he started selling his own CDs on his website in 1998. Friends asked if he could sell theirs, too, and he founded CD Baby. It became the largest seller of independent music on the web, with over $100M in sales for over 150,000 musician clients. In 2008, Sivers placed his company in a foundation and now lives on 5% of the sales from the company. A minimalist, Sivers thrives on having less.

Sivers also started MuckWork, where teams of efficient assistants help musicians do their “uncreative dirty work.”

Elizabeth Warren on the Social Contract

Elizabeth Warren, American Harvard Law School professor and United States Senator from Massachusetts
Elizabeth Warren, American Harvard Law School professor and United States Senator from Massachusetts

There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. … You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Elizabeth Warren

Quoted in  Elizabeth Warren Meets the Ted Kennedy Myth by Tom KeanePolitico, 29 March 2015

Cohousing Meal Programs and Leadership

Some successful cohousing meal programs require participation by either cooking, preparing, or cleaning once every few weeks. (No one is required to eat.) But other communities that require participation in meal support still have meals infrequently.

A successful program averages 3-4 meals a week and their success is often attributed to  organization and leadership. This statement is typical of those programs:

We have a “meals boss” role, the Scheduler. Meals usually a major reason for joining cohousing. A major difference between our community and others is the Scheduler role. We have people who don’t want to ask other people to be on a meal team, and we have people who are afraid they won’t be asked to be on a team. The scheduler assigns people to meal teams, relieving the pressure of asking others and the risk of rejection.

The meals Scheduler takes everyone’s schedule, preferences, and roles they like  (cook, assistant, clean-up), and creates the schedule for the next two months. The Scheduler has a “community scheduling time” when anyone interested can come and help with this task. If we drop the centralized planning we will lose at least one meal a week, maybe two.

It is a strategy I think a community could use to jump-start their program, and then talk about how to reduce the centralization after a year or more of successful meals. Since we have quite slowly added new households it is quite clear that our successful meals program is what has helped get more people involved in it.

From the experience of other communities, without leadership, it is probably the reason some decline and others are feeble or never got started. Especially in larger communities where members have little or no experience producing group meals for 25-30 people.

Planning, Leading, and Doing

One of the key sociocratic methods speaks to the advantages of having leaders, in this case a Scheduler or Meals Boss. Sociocracy would create a program in two parts and would never expect anything without leadership, even when one person is doing it alone.

A. POLICY & PLANNING is done with equality and collaboration. Everyone—the membership, the board, a team—sits in a circle (figuratively speaking) with equal authority and respect to decide what they want/need, what it will require, how they will pay for it, and who will do what. They decide who will lead.

This process would usually include:

  1. scheduling an initial ideas-generating meeting,
  2. assigning the writing (or rewriting) of a proposal for a policy or plan by a person or team, done outside the meeting,
  3. holding another meeting to discuss, amend, and adopt the proposal by consensus, and
  4. electing a Leader.

Steps 2 and 3 would be repeated as necessary until a proposal is accepted.

B. OPERATIONS. Implementing the policy and plans. This is usually done fairly autocratically by a leader and people with clear roles. Effective and productive execution needs a leader who can say, “The buck stops here,” a person who is has the authority to make decisions. A person who reports back on whether something works or not.

Leadership might be a shared responsibility between two people but that is sometimes confusing for other people to sort out and it makes communications more difficult. Too many cooks spoil the soup.

Not choosing a leader is often a failure on the part of the membership, board, or team to accept responsibility for making a decision and/or develop and support leaders once chosen.

The operations leader, the doing leader, makes decisions and acts within approved policies and plans. The leader is in charge because everyone decided they were the best available person for the job. Grousing about the Leader will get you nowhere and action will be hit and miss. Supporting the leader is essential or effectiveness. Otherwise productivity will decline.

If a decision comes up that hasn’t been answered by the circle, the leader makes that decision on the spot and “argues about it later.” A special meeting can be called to address the decision or it can wait until the next scheduled meeting. But life can go on because the leader has the authority to make decisions in the moment.

If you think you don’t need policies and leaders, read “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” by Jo Freeman.

(I realize I’ve posted the “Tyranny of Structurelessness” before but it truly is a wonderful analysis of what “really” happens in leaderless groups — it becomes personality driven or ineffective.)

If you do implement a leadership program in a meals program in cohousing or other community, please let me know how it goes.

Encouraging Self-Organization

Logo for Interaction Institute for Social ChangeIn a workshop I conducted last Sunday, one of the participants asked, “How do you encourage self-organization?” By some miracle, probably related to my being on every mailing list on anything related to sociocracy and governance, I received in my mailbox a link to an article on the  Interaction Institute for Social Change. You guessed it on  Tips for Encouraging Self-Organization by Curtis Ogden.

After some editing and additions, here are some ideas:

Encouraging Self Organization in the Environment

  • Create spaces where people from different social and work groups encounter each other in the course of the day.
  • Create open space and unscheduled time at home and the office.

In Meetings and Conversations

  • Expect engagement with decisions by asking open-ended questions.
  • Encourage people in finding their own answers
  • Ask “What should we do next?” and “What haven’t we done?” to encourage curiosity and questioning.
  • Reward innovation and risk-taking. Encourage making corrections and trying again.
  • Emphasize that we learn from mistakes. No mistakes, no  risk, no innovation.
  • Encourage people to focus on their strengths and collaborate with others who have different strengths.
  • Actively share information. Practice transparency.
  • Demonstrate self-organization in your own actions.

Most people are not encouraged to self-organize as children or adults. Most workplaces find self-organization disruptive. It’s hard to break the training of waiting for directions and not working outside them.  Changing takes both expectation, insistence, and support. Support alone won’t do it.

Outside Experts on the Board of Directors

Image from the Getty Museum of a Council of war from the 19th century.Residential communities customarily do not have board of directors members from outside the organization. Corporations normally do, but they may not be chosen by their ability to balance expertise. Non-profit organizations and independent schools often choose board members based on their ability to raise money or influence government or foundation decision-makers.

Balanced Expertise

Balanced expertise on the board of directors steers the organization from multiple perspectives. Balance can be achieved with experts on larger community issues, on financial and  legal requirements, and areas specifically related to the mission and aim of the organization. An independent school would have an expert in education, perhaps fundraising, perhaps child development, etc. A soup kitchen will benefit from experts in food service and preparation, nutrition, perhaps motivation, perhaps efficiency in service.

From Outside

Outside expert directors can bring advice and judgements that are not influenced by possible internal biases. And they contribute new information. They cross-pollinate with ideas and cautions learned from other organizations. Condo leaders to other condo leaders. An outside expert in housing would bring information from government agencies, architects, financial institutions, etc. They may be better able to identify possible risks to the organization.

Diversity of experience is as important as technical expertise. Outside experts also relax the organization. They can confirm that the organization is following best practices and any problems are, or are not, being experienced by other organizations,

On the Board

The importance of having experts on the board of directors is the synergy created by discussion. Most organizations have a lawyer on retainer, an accountant, an insurance broker, a banker, etc. When they are on the board, however, they respond to questions and issues together, not in isolation. The legal expert comments on the advice of the food service expert. Concerns by one expert about the effect of a decision on another expert’s area can be answered in the moment. The advice of one raises concerns for another that can be discussed and resolved. The concerns of one can be resolved by a solution from another.

Even though it may seem costly and time consuming in the end it saves time. Normally a board of Directors meets 3-4 times a year for 1-2 hours. For non-profit organizations, there may be no charge for this time. In businesses, these experts are often on retainers already. In the end the time saved by not having individual meetings or telephone calls. Saved time from having to repeat conversations or making costly mistakes pay for themselves. The increased value of having more informed advice is invaluable.

With Decision-Making Authority

It is important that boards are not advisory. Decision-making authority creates accountability. Decision-makers take decisions more seriously than advisors. Some fear that decision-making power will create a board-dominated organization. That the attempt to create a more democratic organization will be undermined by “outsiders” who impose negative opinions.

However, in a sociocratic system, boards make decisions within their specific domain. The domain of the board is long-term strategic planning, financial sustainability, assessing risk, and connections to the larger environment—its market or industry. The board can be asked to make a decision when another domain is unable to resolve it. Otherwise, the board should not micro-manage or make autocratic decisions except in emergencies.

As Part of a Whole System

An organization is a system with each part having a responsibility that is essential to the whole. The whole controls its parts. The board of directors is one part of a whole system, not the controller. The board has a different responsibility than the marketing department or the kitchen or the front desk but not more power.

Outside members on the Board of Directors strengthen the organization.

(In sociocracy, what most jurisdictions call a “Board of Directors” is called a “Top Circle” to emphasize that it functions according to the rules for a circle, not the traditional rules of a Board of Directors. When a Board with the traditional rights is required by law, it is formed within the Top Circle.)

Meetings Are Not the Work

We need to remind ourselves that meetings are not the work. Much work is done in meetings and they can be exhausting, but the focus of a meeting is action. Determining effective actions. Defining desired actions. Evaluating failed actions. Or bemoaning lack of action.

Possible Sources of Confusion

In several contexts lately it has become clear that many of us have drifted into confusing meetings with the work, and even as the substance of organizational theories, like sociocracy. One example of this is that we discuss the process of making decisions without measuring the process against the effectiveness of the decision made using it. How did those decision help or hinder us in doing our work and accomplishing our goals?

The focus of a meeting in one way or another is how can we accomplish our aims better? Even when we are discussing feelings, those feelings are important because they affect our ability to do our work, to fulfill our individual roles or responsibilities.

Meetings in Sociocracy and Elsewhere

Training in sociocracy often focuses on the process of circle meetings and making policy decisions: how to conduct a meeting, how to write a proposal, and how to achieve consent. This is necessary because (1) circle meetings are unique to sociocracy, (2) many members may be new to making policy decisions, and (3) sociocracy is a method of organizing work but is often presented in groups of people who do not work together.

In mixed groups, using work-specific examples that everyone understands is difficult. Thus the focus drifts to process instead of the accomplishment of a purpose.

Decisions Are Not about Meetings

The aim of a meeting is not faultless execution of a process. It is what you do when you walk out the door.

There are many, many methods for organizing excellent meetings. They can usually be easily modified for consent decision-making or for any other decision-making method the group has agreed to use. There is nothing special about any of them as long as the group understands them and they help the group make good decisions.

The measure of a good decision is that everyone can support and execute it. The process could be considered entirely chaotic by a professional meeting facilitator or trainer. The important thing is that the work can still be done effectively.

Meetings Are About Operations

Meetings are work because making decisions is often hard. Those decisions are about what happens outside the meeting. They are not an end in and of themselves.  When you make that shift in thinking, it is easier to avoid excessive attention to process. An incomplete or unworkable decision will need to be revisited whether the proper process was followed or not.

Meetings are only means to an end. Meeting generally decrease in a well performing organization while action will increase and become more effective.

Are Your Meetings Substance or Style?

If a meeting is organized around evaluating experience, information, and measurements related to past and future actions—on feedback rather than SWAG or preferences—it will likely be  focused on substance, not style.

 

For non-native English speakers, SWAG stands for “Stupid Wild-Ass Guesses.” They

 are common in decision-making and actually not always bad. Sometimes a SWAG is a good place to start.

 

The Definitive List of Culture Hacking Books

Image of BooksAt FreeStandingAgility.com, Daniel Mezick has compiled an intriguing list of books that discuss various approaches to changing cultures. All organizations develop a culture, a common language and ways of doing things. They communicate in specific ways, share common behavioral expectations, and value similar values. These are not always positive or even productive. Even when they stand in the way of effectiveness and harmony, they persist. Culture hacking is changing that culture from within the organization.

These books provide an understanding of cultures and describe tools and techniques for instigating change in formal and  informal organizations. Underlying culture hacking is an understanding of effective culture design. I’ve read some of them but  this is a new field for me and I look forward to working my way through them. If  you are also interested in understanding organization cultures, I recommend this list and invite comments. It also includes, we are happy to say, We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy by John Buck and Sharon Villines.

New titles are added to the list as they emerge. A plan is afoot to also provide information in the form or ratings, rankings and reviews.

The Definitive List of CultureHacking Books

About Daniel Mezick

Dan Mezick is a coach and adviser to executives, project sponsors, managers and teams using Agile and Scrum. His consulting firm, New Technology Solutions, Inc. provides Agile training, coaching, and consulting to companies that include The Hartford Insurance companies, Siemens Corporation, Sikorsky Aircraft. He writes on Agile and Scrum for the Agile Journal, the Scrum Alliance, InfoQ. He also led the Manifesting Agility Stage of the Agile2009 conference and is the founder of Agile Boston, a regional Agile community and one of the largest Agile user groups in the USA.

His also the author of The Culture Game: Tools for the Agile Manager for those who hire people and convene meeting. “Tribal Leadership is a kind of operating system, The Culture Game is a kind of application that runs on it. This book is the first to define #culturehacking, the first to build upon the work of Tribal Leadership, and the first to state in print that #Agile builds a Senge-style learning organization.”

Organizational Structure and Equality

Today I completed a post on organizational structure that I began writing in 2010 on “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” an article by Jo Freeman published in various versions from 1971-1973. She discussed the problems with the women’s movement in the late 1960s and 70s that began to believe that structurelessness in and of itself was an organizational ideal that would solve the problems of autocratic rule and the exclusion of women and minorities. She defines four principles on which an informally structured group can function well and further defines the practices that would allow organizations to be democratically organized and still be effective.

Freeman was writing at the same time that Endenburg was formulating his sociocratic circle-organization method and addressing the same problems from a different direction. The women’s conscious raising groups had developed strong bonds and personal commitment but had difficulty transferring this to effective social action. Endenburg had a structure and an organization but he wanted more commitment in order to have a more effective and harmonious organization. It was informative to apply a sociocratic analysis to the women’s movement and to compare Freeman’s principles for a democratic organization to Endenburg’s for a sociocratic organization.

The full post is here: The Tyranny of Structurelessness It’s long but I hope worth the effort.

Objections: Paramount, Principled, or Otherwise

In decision-making, one consents or one objects. Consent is defined as no objections. To object means no consent It’s very simple.

Consent has no modifiers so why should objections? No one asks for paramount or principled consent.

What would paramount consent be? Would we ask, “Are you consenting because this proposed action is the most important thing in the world right now?”

Do we examine the basis on which people are consenting? No, we don’t. But if someone objects and continues to object, we want to create qualifications for objections and tell them they can only object based on these qualifications. Objections get in our way so we try to blunt them. Consent doesn’t so we want to avoid looking at it too closely.

In terms of adopting a proposal, of making a decision, neither consent nor objections can be qualified. But they must be argued.

A proposal usually contains arguments in favor of an action and we assume that those consenting to it are consenting on the basis of those arguments. Many objections have usually been resolved in the proposal forming process. If objections remain, they can only be resolved by addressing the arguments for and against the proposal. The proposal is the subject. Objections can only exist in relation to the proposal and its affect on the individual and the group if it is adopted.

Why should we consent? Why should we object? Why we are consenting is just as vital as why we object. Rounds balance the objections with the consents.

If the group begins focusing on whether an objection is “allowed” or if it is really “paramount” (a word I could never get a grasp of), it has moved away from examining the content of the proposal to the motivations and character of the objector. The focus on the substance, the quality of the proposal and the quality of the argument is lost.

Stick to the proposal and addressing arguments, for as well as against.

Vision, Mission, and Aim

Having a vision, mission, and aim are very important in bringing coherence to your organization. You can call them by different names but combining them or collapsing them is not the best idea. It can lead to confusion and allow you to miss or avoid one or another of them. And the different names may confuse you as well.

Vision

The vision is your dream. What you want the world to be. On a grand scale, it’s why your organization exists. This dream could have led you in many different directions, but the dream would be the same. It is generally unchanging. This dream, your vision of the better world, is what will keep you and your organization moving forward when there is too much work to do and adversity of one kind or another has struck.

Many people want to skip the vision. It might be too heart wrenching and emotionally revealing. It might be too small, too embarrassingly simple. Many of the most successful business leaders, entrepreneurs, and large corporations have dreams, outlined in clearly stated vision statements, that rival the best of the non-profit organizations.

Mission

Your mission is how you will contribute to making the dream come true. It describes your sphere of  influence, the relationship between you and your vision. While the vision is a dream, the mission is action focused. It stakes out a territory. It says this is my subject, my industry, my work. This is what I’m going to do.

Your mission may change as the world changes and as you accomplish more. A mission statement should be reviewed every few years to determine if it is still relevant to your dream and if it is producing the changes you wanted to produce.

Aim

An aim is often called a goal or an objective. It is what you produce or accomplish. It is tangible and something that can be measured. If you can’t measure it, you can’t accomplish it.

Aims change frequently as you reach milestones and complete the work you set out to do. Aims should be realistic and based on reasonable expectations. An aim must be something you can point to with pride when you accomplish it. You must be able to see it. Your Vision is the dream that keeps you going when things are bleak and accomplishing your aim provides the daily satisfaction.

Where to Start

Sometimes it is easiest to start with your aim. It is tangible and you probably have some experience with it. Then define your mission, your relationship to the larger world, and then your vision.

On the other hand, idealists often have a dream and search around for a mission, their place to be in the world. Then they find a product or service that is needed in that niche.

But in the end, if you avoid your dream, work may be drudgery. If you avoid your mission, your relationship to the world will be fuzzy and confused. If you avoid defining a clear aim, you risk not just missing the target but having no target.

Equating Consensus and Non-Violent Communication (NVC) with Governance

Often heard: “We don’t use sociocracy or dynamic governance; we use consensus.” Or, “We don’t use dynamic governance; we use non-violent communication (NVC).

The simple problem with these oppositions is that neither consensus nor NVC are governance methods. They don’t come with a set of principles or practices for structuring an organization, managing operations, and ensuring that the appropriate people are making the necessary decisions.

Consensus is a method for making decisions, just like majority vote is used to make decisions.

NVC is a technique for clarifying one’s feelings and needs, and can be very helpful when making decisions.

To say that you govern or organize yourselves using either of these is to say you have no governance structure. In the case of consensus, you have a decision-making method, which is usually used by the whole group participating. In the case of NVC, you have is a method for each member to clarify their needs and attempt to have them met.

So What Is Governance?

A governance method determines:  Who are the decision-makers and what decisions can they can make. How decisions are made. How resources—money and people—will be allocated. How policies be established and changed. How the work of the organization will be done. Who will determine what that work is. Most of our organizations, of course, don’t do this very clearly. Or they do it from time to time but then things change and the policies and practices aren’t updated.

Organizations, like systems, need a coherent structure of relationships between parts and a clear flow of information and resources. A governance method is necessary to establish and maintain that structure. Neither consensus nor NVC provide this.

What Is Power?

The purpose of leadership and decision-making structures in sociocracy is to build the maximum power for everyone. And to balance that power with harmony and fairness. It is the responsibility of each person in a sociocratic organization to develop their own power and to use it to optimize the work of the organization.

In physics, power is the rate at which work is performed or energy converted.

As people, we have personal power, the ability to accomplish tasks and achieve goals; power with, the ability to engage with others to accomplish tasks and achieve goals; and power over, the ability to control others to accomplish tasks and achieve goals. Without power none of us would be able to function in any area of our lives. The acquisition of power is necessary if we are to live as independent persons, as cooperative persons, and as leaders.

If we negate power or reject it, we have nothing. In government, businesses, organizations, and social groups the task is to develop and use power to improve and equalize our conditions of  living — not to pretend it doesn’t exist, except as a criminal activity.

Democracy holds the same values, but sociocracy has the methods and structures to make power work for the benefit of everyone equally.

Positive Power Over

Power over is not always about forcing, coercing, pressuring, manipulating etc. It can be as engaging as power with.
In terms lazy subordination and undeveloped personal power, power over can be an engaged relationship between the autocrat and the subordinate. Some people want to be dominated and to do so is engaging them, even if it is codependence. With the possible exception of physical force, as in terrorists on a plane, power over is a relationship that is often welcomed and not always destructive.
In some underdeveloped countries where the population is not educated and has very little developed personal power, a dictatorship can be beneficial. Joseph Stieglitz in his works on the World Bank and Jared Diamond in Collapse give examples of countries that have flourished under dictatorships, as well as some that have languished. It appears to be a stage of development for a people to need a power=over leader.

Full Disclosure

No one can expect the spirit of involvement and partnership to flourish without an abundance of information available even to the most humble employee. I know all the arguments against a policy of full disclosure. … But the advantages of openness and truthfulness far outweigh the disadvantages. And a company that doesn’t share information when times are good loses the right to request solidarity and concessions when they aren’t.

Ricardo Semler in Maverick, 1993, p. 136.

Maverick was originally published in Portuguese as Turning the Tables in 1988.

How Many People Know about Sociocracy?

In another post, I just asserted with no evidence what-so-ever that more than 99% of the world’s population had no knowledge of sociocracy, the world’s most deeply democratic method of governance. Someone might have a method of measuring this but I have a quick way.

When I Googled “sociocracy” in 2002, there were 12 pages listed by Google. Most were repeats of links to Kees Boeke’s essay and to the Sociocratisch Centrum site.

Today, as of one minute ago, there were 56,000. The even number is a bit suspect and some are probably to the same site, but the difference between 12 and 56,000 eight years later is certainly significant.

Democracy, on the other hand, returns 66,900,000 pages. Autocracy, 1,360,000.

We have a long way to go.

The Downside to Standardization

A great concern of the Global Circle of the international sociocratic certification body is and has for many years been convinced that certification is essential to preserving the core principles and their proper application. In addition to a concern about the principles being misapplied and the method misrepresented, the Global Circle is concerned about “sociocracy” becoming like “democracy” — having no definition and the name being used by anyone inaccurately, even deceptively.

Professional associations are a good way to establish standards and credibility in new fields. They can give some measure of assurance to clients that the person they are trusting to reorganize their companies has a certain level of training. Professional associations also form an information and education network for their members — very important functions. Individual certification and professional associations are not just about selling yourself to clients.

To focus only on certification, however, is more likely to produce rigidity than rigor. It has already inhibited the growth of sociocracy.

Gerard Endenburg began developing his method in 1970 and established the Sociocratisch Centrum in 1978 to implement sociocracy in other businesses and in other countries. While there are many companies and at least one international and one national associations using the method, in 2010, there are only two certified consultants in the United States. One is mentoring ~20 people whose aim is to become certified but some, by their own admission, are years away from certification since it requires an active consulting practice.

The Centrum, which has now formed the Global Circle, has been functioning since 1978. The members of the Centrum have not moved sociocracy to the forefront after more than 30 years. Jack Quarter in 2000 reported that there were 15 employees.

To move an individual or an organization to new creative heights requires autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In this case, the mechanistic thinking of reward/punishment narrows the focus to the details of certification, instead of broadening perspectives and applications of the values and principles of sociocracy. That is the chaos that produces energy.

Is there enough energy in the thinking of the Global Circle to balance the urge toward standardization with the need for integration and testing of sociocratic values, principles, and methods in the wider arena of ideas?

(Originally published 2 April 2010. Revised 24-26 June 2010)

Central Authority?

Does anyone believe that there should be a world-wide hierarchy of double-linked sociocratic organizations?

There definitely are. They don’t perceive the Big Brother implications of this because of consent and double-linking. If an organization, through its double-links can object to the decisions of the world-wide organization, there is no possibility of establishing a dictatorship or placing limitations on that organization. The implications of this kind of thinking for a democratic society, and for sociocratic ideas becoming mainstream are significant.

Since a world-wide organization would have to consent to the circle below it becoming a member, however, this control is not necessarily operable. If an organization wants to extend itself, it would logically follow that the only position it could take is:

You can join us if you are operating sociocratically. If as an organization we need to change or develop, you will become part of the consent process that determines that — but first we have to determine that you are sociocratic according to our standards.

This is a reasonable requirement. One must consent to those with whom they are to make consent decisions. Consent doesn’t work without that agreement.

The problem arises at the point of saying who is sociocratic and who is not.

Some believe that if an organization wants to call themselves sociocratic, they should be certified in the same way that consultants are certified. They understand the ability to trademark “sociocracy” is impossible — one can’t trademark an idea. Nor can one limit the use of a word that has been in use since 1851.

The three-triangles symbol will be trademarked and groups/individuals will have to be certified to use it.

Inherent Conflicts in Democracy

To be a sociocracy, in the same sense that a democracy is a democracy, the principles and methods would have to be adapted to local and national governance. A sociocratic structure would be a radical departure from the way democratic governments are structured today. It might emerge more easily in a country that is just emerging from an autocracy because it could emanate from a single point rather than having to unify several conflicting governance structures as we have in the United States.

In the United States government, policy decisions and the implementation of those decisions are delegated to completely different sets of people: the legislative branch and the executive branch. There is no overlap. (They often are not even on speaking terms.) This produces a system in which an executive unit can inform (and beseech) the legislative unit to set certain policies, but has no control over whether it does so. The legislative units can set policy but can also be thwarted by executive units that fail to implement them or choose to implement them using an interpretation contrary to the aim of the policy.

This necessitates a third unit, the judicial branch, to decide which unit is right. Their basis for settling conflicts is to look the constitution, policies, and previous judicial decisions. The resulting deliberations and arguments can take many years. They are expected to be impartial

In addition to being in units that can easily obstruct the work of another unit, all or most of the leaders in the  United States government are elected by, appointed by, or deeply affiliated with political parties. Since there are effectively only two political parties, Democratic and Republican, this results in a polarity. While party leaders may nominally be elected government officials, the powerful party decision-makers are most likely to be people with money or with professional credentials, like campaign managers. Thus the people who determine, directly or indirectly, who is elected or appointed are not necessarily even a part of the government.

The branches of government are in conflict by definition. They are designed to oversee and regulate each other, not to work together toward common aims. Further conflicts are produced by political party affiliation, each with their own aims, creating divisions with the branches. With no common aim, there is no ability to judge success — and no ability to be successful. The battles are big and the accomplishments small. Not only small, but subject to being overruled by another branch of the government, if not this year, the next. And each leader is subject to being deposed not because of poor service to the government, but to poor service to the party.

In sociocratic organizations, governance, making policy decisions, and operations, implementing those decisions, are not separate in theory or practice. Both functions are carried out by the same people. With the legislative and the executive functions joined, the judicial function of settling disputes between them becomes irrelevant.

Each government unit would combine the functions now performed by committees in the House and Senate and by agencies in the executive branch. Policy and practice would inform each other and share a common aim. It would be self-defeating to write ineffective policies or to purposely ignore policies. Policies would be written within defined domains so pork-barrel additions unrelated to the work of the unit would be impossible.

Government officials would be elected by the government agencies in which they would serve, making political parties irrelevant.

Questions: Where is the guiding hierarchy? Who serves the function of a (good) corporate board? How do the states link to the federal government?