Category Archives: Recommendations

Recommendations for  readings, websites, videos, and anything else that might be interesting to people interested in sociocracy.  Topics are wide ranging in relation to democracy, sociocracy, governance, organizational structure, decision-making, power, politics, etc. An answer is often found in a seemingly unrelated thought.

Beyond Democracy: The Film by Ted Millich

Beyond Democracy: The Film by Ted Millich is consists of a series of   interviews of international leader and consultants in sociocracy. The interviews were done over a period of several years and some excerpts are available on YouTube. The interviews include Gerard Endenburg, John Buck. and Frank Karsten.

The current draft is available in a 29-minute DVD from Ted at his website. The film has menus and subtitles in English, Dutch, French, and German.

Ted Millich also publishes a video blog on YouTube. (He’s an interesting speaker.)

Sociocracy Consulting Group

The Sociocracy Consulting Group, LLC, is an international consulting firm formed in 2013 by several certified consultants including John Buck, the first sociocracy consultant in the United States. It is  a division of the Global Sociocracy Group, with head offices in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

We are a team of passionate believers in equivalence, effectiveness, and transparency. We combine a diversity of backgrounds with a common vision, mission, and aim.

Clients choose us time and again because

  • Their staff becomes more engaged
  • Leaders’ jobs become easier
  • Their financial well-being improves

We create long-term sustainable partnerships with our clients as we help organizations adopt Dynamic Governance as their decision-making and governance method.

Our portfolio of clients is well diversified and includes organizations of all types—from manufacturers to drug researchers; from government agencies to religious groups; from nonprofit associations and schools to cohousing communities and families.

Burlington Cohousing East Village, Burlington, Vermont

Burlington Cohousing East Village, Burlington, Vermont
Burlington Cohousing East Village, Burlington, Vermont

Burlington Cohousing East Village adopted sociocracy in 2013. About their community from their website:

Mission

The mission of Burlington Cohousing East Village is to sustain our community strengths and to create and share better ways to live as neighbors – towards a way of living that welcomes diversity and fosters social connection, affordable living, environmental stewardship, and a smaller ecological footprint.

Values

Contributing to this mission are the following values:

  • We participate in the urban advantages of living in Burlington – cultural, pedestrian, biking, shared car trips, public transit.
  • We support commitment, innovation and personal courage.
  • We aim to make a positive difference in the lives of all.
  • We encourage the development of leadership and group facilitation skills.
  • We promote involvement with the larger community.
  • We practice self-governance with a modified consensus decision-making process.
  • We provide regular common meals which include food grown from our own lands.
  • We gather frequently for mutual appreciation and celebrations.
  • We are committed to non-violent communication and conflict resolution.

The Community

We’re Vermont’s only urban cohousing community; urban in the sense that we’re right across the street from the University of Vermont and Fletcher Allen Health Care, and about a mile from downtown Burlington. On the other hand, we’re also right next to Centennial Woods, a 68-acre nature preserve. And, as this is Vermont, we’re within easy reach of a wide variety of outdoor recreational opportunities – Lake Champlain, the Green Mountains, the Adirondack Mountains, etc. Our 32 homes and common house are located on 4½ acres of land, out of which more than 3 acres is open space, woods, and gardens.

Our homes are a mix of one, two and three-bedroom apartments, two and three-bedroom townhouses, and two single-family homes. We share a large common house that includes a living room, kitchen for preparing shared meals, dining room with outdoor terrace, a large roof deck, guest rooms, multipurpose room, laundry room, and mailroom.

Most of our buildings have flat roofs to minimize visual impact and to facilitate the installation of photovoltaics.
By January of 2011, 113 rooftop photovoltaic panels had been added. By the fall of 2012, an additional 48 panels were installed.

Burlington Cohousing is legally structured like a condominium. Each household owns the interior of their unit, but also collectively owns the common elements including the common house, the roofs, outside walls, and structural components of the buildings, as well as the land. The common elements are managed by the residents, through the homeowners association. The legal documents for the community include the Declaration of Condominium and the By-Laws.

We have two solar photovoltaic arrays. You can see the information we receive on how much power they generate by visiting: Enlighten (powers the indoor common spaces) and Enlighten Public Systems (powers the unit owners who installed their own panels). Click on the Reports tab.

There is much more information about the community, their environment, and cohousing on the community website. 

Videos on Sociocracy by People Using It

The  Sociocracy Consulting Group website  has a collection a of resources including videos explaining sociocracy and featuring people who are using sociocracy in their organizations.  A sampling of those available is listed below. At this writing they are all on one page, just scroll down to find the ones you would like to watch. (The links within each listing are to the organizations represented, not the videos.)

  • Excerpts from Ted Millich’s documentary Beyond Democracy.
  • Paul Kervick from Living Well, an award-winning health care organization in Bristol MA.
  • Renee Owen, Executive Director of Rainbow Mountain Children’s School in Asheville, NC.
  • Clips of several members of a permaculture group, Lost Valley Educational Center and intentional community.
  • A series of videos by Nathaniel Whitestone of Aptivate and Decision Lab in Great Britain that introduce the principles and methods of sociocracy. Nathaniel is also very involved with cooperative organizations in the UK.

There are also a number of videos on  YouTube, including copies of these, though at this point the ones collected at the Sociocracy Consulting site are the most accurate and useful.

Please let us know if you find additional videos. We would like to index them so people can find them. The examples of organizations using sociocracy are growing exponentially so it is difficult to track them.

Culture Hacking & We the People

Cover of the book The Culture GameDaniel Mezick, author of The Culture Game, has compiled an intriguing list of books that discuss various approaches to changing cultures. We are happy to announce that We the People made the list. Organizations develop cultures. They communicate in specific ways, share common behavioral expectations, and value similar ideas. These are not always positive or even productive. Even when they negatively impact effectiveness and harmony, they persist. Culture hacking is changing those cultures from within the organization.

We are thrilled to be in the company of Open Space Technology, Tribal Leadership, The Culture Game, Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity, Reality Is Broken, Delivering Happiness, The Fifth Discipline, Beyond Empowerment, The Reengineering Alternative, and many others including several titles on adopting the team approach used in Agile Software development. Agile developers have been particularly attracted to sociocracy for some time.

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.

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 also the author of The Culture Game: Tools for the Agile Manager
for people who hire other people and convene meeting.

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.”

L’École Internationale des Chefs, Longueuil, Québec

L'Ecole des Chefs Logo

L’École Internationale des Chefs, the international school for leaders, training in sociocratic principles and methods. How to guide other individuals, groups, and organizations, and manage a communication and decision-making structure that promotes the development of individuals and the organization in respect of the environment. Leadership training and listening. Also provides ongoing professional training groups to help maintain a culture of practice in sociocracy.

L’École Internationale des Chefs Website

Sociogest, Longueuil and Lac Simon, Québec, Canada

Sociogest Logo

Sociogest is one of the oldest sociocracy consulting firms, specializing in management training and organizational development. It was started by Gilles Charest, a consultant with 40 years of organizational development experience, who also melds his training in Gestalt psychology with sociocracy to teach leadership skills. The firm has an international network of consultants in French-speaking countries, the United States, and Holland.

De School, Zandvoort, The Netherlands

De School LogoDe School in The Netherlands was founded using the sociocratic organization method under the guidance of Annewiek Reijmer of the global center, the Sociocratisch Centrum.

The school has become famous in Holland because it offers a 50-week school year in order to meet parents needs for childcare as well as education for their children. The children, as young as six, work with the parents, the teacher, and an outside expert to evaluate the student’s progress and set goals for the next study period. The school is committed to meeting national standards for education. Within that, the team consents to educational goals.

Children meet in classroom circles to discuss classroom conduct, problems, and solutions, and make other policy decisions including spending the budget for toys, books, etc.

De School’s Website

Sociocracy and Large Scale Social Change

Nate Whitestone says he’s seeing increasing uptake in organizational models like sociocracy and workplace democracy, demonstrating valuable new ways to organize. Combined with the development of broader community collaboration, like crowdsourcing, gives Whitestone hope that large-scale social change is possible.

“It makes it really clear that top down is not the only way,” he says. “I genuinely do believe that’s the biggest lever that needs to be pulled. That just needs to happen, everywhere.”

“Changing the World by Changing the Way We Make Decisions” by Camille Jensen. Axiom News, Monday, 8 August 2011.

 

Aptivate Adopts Sociocracy

Changing the World by Changing the Way We Make Decisions

Sociocracy, participatory decision-making creates systems that allow people to express full potential, says consultant

Monday August 08, 2011 — Camille Jensen,  AxiomNews

While there are countless ways to better the world, Decision Lab facilitator Nathanial Whitestone says changing how we make decisions is the most critical and profound change we could make.

Co-founding Decision Lab one year ago, Whitestone says the U.K.-based organization aims to accelerate better decision-making in organizations by introducing models that encourage participatory decision-making and improved communication flows.

“At every point we are able to fix things technologically,” says Whitestone. “The key for me is every person having control over the way they work . . . . You can’t fully express yourself, fully express the gifts you have in life, if you don’t have input on the design of how you express them.”

To transform companies into models that encourage broader decision-making and ownership over one’s work, Whitestone says it’s essential to create a governance system defined by key principles that hard-wires process into an organization so if there are changes in management, the model doesn’t evaporate.

A model Whitestone has seen work with small and large companies alike is sociocracy, also known as dynamic governance. Based on four principles, the model involves consent-based decision-making among circles, which act as semi-autonomous policy making and working groups comprised of departments or teams.

Each circle has its own aim and directs its work by performing all the functions of leading, doing and measuring its operations. The circles share at least two members; an operational leader from an upper circle and a representative from a lower circle to ensure greater feedback and self regulation.

Whitestone says a powerful testament to sociocracy — it’s also the model used to govern Decision Lab — came when working with the organization Aptivate. The innovative and values-based organization that provides IT and participatory services for international development had slipped into the habit of decision-making by endurance, where board members stayed up late arguing about the best way forward. Any Aptivate board member not interested in a late night failed to have their voice heard.

The approach was resulting in exhausted board members, a lack of people wanting to serve on the board and declining staff engagement.

Working with Decision Lab, Aptivate began to implement sociocratic design to introduce formal decision-making processes based on consensus. Within three years, the company embraced a culture where everyone’s voices are heard, meetings end on time and, most importantly, people want to participate in board-level decision-making.

When some of Aptivate’s most experienced managers left for positions at prominent development organizations like the World Bank and the International Aid Transparency Initiative, the team used its well-structured participatory decision-making process to collaborate effectively, learn necessary business skills and develop new work. Describing Aptivate’s response as powerful, Whitestone commends the company for turning a loss into an opportunity.

“Six months after that happened the biggest problem was fitting all the work into their schedule and hiring quality people fast enough,” he says.

Whitestone says he’s seeing increasing uptake in organizational models like sociocracy and workplace democracy, demonstrating valuable new ways to organize. Combined with the development of broader community collaboration, like crowdsourcing, gives Whitestone hope that large-scale social change is possible.

“It makes it really clear that top down is not the only way,” he says. “I genuinely do believe that’s the biggest lever that needs to be pulled. That just needs to happen, everywhere.”


If you have feedback on this article, please contact the newsroom at 800-294-0051 or e-mail camille(at)axiomnews.ca.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Aptivate, Cambridge, England, UK

“Ethical IT for International Development”

Aptivate company logoWebsite and software developers providing technical  support for international development initiatives by other non-profits, charities, NGOs, facilitators, and trainers. Aptivate provides hosting services and advice on strategy, policy, implementation and procurement and build robust, accessible and usable software, mobile and web services. Specializes in low-bandwidth solutions for the web .

Mission

Aptivate believes in the power of knowledge and communication to alleviate poverty, suffering and conflict, and in the right of every individual to inform and be informed.

We are dedicated to developing ICT services that facilitate communication for unconnected communities, empowering ordinary people across the developing world to improve their lives.

Policy Statements

Our Ethical Policy
Aptivate’s ethical policy exists to ensure we stay true to our mission. Every project we undertake should help us achieve our goals. Sometimes it is necessary to turn down a project or proposal because we feel that it does not fit into our ethical framework or does not advance our mission. We evaluate proposals against our ethical policy, and our staff collectively decide on whether the organisation should pursue them.

Our Environmental Policy
Climate change already affects the livelihoods of many people across the developing world, often the poorest and most vulnerable. Organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have called for significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and other polluting activities to avert potentially catastrophic consequences.

We believe that climate change must be considered when evaluating activities related to development. While most human activities involve some level of environmental impact, it is necessary to consider this against the perceived benefits of an activity, reduce impact where possible and find alternatives if necessary.

We are committed to reduce our own environmental impact by:

  • using alternatives to travel, such as conferencing technology;
  • using alternative means of transport to short-haul flights;
  • shutting down IT systems when not in use;
  • investigating ways to mitigate the pollution generated by the manufacture, running and disposal of IT equipment;
  • recycling or re-using all possible office consumables;
  • engaging with other organisations on the issue of climate change.

Nathaniel Whitestone of Decision Lab transformed their “decision-making by endurance” in which those how couldn’t last all night had no voice by implementing over a three year period a sociocratic design with formal processes and decentralized power.

Changing the World by Changing the Way We Make Decisions“, AxiomNews. Accessed 8 Aug 2011. Features an interview with Nathan Whitestone of Decision Lab.

Participation: From Users and Choosers to Makers and Shapers

Having a right to participate means being recognized by the state as having an entitlement to be informed and involved. Making that right calls for amplifying and channeling citizen voices on the one hand and strengthening the state accountability on the other. Reinventing peoples´ role in this way—”from users and choosers to makers and shapers”— has profound implications for how citizens come to be seen by the state.

Pranav Bhattarai

In “Revisiting Governance” in Repùblica, 31 July 2011.

How We Decide and Why It Matters

Book Cover for Lehrer's How We DecideA wonderfully readable update on brain research is Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide that looks at how our emotions affect decisions and what the brain tells us about it. Lehrer worked in the lab of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel, is editor-at-large for Seed Magazine, and  publishes regularly in major magazines and newspapers. He has both the education to interpret brain research and the ability to write about it clearly — welcome ability. And the results of this research are fascinating.

The brain is constantly growing and changing based on the information it receives, whether that information is emotional, social, or physical. Our “gut” reactions  are fast and accurate because our brain has decoded the information faster than we could rationally analyze it. First we know, then we know we know. Unfortunately, our gut feelings are often difficult to explain or even understand and we ignore them, going instead for the response that sounds right.

One of the subjects Lehrer examines is expertise. The reason sociocratic organization works is that it establishes feedback loops that provide information about performance. Malcolm Gladwell has reported that people become proficient when they have worked at something for 10,000 hours. The Beatles were able to outperform other bands at such a  young age because as teenagers they had a unique ability to perform frequently. Lehrer’s research shows that isn’t all. The expertise comes from the feedback received while gaining that experience. The interactions and measurements that come from audience responses and the musician’s experimentation. It isn’t the playing; it’s the recognition of mistakes. Analyzing one’s mistakes improves performance but recognizing mistakes is more likely to happen with an audience.

The sociocratic organizational structure is designed to ensure feedback. Measurement and analysis are fundamental at all levels. Looking at what is working and what is not. Lehrer talks with Bill Robertie who has become a world-class expert not only chess but in poker and backgammon. Unless all that practice includes analysis of his decisions and their result, his play would not have improved. And negative feedback, he says, was the best kind. We learn from our mistakes.

A fascinating study by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, looked at the results of praise on children. Half were praised for their intelligence, the other half for their hard work. In later studies, those who had been praised for hard work actually performed better. Those praised for their intelligence were careful to choose easy work in order to retain the view of themselves as intelligent while those praised for working hard, worked harder and chose the harder studies that allowed them learn more. The differences were not just “statistically significant”. Those praised for working harder raised their scores by 30%. The scores for those praised for their intelligence fell by 20%.

Loss aversion fundamentally affects our decision-making in all areas of our lives, and opens us to manipulation by marketers and unreasonable responses to news, to information about the stock market, for example.

Impulsivity is a higher predictor of low SAT scores than academic performance as early as kindergarten. Brain development in children diagnosed with ADHD is on average 3.5 years behind that of other children. Brain research looks at all these phenomenon and studies how one brain functions in the face of the same emotional desires as another, and which one is successful in achieving a satisfactory solution. And the results are unexpected and unpredictable.

The ability to achieve a clean-slate, a brain ready for making new association that lead to new insights, is essential. The insight is achieved in a flash of energy, then the slate is clean again, waiting. Herbert Simon said, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Lehrer also reports on studies of satisfaction — one shows that for each hour of increased time commuting, one needs to earn $40,000 more to make the commute worth it.

A striking conclusion is that anyone who wants to make difficult decisions better or more often, needs a more emotional thought process. Once one  has the education and the information, time spent consciously  contemplating the alternatives will probably be counter-productive. “The hardest calls are the ones that require the most feeling.”

Research like this has led to a change in how authority is viewed everywhere from the cockpit of major airlines to hospital surgeries. Staffs are trained to question authority when things don’t feel right. Don’t presume that the person with the degree or the title is making the best decision. Decision-making in complex pressure-driven situations is too hard for one brain to sort out.

An excellent and well-written book that is highly recommended.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. Boston and NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. To buy the paperback at Amazon.

On Transparency

Photo of Ricardo SemlerNo 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

 Quotation on one value of transparency is from Maverick (1993, p. 136). Maverick was originally published in Portuguese as Turning the Tables in 1988.

Democracy Is a Lot of Work

Democracy is a lot of work, I kept telling myself and anyone else who would listen. It needs to be exercised with conviction and without subterfuge or exception. And it begins with the little things, like neckties, time clocks, parking spaces, and petroleum blue uniforms.

Ricardo Semler in Maverick, 1993, p. 136.

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

Maverick by Riccardo Semler

This is a wonderful little book by the CEO of Semco, a corporation in Brazil. His father started the company and in 1980s passed it along to his rather young son who built a new kind of corporation using “open management” and advocating a “natural” and “democratic” workplace for “industrial citizens.”

In 1984, Semco acquired a Brazilian subsidiary of Hobart and Semler describes how he began changing the structure of management. It began with lunch hour talks between the managers and workers that convinced the managers the workers should be more involved in decisions about their jobs, the products they made, and their work environment. The women, for example, led a coup that not only got the smelly men’s locker room cleaned up but led to new lockers and the conversion of unused production space to a game room used at lunch and on breaks. Plants appeared on the shop floor the way they appeared in personal offices. Workers began to paint the shop, each worker choosing the color of the column nearest their station.

They formed a cafeteria committee to improve the world’s worst food “outside an institution without bars.” Then they changed the company policy of paying 70% of the cost of lunches to a sliding scale with top management paying 95% and the lowest paid floor sweepers paying only 5%. Workers share 22% of the profits.

From dirty lockers, plants, paint, and lunch subsidies, workers formed committees and began looking at production and products improving processes, safety, and economics as they developed new products, techniques, and finishes. All worker initiated, often on their own time. Semler says the strength of the groups was their diversity: factory workers, engineers, office clerks, sales reps, and executives. The leaders were chosen by the committees based on their capacity to lead — calling meetings and leading discussions.

The workers themselves established and posted scoreboards above the factory floor to keep track of daily production for each product. When their self-determined quotas were in danger because parts had not been delivered the workers travelled to the suppliers to pick up supplies and worked through the night to finish before the end of the month.

Maverick is filled with such stories in which the workers are empowered and once empowered increased production by developing better processes and increased sales and profits by designing better products. All are inspiring and useful in making arguments for changing your workplace. This book was an all time best seller in Brazil when it was published there in 1988 as Turning the Tables. Semler was then 34. This is not a book about business; it is a book about work.

Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace by Ricardo Semler. NY: Tableturn, 1990. Buy the paperback from 1995 at Amazon

The later and similar book is The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way We Work published in 2004 when he was a visiting scholar at Harvard. This book is less specific in giving examples and more motivational, encouraging people to think the way Semco management thinks in order to find the best solutions for their organization. In the end, I find this approach to be less useful. Feels good but what do I do on Monday morning? Available Used at Amazon

Terra Viva, São Paulo, Brazil

Terra Viva is an agribusiness centered in São Paulo, Brazil begin by the Schoenmaker family in 1959 to grow gladiolas. Though not mentioned on their website, Gerard Endenburg consulted with the owner in the 1970s to develop the company using sociocracy. They now have more than a thousand workers and focus on bulbs and plants for flowers and vegetables.

Their website includes a discussion of the company’s philosophy including an organizational chart, but does not mention sociocracy or Endenburg.

A good research topic.