The organizations over which we have the most control, outside our individual households, are those in which we live, our residential communities. When we purchase a condominium, move into an ecovillage, forme a coop, or purchase a house, we have joined an organization. In the case of condominiums and other homeowner associations, they are often highly autocratic and in single household neighborhoods with individual lots and house, highly unorganized with little acknowledged authority. Both these extremes present perfect opportunities to begin organizing ourselves intelligently. Where else can a deeper democracy be so fundamental to our lives?
The following residential community structure is designed using the sociocratic circle method and principles. I’ve used “teams” rather than “circles” because “teams” is more commonly used. Any name will do, however, circles, teams, committees, working group, etc. If you have suggestions for additions, questions, or comments, please use the comment feature.
Residential communities, like other organizations, rarely need more than three levels of teams to cover operations, general management and coordination, and connections with the larger community or the local city government. My model for this is the cohousing community. Cohousing communities are owned, designed, and managed by the residents. They are composed of individual houses and multi-household buildings with a “common house” which serves as a community center. They use consensus decision-making and strive to be as inclusive and diverse as possible. They are considered by many urban planners to be on the cutting edge of residential community design.
These teams are staffed by residents, though they may be supported by paid services. A landscaping company may treat the lawns regularly, for example, and be overseen by the landscaping team. Ideally, every adult resident would serve on a team. This not only ensures that the work is shared by everyone, but that the community benefits from the skills and energy of all its members. In addition, those who are doing the work, should be the ones making the decisions concerning that work.
Defining the teams at the operational level depends on the size and facilities present in the community. The minimum number of teams is represented in a forming community in the UK: Soul and Soil. People and Facilities. Most communities have more, for example, in random order:
- Outdoor Landscaping. Includes lawns and gardens. Planning and care.
- Outdoor Site Development & Maintenance. Includes parking lots, playgrounds, sidewalks, lighting, etc.
- Buildings & Infrastructure. Structures, plumbing and heating systems, elevators. The big stuff that is owned in common.
- Financial & Legal. Business affairs, budgeting, financial oversight, tax and legal compliance. Record-keeping.
- Community Life. Social events, holiday celebrations, personal support,
- Special Facilities & Programs. Communities with golf courses, swimming facilities, or meal programs may have a team that focuses on the maintenance and functioning of a specific facility and the related programs.
The operations teams develop strong communities by involving residents who in turn learn sociocracy at home where they are likely to have more control than in larger organizations where they work or go to school.
Often teams want to function without leaders. The “everyone is equal” strategy. In a sociocratic organization, having or being a leader is unrelated to being equal. Everyone is equal, and there are specific protections to ensure that this is the case, for example, consent and rounds.
Leadership is a responsibility, not a privilege. It’s a function that is necessary to guide a team toward an aim most clearly and effectively. It presorts the responsibility when quick decisions are required. It establishes the go-to person.
Everyone is expected to assume leadership qualities in their work, but there several specifically defined leadership roles: Operations Leader, Team Representative, Meeting Facilitator, Secretary, and Team Leader. These roles may be combined except that the Operations Leader and the Team Representative may not be the same person. The Team Leader leads policy decision-making meetings and the Operations Leader leads day to day activities. They may or may not be the same person. Depending on the size of the team and the complexity of operations, the role of secretary may not may not be a separate role from Team Leader. Whether there is a separate person serving as Team Meeting Facilitator, depends on the skills of the other leaders. Some people are good meeting facilitators and others are not. Often it is better to separate functions so the best person is chosen for each task.
Choosing Leaders and Delegating Tasks
The full Team participates in the Elections Process to choose leaders, delegate tasks, and assign jobs. This process can be used whenever the team must choose between several options. “Elect” means to choose; we elect shoes and scarves, not just presidents.
The Team writes and consents to a job description. Each person nominates someone from the team or from “outside” that they believe is best for the job. Self-nominations are welcomed. Then each person explains their nomination. Afterwards, some may change or withdraw their nominations, or the leader, usually the facilitator, may propose that from the nominations round one person seems to be the best choice. If not. discussion of each candidate continues until all team members consent to one choice. The persons nominated do not accept or decline until the process is complete. If they decline, the process is repeated.
The General Manager
Depending on the size, ownership structure, and complexity of the residential community, the Organizational Leader may be an employed Property Manager or a President chosen by the Homeowners Association. The General Manager, the “Gem” as some are called, is responsible for coordinating and ensuring the quality of the work of the Operations Teams.
If the community is large and the responsibilities for facilities maintenance fall to the Homeowner’s Association, a manager or management company is hired. Whether on salary or not, the duties of the General Manager are to work with the operations teams to guide the functioning of the community.
The General Management Team
Two members of each Operations Team, the Operations Leader and the Team Representative, plus the General Manager form a General Management Team. The importance of this team cannot be stressed enough. Most residential communities are maintained and operated by people who other very demanding work or family responsibilities. Communications and control are major issues. Leaders need to communicate so that responsibilities are clearly defined and work is not duplicated or overlooked.
The extremely autocratic governance of many condominiums, the Condo Commandos that have given condos a bad name, did not develop in a vacuum. No one went out and said, “Let’s build a condominium so we can be dictators!” In some instances they developed because the leaders knew no alternatives, but in many communities Condo Commandos develop because managing property is costly and ensuring that residents are acting in the best interests of others is time-consuming. Issuing firm orders and enforcing laws with fines seems easier. Unless you understand sociocracy, it may be easier, but it is not enriching and leads to an unhealthy living environment. The focus becomes limits, rather than possibilities.
The purpose of the General Management Team is to ensure careful control over necessary functions so they can be improved to optimum levels and ensure the harmonious and enriching environment required to nurture self-organizing people. Happy households of vibrant people, adults and children.