In 1978 Endenburg established the Sociocratisch Centrum in Utrecht, later moved to Rotterdam and renamed The Sociocracy Group, and began consulting with many organizations to implement the Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method. He also joined the faculty of the school of business at the University of Maastricht and began training business leaders.
In 2014, Endenburg has partially retired but still influences decisions related to the growth of sociocratic organizations world-wide. Students he has trained are now training other consultants internationally. Sociocracy Group centers , organizations, and training programs now exist in the Americas, Europe, and Australia.
Organizations Using Sociocracy
There is no comprehensive list of sociocratic organizations. Most prefer to be known for their work, not how they make decisions. The now include national and international associations, building and manufacturing companies, health care services, public school systems, villages, private schools, Buddhist monasteries, software companies, residential communities, colleges, a wholesale florist company, veterinary offices, and consulting firms.
They are spread over North and South America, all the countries of Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, and developing in Africa and Asia.
In addition to consultants working internationally to help organizations implement the method there are a growing number of websites with resources, guides to training and consultants, and social connections. A network of sociocratic organizations and individuals is being formed to increase general awareness of sociocratic principles and methods.
Laird Schaub helped found and has been living in Sandhill Farm, an intentional, income sharing community in Rutledge, Missouri since 1974. His community is very small, less than 10 adults, but his experience is very broad. He has been doing training and consulting in governance and consensus decision-making since 1987. He gives several workshops on decision-making, facilitation, proposal writing, delegation, etc., at the annual Cohousing Association Conferences. He is the Executive Secretary and Development Coordinator of the Foundation for Intentional Communities (FIC) and writes frequently for Communities Magazine. He travels most of the year to work with communities and organizations all over the United States. He does intensive workshops with facilitators who meet once or twice a month over an extended period of time. In short, he’s on the road a lot, on his feet a lot, and has seen a lot. He is also very well-respected.
Laird’s blog is Community and Conensus. In his Monday 18 August 2014 post, “Critique of Sociocracy,” he presents his “reservations” which are deep and well-stated. Some are quite justified and others misunderstandings. Just like anything else, it’s easy to get the wrong information. This is the first of several posts addressing both the points I think are valid and those that are at least partly in error. I’ve divided them into separate posts where the subject changes. Laird has 6 points of contention.
Laird’s reservations are expressed “paying particular attention to how this contrasts with consensus, which is the main horse that sociocracy is stalking.”
Well, true and not true. It is true that for many years consent vs consensus was taught as if they were totally different animals. Not just horse vs zebra, it was elephant vs fruit fly. Having worked with consensus for more than 30 years and having studied the teachings of the major consensus trainers, I never understood this. Consent is given by one person and consensus is the result of multiple instances of consent. Both consent and consensus mean agreement to proceed, not necessarily full agreement to exclusion of other possibilities.
That’s the only meaningful distinction between them that I can find: the singular and the collective plural. Consent vs consensus is more likely to be a comparison between the worst understanding of consensus with the best understanding of consent.
The Singular and the Collective Plural
The distinction between the singular and the collective plural, however, can be meaningful: The emphasis in sociocracy on gaining the consent of each person, “no objections,” rather than the consensus of the group. In sociocracy, the focus is on each individual and their ability to consent to a decision. In groups using consensus, the focus is more likely to be on the ability of each person as part of a group to develop and accept a group decision. “In the best interests of the community” is often heard in groups using consensus.
In sociocracy the standard of consent is more likely to be a question to an individual “can you work with this” or “is this within your range of tolerance.” Not particularly friendly phrases those, but I think one can see the difference.
I’m exaggerating a bit to show what can often be a subtle difference. On the other hand, the recognition of the individual is important as a measurement:
In a small community where everyone lives-in, the standard will be one’s ability to still want to live in the community if the change under consideration is made. “Will you still love having coffee on your balcony in the morning?”
In an intentional community devoted to expressing strong humanitarian or environmental living standards, the question will be “Does this activity violate your sense of the appropriateness in terms of your personal or the community values.”
On the factory floor, the focus will be on one’s ability to perform their job if this change is made. “Will you still be able to move comfortably to finish the final process?”
A Practical vs a Higher Purpose
The focus in all three contexts—a friendly live-in community, a political or values-based community, and a workplace—is whether effectiveness will be impaired. But “effectiveness” in each case is based on a different desired outcome. Consent emphasizes the understanding that a group is a group of individuals who all have to be able to fully commit to a purpose before it can be accomplished optimally. People who use consensus not infrequently have in their hearts and minds a more spiritual union. A commitment to a “higher purpose,” one larger than the individual. Higher even than the group.
A sociocratic organization could adopt a higher purpose statement as a policy decision. Such perceptions are not banned in sociocracy. It is used in a variety of religious organizations. But that belief is not inherent in sociocracy as it is sometimes felt to be in the traditional practice of consensus.
The practice of consensus itself is often regarded as indicating that this group of people is more advanced or of higher morals. This makes tradiitonal consensus unworkable in a workplace. In this sense, consent vs consensus is a meaningful understanding, if not a real difference.
Workplace vs. Social Action Groups
Gerard Endenburg developed the Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method to reproduce the traditional consensus model he had lived with at Kees and Betty Boeke’s residential school, the Children’s Community Workshop. Instead of everyone caring for each other, Endenburg needed a definition that worked in the high pressure, fast moving production of electrical engineering systems. People are hired in businesses and other organizations to fulfill roles with specific responsibilities, not to care for the other engineers, whom they probably don’t even know.
In engineering and manufacturing decisions are based on the responsibilities of the person to fulfill their roles and responsibilities, not a perceived higher purpose. But overtime the empathy required to understand the role requirements of each person and appreciation for their insights and support, do create a tighter bond between people.
Because the Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method is taught as it developed in Endenburg Electric, and in many other businesses all over the world since the 1970s, the engineering and business vocabularies often overtake the fundamental purpose of using consensus in the first place: collaboration and respect instead of competition and disdain.
Comparing an Elephant to a Fruit Fly
The major distinction is that sociocratic decision-making operates within a governance structure designed to support consensus decision-making. Groups that use traditional consensus typically make many decisions as a full group or are completely flat with all decisions made by the full group. Some have a governance structure loosely and sometimes directly based on conventional social and governance structures designed for majority decision-making. Because of this, they are limited in size.
While comparing consent to traditional consensus isn’t a very meaningful, comparing sociocracy with traditional consensus really is like comparing elephants to fruit flies. One is a governance method and the other a decision-making method and they work synergistically.
Policy vs Operational Decisions
Another difference is that consensus is specifically used only for policy decisions. The operations leader makes day-to-day operations decisions within the policies set by the workgroup. This takes advantage the power of efficient decision-making in the moment and collectively made policy decisions by all members of the work group.
Groups using traditional consensus tend to make almost all decisions as a group and delegation is feared as a re-introduction of autocratic, hierarchical control.
Groups using traditional consensus are also unlikely to apply cybernetic principles or use scientific methods for evaluating the effectiveness of their decisions, but that is a subject for another day. Many of the practices and processes used by sociocracy are also best practices used generally in businesses and organizations.
No Magic in Decision-Making
Neither have magical qualities. Decision-making can be hard no matter what you call it or how you structure it. If it were easy, it wouldn’t need to be taught and wouldn’t need a governance structure at all.
These are both the reasons why sociocracy has been perceived as “stalking consensus” and the reasons why it is not. Sociocracy is an elephant that is dependent on the fruit fly.
(Part 2 is still unwritten and given the amount of time taken to write this, it may be a few days.)
A quick answer to the question, What is Sociocracy? is that sociocracy is both:
A social ideal that values equality and the rights of people to decide the conditions under which they live and work, and
An effective method of organizing collaborative and productive organizations as associations, businesses, and governments, large and small.
In English-speaking countries, as a method of organization sociocracy is often called dynamic governance, but around the world is simply called sociocracy. Its founder called it the Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method (SCM).
Not Just a Statement of Values
Sociocracy shares the values of democracy
freedom and equality, and
the right and responsibility of self-determination.
But sociocracy doesn’t just state values. It goes deeper. It is a method of organization and decision-making that ensures those values are implemented. Its principles and practices are very different from parliamentary procedure and majority rule. Majority rule can lead to a divided society and promotes competition and dominance instead of coöperation and equality.
A Whole System Science Approach to Governance
Sociocracy is a whole systems approach to designing and leading organizations. It is based on principles, methods, and a structure that creates a resilient and coherent system,. It uses transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability to increase harmony, effectiveness, and productivity.
Sociocracy was conceived as applied Sociology. Sociology is a social science that studies social groups and how they function. It was to be a governance method based on information from sociologists. Sociocracy, developed with research and experimentation, has shown that people who live and work together are more likely to make good decisions for themselves than anyone else.
Sociocracy guarantees a society in which freedom and equality are determined by the people who have an active role in creating the conditions under which they live and work..
Consent Is Required for Policy Decisions
Requiring consent for policy decisions ensures that no member of a group or circle* can be ignored. All circles make the policy decisions that directly affect their own responsibilities. They are not reserved for top management, officers, or boards.
Policy decisions are agreements about how an organization will work. They govern how resources will be used, who will do which jobs, the standards of quality, etc. Within the policies of the larger organization, for example, the loading dock circle will decide the policies governing how the loading dock will work on a day-to-day basis.
Consent means “no objections.” Giving consent does not mean unanimity, agreement, or endorsement of the proposal. Consent is given to moving forward, to supporting the policy as “worth trying until we have more information.” Or “I can work with it.” Requiring consent ensures that a policy will be followed by everyone until there is reason to change it. Like budgets, policies are rarely in force forever.
As a member of any sociocratically governed organization, you are guaranteed of your ability to collaboratively decide your living and working conditions as a citizen, as an employee, as a member, as a neighbor, as a student.
Coordination and Management When Everyone Makes Policy Decisions
Within the policies of the larger organization. all work groups, chapters, departments, committees, etc., make their own policies. Day-to-day operational decisions are governed by policy decisions and are most often delegated to the leader of operations.
When a policy affects more than one circle, it is delegated to the coordinating or general management circle. The general management circle is composed of operations leaders and elected representatives from each circle. Each member of the coordinating circle has to give consent. This protects the circles from decisions that would affect their ability to do their work.
Instead of a board of directors, a sociocratic organization has a top circle that fulfills many of the functions of a traditional board except that it does not have absolute control over the organization. The top circle includes members of the coordinating circle, the president or CEO, and outside members who add financial and professional expertise. The responsibilities of the top circle include long-term planning and financial decisions that affect the organizations future.
So What Is Sociocracy?
It is a governance system designed to protect and apply the values that democracies cherish. Unlike current democracies, it is also a governance structure designed to make sure those values will be applied as equally as possible for everyone.
Search these words for more information on What is Sociocracy? and Why You Need It: consent, consensus, democracy, dynamic governance, majority vote, policy decisions, Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method (SCM)
It was a graduate of the Boekes’ school, Dutch electrical engineer Gerard Endenburg, who developed a method for implementing sociocracy in a competitive, results-oriented corporation. After completing his military service, he worked at Philips where he invented the small speakers still used in mobile devices. In 1968, he became the managing director of this family’s electrical engineering company, Endenburg Electric.
As an engineer, Gerard Endenburg found it frustrating that he could design remarkably successful electrical and mechanical systems but in managing people, it seemed impossible to produce satisfactory results for everyone—managers, workers, and investors. He knew from his experience at The Children’s Community Workshop that everyone’s needs have to be considered to create a highly productive organization. Anything else was self-defeating.
While teaching radar technology in the Army, Endenburg had become interested in cybernetics, the study of communications and control. Cybernetics focuses on the ways that systems self-regulate. Primarily they do this by communicating in a chain of cause-and-effect that creates feedback loops. This allows the systems to manage themselves successfully by self-correcting in response to their environment.
In 1970 Gerard Endenburg reduced the size of his company from 160 to 100 employees to create a laboratory for developing a sociocratic business model. His goal was to produce the same environment of harmony and self-directed achievement that he had experienced at school. He found intolerably counter productive the negative spirit of competition he found in the university, the army, and now in his business,
Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method
Over the next few years, step by step, Gerard Endenburg developed the Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method (SCM). He based it on the now famous three principles:
Consent decision-making for policy decisions, including electing people to roles and responsibilities.
Circle meetings in which working groups meet as equals to make policy decisions
Double linking of circles to form a circular hierarchy that functioned as a feedback structure.
He spent ten years planning, testing, measuring, making corrections, and starting over again. Finally, Endenburg had developed a revolutionary method of organizing and managing organizations, Including his own producing electrical systems for the Dutch shipping industry. It expanded the ideas of Comte and Ward, and was more broadly applicable than the Boekes’.
In the Children’s Community Workshop, Kees Boeke and Betty Cadbury had created a harmonious society of self-organizing equals. But their methods only worked in a homogeneous population and was dependent on the valuing of love and concern for each other. In a demanding, fast-paced business waiting until everyone loved each other was no more an option than majority voting.
Gerard Endenburg Applies His Method
By the early 1980s, Endenburg had developed a method that produced a harmonious, self-regulating, and highly successful business. Remarkably, it could be used to govern any kind of organization effectively. He founded the Sociocratisch Centrum in Amsterdam and began consulting in other businesses and organizations.
When Endenburg stepped down as managing director of Endenburg Electric in 1995, the company, still kept at 110 employees, had an annual income of fl 14 million (~US $5.6 million).