History and Philosophy

What Are Systems?

Q. So what are systems and why do a sociocratic organizations meet that definition?

A system is a grouping of parts that share a common purpose. Organizations are systems of people who share a common purpose or aim.

A Grouping of Parts

The parts must be defined. A lawnmower doesn’t work with just any old part. It works because specific parts do specific jobs. All parts can expect specific behaviors from other parts.

In order for human organizations to accomplish their purpose, their parts must also be defined. When people are making decisions together they need to know who they are making decisions with, otherwise there is no dialogue or conclusion. The parts can’t depend on each other when action is necessary if they don’t know who they are. Making decisions with anyone who passes by doesn’t work very well.

A Common Aim

A common aim is what makes parts a group. Otherwise the parts would exist randomly and have no focus.

When you find a common aim, you know you have a system, not a random assortment of parts or people. The aim may be very simple like coming together to watch movies on Friday nights or play marbles on Saturday morning. Or complex like a city government.

Formal or Informal

The system may be informal as the marble playing on Saturday mornings is likely to be. The regular players will have worked out a pattern of play and rules even though they are not written or consented to by other players. There will be leaders, formally chosen or informally recognized who “rule the playground.” Without formalized agreements, the  group will not become more complex. The aim will be remain simple.

A city government has a complex aim and is a formal organization. It has written rules to which its parts have consented. Although those who have interacted with city governments will also recognize an informal system of getting things done inside the formal organization’s rules.

Open or Closed

Systems can open or closed. An organization with no interaction with the outside world is closed and will die because it doesn’t have a source of energy.

The aim provides both the connection between the parts and between the system and the environment. Interactions with the larger environment bring new energy in the form of new people and financial resources.

Sociocratic Organizations as Systems

Sociocratic organizations are designed as open, formal systems that pay close attention to defining aims and measuring their progress toward their aims. Consent, coherent structure, and double linking between groupings of parts creates an organization that is self-organizing and in harmony with its environment.