Pattern for Agile Organizations - The Sociocracy 3.0 Remix Kit
The Sociocracy Remix Kit by Bernhard Bocklelbrink is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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This website is no longer maintained, I focus my time on developing Sociocracy 3.0. Head over to the Sociocracy 3.0 Website for lots of free resources about Sociocracy 3.0.
Table of Contents
We are currently experiencing a paradigm shift in both enterprise and startup culture towards agile. Yet most of the agile transformations fall short of their expected benefits: things usually improve for a while, but then stagnation or even deterioration creeps in.
Agile software development is focused on delivering customer value. Governance in organizations is implicitly or explicitly focused on delivering shareholder value. The traditional way organizations are structured and governed creates a tension: The pull of the customer, partners and compliance issues does not correspond to the way information and decisions travel along hierarchies. Decisions are often made far from the point of the highest density of information about the issue at hand, which affects high level topics as business strategy and portfolio management. At the same time crucial information is often not available at operational level, because it somehow gets lost traveling along the hierarchies.
Agile and lean software development is usually implemented in a company to decrease time to market: through reflection on iterations teams identify and remove impediments to fast delivery . This works well for impediments in the area of influence of the agile teams, but in most cases change is limited to the scope of the R&D department. Two main reasons for this are communication problems between engineers and executives, and reporting lines that ignore the pull of the customer.
In many cases the system of governance for the company hosting an agile development unit is simply unfit for agile culture: structures, decision making processes and incentives are often in direct opposition to agile values and principles. In such an environment, agile withers and dies.
Sociocracy is a whole system approach for efficient governance, inclusive decision making, and the ongoing evaluation and improvement of an organization. It provides an elegant solution for both problems described above, a structure of circles with double links to make sure information travels effectively into both directions, and a decision making process that allows for participation of delegated experts in the decisions that affect them.
Sociocracy is agile governance, it proves a perfect host for agile departments or teams, and it allows for effective collaboration of agile and non-agile groups.
Being transformational and lightweight, and avoiding many of the pitfalls of “traditional” governance systems, sociocracy ties in perfectly with existing structures in an organization, and slowly evolves and scales them as necessary.
Iterative discovery (or emergence) of the minimal set of policies that are required to effectively run an organization, and a decision making process which allows for fast and sustainable agreements without lengthy discussions, make sociocratic organizations more resilient to a changing environment.
It is not incidental that sociocracy’s feedback loops for policy making (Lead - Do - Measure) are as effective as the Lean Startup Method’s feedback loop (Build - Measure - Learn) is for products, although the former precedes the latter by several decades.
Sociocracy can be implemented as a whole or in parts, or as specialized forms, and supports any style of management so you can pick the one that seems most effective in the given context.
In the 21st century capital is no longer a scarce resource, but talent is. The system of governance an organization employs not only affects customer and shareholder value, it also affects motivation of every member of the organization staff. sociocracy allows for fast decisions yet includes the perspective of everyone who is affected by that decision, an environment that fosters high performance and motivation. Attracting and retaining talent is a competitive advantage that can’t be missed.
The short answer: because we need a book that is actionable.
When I first heard about sociocracy I knew that I had found some of the missing links towards organizational agility. I was surprised that it felt so natural, and yet, only few people in the agile community seemed to be aware of its existence.
I quickly decided to devote some of my times to explore and spread these ideas, because I felt they would help us grow organizations that are not only concerned with the bottom line, but also with the happiness and well-being of all the stakeholders.
In a training with Lyssa Adkins she shared with me why she holds these trainings: she wants to help people to become the kind of leaders we need to tackle the big problems our world is facing today. This statement strongly resonates with me, and I think that sociocracy provides us with ways to gradually empower everyone in our organizations to move towards that kind of leadership and responsibility.
From the feedback on my workshops on sociocracy I learned that people are energized to use sociocracy in their organizations, but there’s usually no way to do a full transition in their circle of influence.
Still, I want to help them to use that energy to move forward, because even a small step is great if that is what one can do right now.
Also I don’t think it it sits well with an agile mindset to introduce a whole framework to an organization, I’d rather change in small experiments and see if my changes really bring value to an organization. Context is king, and small steps that really solve problems don’t create much resistance.
This Remix Kit is a growing collection of “micro manuals” for all the building blocks that sociocracy is made of, and a then few other things that I find helpful, and almost any of these ideas can be introduced independently to an organization. The manuals will point out tools that amplify each other or work well together, so it will be easy to move forward and introduce yet another tool, and then another.
My aim is to create short and actionable guides, I hope to include everything to get you started from scratch. I sometimes deviate from the prescriptions of “classic” sociocracy to adapt the tools to bring value individually, or to integrate relevant research and practices from the agile community and other practices.
For those curious to learn more about Sociocracy 2.0 (a.k.a The Sociocratic Method) I have included a brief overview ([Sociocracy in a nutshell]) and a section with resources for further study.
I hope you have lots of fun on your way towards a more agile organization.
Using the Remix Kit is easy:
I recommend not to run too many experiments in parallel, but your mileage may vary.
An organization must constantly balance equivalence, Involving All People Affected in Decisions, and effectiveness, i.e. being responsive towards change and respecting people and resources.
This balance can be achieved through [Circle Organizations], Double Linking, [Artful Participation] and Facilitation.
A sociocratic circle is a roundtable for making decisions as peers, there’s no hierarchies in a circle.
Consent Decision Making (or CDM) is a facilitated decision making process that allows to effectively capture emergent wisdom from the group and integrate it into synergistic solutions.
The aim of CDM is to quickly arrive at a decision that is good enough for everyone in the group, e.g. everyone “can live with” this decision. This is achieved by following a strict format (see below), facilitation of the process and mindful participation of the group.
A good decision making process is essential for effective collaboration and continuous improvement of a group.
Please refer to the section on Consent for the reasons why we want to base decisions on consent.
Consent Decision Making is a streamlined process that includes all the necessary steps for the group to attune to a proposal and quickly arrive at a decision that is good enough for the moment.
The process is designed in a way that both the facilitator and the group will soon become experts in Consent Decision Making, being able to balance equivalence of individuals and the effectiveness of the group so they can effortlessly navigate a Governance Meeting with a large agenda in a short amount of time.
To use Consent Decision Making with a group you need * one proposal * one owner for that proposal who can answer questions about the proposal * one facilitator
it helps to have clear aims for the team, those are the products to create, services to provide or any other goals the teams might have.
With a new group, the facilitator first explains the process to the group. The CDM cheat sheet in the appendix may come in handy the first few times you do this.
It is important for the group to know that there will be no discussion and the facilitator will invite everyone to speak when it is their turn. The facilitator reminds the group that goal is a good-enough decision everyone can live with, not a perfect decision.
The facilitator has the group gather in a circle and asks the owner of the proposal to briefly present the proposal.
For the following steps the facilitator uses Rounds, i.e. they pick a random member of the group to speak first and then go around the circle clockwise or counterclockwise until everyone has spoken. If the speaker is interrupted or the group starts a discussion, the facilitator gently reminds them of the process.
Next is a round of clarifying questions, everyone may ask the owner of the proposal questions to understand the proposal. If the facilitator detects a question that is aimed to question the proposal, they remind the group of the purpose of this round: understanding the proposal.
When the group has no more questions, the facilitator invites everyone to share a quick reaction about the proposal, usually only a few words or one sentence.
In the following consent round the facilitator asks everyone for their consent, participants may answer “I consent”, “I consent with concerns” or “I object”.
If there’s no objections, the group agrees on a review date for the decision, taking into account the concerns, and then records the decision, review date and concerns so they can later refer to it.
If there’s objections, now is the time to hear them. The facilitator makes sure the each objection is argued and paramount before summarizing it on a whiteboard or flip chart.
After all the objections have been heard, the facilitator helps processing them to integrate the emergent wisdom into the decision. (see Options for Processing Objections)
If the proposal has been amended on the spot, the facilitator determines at which step to continue with the Consent Decision Making Process: presentation of the proposal, clarifying questions, quick reactions, or consent round.
If the proposal has been deferred, the group moves on to the next item on the agenda.
Governance in Iterations helps a group with being more relaxed with decisions, because the participants know they can refine and adapt a decision in the next iteration.
Review Your Policies also helps with faster decisions, because any decision will automatically appear on the agenda of the Governance Meeting. For controversial topics setting a review date in the near future allows participants with concerns about the decision to view it as a short experiment that is contained safely in a time-box.
The minimal definition of consent in this context is the absence of argued and paramount objections from those affected by a decision. The aim here is to quickly arrive at decisions that are good enough for now, they don’t need to be perfect.
When a group operates on consent, withholding an objection will do great harm to the group, it is a willful act of violence against the group.
The argument about an objection needs to be made concerning the aims or shared goals of the group: Why would implementing a proposal prevent us from fulfilling our aims, or prevent somebody in the group from contributing towards those aims?
A paramount objection is so important we cannot let it go, something I could live with (at least for a while) is often not important enough to block a proposal, in some cases we could consent with a concern and make a note to review our decision at a certain date to see if the concern still stands, we would then amend or even revert the decision.
When new wisdom emerges, consent can be withdrawn at any time, usually by bringing a decision again on the agenda of a Governance Meeting.
Consent is the base for collaboration towards a shared goal. We cannot force people to contribute their best idea, we need to invite their contribution. Therefore consent should be the underlying principle for all our interactions in organizations.
When people share their argued and paramount objections to a proposal, the group harvests the emergent wisdom seeking expression into the consciousness of the group and integrates that wisdom into their decisions.
Through this process, groups are often able to create solutions that are not merely acceptable to everyone, but the expression of a synergy of all the diverse perspectives in the group.
Establishing consent is a fairly quick and painless exercise for a group that is experienced with a good decision making process such as the [Decider and Resolution Protocols] or Consent Decision Making
You can only establish working with consent with matters that lie in your circle of influence on an organization.
Imagine a team lead, who would be able to delegate some parts of their authorities (or even everything), to the group. For this to work, the team lead themselves would have to be part of the consenting group, so they can raise objections when they feel a decision would be endanger their position in the company, as this would prevent them from contributing to the group or even take away the right for consent decisions from the group.
You need to be very clear what is going to be decided with consent, and what is not, to avoid discussion and discord later, when you should be making decisions. A good start would be the Separation of Governance and Operations and using consent for all matters of governance.
It is possible to establish consent without a formal process, but a good process is usually much faster. For consenting to operational decisions teams often use the decider/resolution protocols or a simple consent round (Rounds), for policy decisions Consent Decision Making is a good idea.
In sociocracy, consent is required for [Proposal Creation], processing agenda items in the Governance Meeting, evaluating implemented policies Review Your Policies, the creation of Roles, Elections and Performance Review (role evaluations).
If two circles who are closely related, they each elect a delegate to be present with the other circle’s governance decisions. That way each of the circle has two independent This ensures that both circles are aligned with each other and cannot take decisions that would harm the other circle.
Instead of people being assigned to or volunteering for functions in an organization, we can select them on the basis of their qualifications for that function.
Following the facilitated process for sociocratic elections (as laid out in the implementation section below) the group suggests candidates, presents arguments for their qualifications, and then consents to one candidate fulfilling the required function for a limited term.
There is no emergent group wisdom in volunteering or assignment, both methods have a strong bias towards certain traits of personalities that are not necessarily correlated to good performance in a role or function.
The facilitator guides the group through the stages of the election process, and actively prevents discussion or dialog.
It helps to remind the group that asking for volunteers or who would be interested (or not interested) would anchor the decision and move it away from the arguments presented.
The facilitator presents the (previously consented to) description of the role or function, usually a combination of :
It’s important to never elect for unlimited terms, a new election after a term has expired allows for an natural expression of the emergent wisdom of the group around who should hold that role.
Each member of the group writes down their name and the name of their desired candidate (or “no nomination” or “hire from the outside”) hands in their nomination to the facilitator.
You can use sticky notes with the following format:
That way the facilitator can easily work with the nominations in the following rounds.
“What are the reasons for selecting your candidate?”
The facilitator invites each member of the group to share the arguments why they selected their candidate. If the nominations are on sticky notes the facilitator can stick them to a wall one by one as the nominations are explained.
“Is there anything else you would like to share?”
In another round, the circle then shares comments, questions and other important information while the facilitator helps to avoid discussion or dialog.
“Do you want to change your nomination? If so, please share the reason why.”
This round gives participants the chance to change their nominations on the basis of what they have learned in the previous round. Participants need to share the reasons for changing their nominations, and may ask questions to a potential candidate for clarifying information about themselves.
On changing a nomination, participants fill in a new election slip for the facilitator.
Now the facilitator summarises the nominations and the arguments and selects the candidate with the strongest arguments for election.
At this point, a discussion of the presented candidate is not necessary, the facilitator may remind the group that there is value in moving forward quickly and they can raise concerns or objections in the consent round that follows.
“Are there paramount objections to electing … ?”
The facilitator begins the consent round next to the candidate so the candidate is asked last.
Those with objections share the reasons for their objections, but there’s no discussion before the round has finished.
The facilitator has several options to resolve objections (see Resolving Objections), in many cases an amendment to the role description (e.g. a shorter term) followed by another consent round will be enough.
If an amendment of the role description is not possible, the facilitator would select another candidate from the nominations and start a new consent round.
If the role cannot be filled, the group might decide to use [Proposal Creation] to deal with the issue.
Elections benefit from a good Role Description and regular Performance Review. The facilitator and the group need to understand the concept of Rounds.
In many companies governance is expressed through large changes: quarterly and yearly goals, derived from strategy retreats, and, if things don’t turn out to well, a reorganization. These changes are usually driven from the peak of the pyramid, after much thinking and staring at numbers.
Another way is driving adapting to the constant flow of change in small iterations, by creating experiments from what was learned in the previous iteration. This would happen preferably in small, semi-autonomous and interconnected units.
A governance meeting is a (usually weekly or bi-weekly) meeting where the whole team gathers to make and review policy decisions that guide their operations.
A governance meeting happens in regular intervals or on demand, and usually is structured in a way that allows for effective processing of administrative concerns and agenda items.
A good governance meeting is time-boxed to 60 minutes, contains little or no discussion and ends with an evaluation of the meeting itself. A group should aim for processing an agenda item in 5 minutes or less, which can be achieved through a combination of good preparation, artful Facilitation and [Artful Participation].
The Separation of Governance and Operations and the principle to Involving All People Affected in Decisions both call for a meeting format to deal with governance.
The following structure has proven to be effective for governance meetings.
Leadership is helping a group to move towards their shared goals.
The logbook keeper is responsible for recording and maintain all information the circle needs for their operations and governance, and makes it available both to the group and the rest of the organization.
Effective management of information is crucial for successful operations and governance, and yet it is often forgotten in the heat of the day-to-day business.
The role of the logbook keeper provides the space for managing information and allows for continuous improvement of the way the group is using that information.
Successful implementation of a logbook keeper benefits from a clear Role Description and regular [Performance Evaluation].
It’s a good idea to get into the habit of evaluating all meetings you attend. Both the facilitator and the group can use the information gathered here on their journey towards artful Facilitation and [Artful Participation]
For the review of the meeting you can use this format:
The facilitator creates 4 sections on a flip chart paper with the following topics:
Participants are asked in a round to briefly review the meetings along those topics as the facilitator summarises what was said on the flip chart.
Objections in a consent round represent emergent wisdom that seeks expression into the consciousness of the group.
There’s a range of options how to address these objections by either processing them into amendments of a proposal or identifying the context where the decision in question can be made effectively.
It is important a group sees objections as a potential for growth and improvement. To that end the group needs options to quickly harvest the value in objections and then move on.
There’s various options for procession objections, usually the facilitator will select the one that looks most promising in the situation at hand.
The facilitator amends the proposal and leads another consent round.
The participant(s) who had objections make suggestions how to amend the proposal.
The facilitator leads a round on the question “How might we you resolve this objection?”
The owner of the proposal will revise the proposal. They can attempt to do that on the spot, with the facilitator leading another consent round, or later, and bring the revised proposal to the next Governance Meeting.
The group consents to a smaller group to revise the proposal.
The decision will be delegated to another group in the organization that is more qualified to make that decision, maybe there’s even a conflict resolution group for these matters.
The group elects one person to take that decision on behalf of the group.
Successful implementation largely depends on the level to [Artful Participation] in the group.
If the group or the facilitator see any other way to move forward, they should take it.
Facilitation, Elections, Consent Decision Making, Performance Improvement Plan, [Proposal Creation]
A performance review is always tied to a specific role, and hosted by the person who holds this role. Together with a group of peers and associates they create a Performance Improvement Plan that will be presented to the group that created the role for consent.
Let’s be honest, everyone hates performance appraisals, they’re rarely fair, and some people claim that receiving feedback on our performance instills the same fear as would walking in the woods meeting a saber-toothed cat.
And yet it is highly beneficial both to the group and to ourselves to improve our performance in the various roles we energize, otherwise we and the organization we are part of runs the risk to remain stuck in mediocrity.
By removing the violent and authoritarian parts of performance appraisals, removing the financial consequences and giving full responsibility to the individual who wants to grow, we have a much better prospect for learning and change.
Also the resistances against accepting feedback are lower when feedback is directed towards one single role only, instead of at the whole person, so the feedback meetings usually are a joyful and productive experience.
Conducting the review with a small group of relevant peers and associates from other circles makes it easy to be effective and still include diverse perspectives.
Usually a Role Description provides information about criteria, procedure and intervals of evaluation.
The [Secretary] should be able to remind members of the group when an evaluation for one of their roles is due.
The member in question then invites a group of people who would be able to give them valuable feedback to their performance in this specific role for a feedback meeting.
The aim of this meeting is to collect information for the Performance Improvement Plan, by discussing strengths and possible improvements.
This proposal creation process is similar to the Design Thinking Process, with diverging phases to first bring clarity about the problem domain and then explore the solution domain, followed by a converging phase where the several individual pieces of solutions are integrated into a workable proposal that can be consented to by the group. It’s suited for for issues with small or medium complexity, bigger issues should either be broken down into smaller ones, be worked on in iterations (MVP) or addressed using the Design Thinking Process.
Picture forming is done with the whole group and requires a facilitator.
List all elements and dimensions of the problem. Remain in the problem space to see the issue from all angles, do not propose solutions yet, as they would not only be incomplete at this stage, but also limit your abilities to get a complete picture. One way to remain in the problem space is collecting all consideration as questions.
The facilitator leads a consent round, any objections are included in the description.
With the notes about the problem domain visible to the group the facilitator leads several rounds to generate proposal ideas (“How might we resolve that issue?”). Instead of judging or evaluating ideas expressed by others, participants simply add new suggestions that build on previous ones.
For more complex issues it’s good practice for participants to write their ideas on sticky notes, so that the facilitator can already organize and group ideas.
This step can be completed by a smaller group of tuners, who maintain a neutral attitude when integrating ideas into manageable and complete proposals. The finished proposal(s) are then shared with all members of the group.
The whole group consents to the completeness of the proposal, either synchronously in a consent round or individually (e.g. via email). If the proposals are incomplete, the group gathers again to generate new ideas for proposals.
If the proposals are complete, implementation can be consented to by the whole group, for that they usually go on the agenda in the Governance Meeting.
A retrospective is a facilitated, short and effective meeting that allows a group to collectively reflect on its operations at regular intervals. Various retrospective patterns can be used to generate insights and identify improvements, usually either operational tasks or agenda items for the Governance Meeting.
A retrospective allows a group to step out of their day-to-day work and take a bird’s eye view, to see what is important rather than only the urgent issues.
The facilitator creates and maintains a safe space for reflection, and selects patterns for the retrospective dependent on context and guides the team through all phases of the retrospective.
Short intervals between retrospectives allow for learning while the memory is still fresh, and for the implementation of a constant stream of small changes which can be implemented quickly and without fear.
When a group gets into the habit to reflect on its operations together they build stronger relationships and amplify learning through exploring and integrating different views on the past. Without an opportunity for collective reflection a group must rely on suggestions for improvements from individual (and thus incomplete) perspectives.
E Derby, D Larsen (2006), Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. Pragmatic Programmers
describe 5 phases for a retrospective * Set the stage * Gather data * Generate insight * Decide what to do * Close the retrospective
If you don’t want to invest the time to create perfect policies (which don’t exist anyway) but rather want to move forward quickly,
You can spend a disproportionate amount of time to create a perfect policy, but as soon as the context changes, you’d need to adapt that policy anyway.
It’s much more effective to move fast and create a policy that is just good enough for now, and regularly review and amend it.
Consent on a standard period for policies, e.g. three or six months so you don’t have to decide for each policy. You may still want to adapt that period in accordance with concerns or objections to that policy
When you consent to implement a new policy, make a record of the policy and the review date, e.g. in the Logbook, and add a reminder to the calendar to bring up the review a Governance Meeting near the review date.
The review itself is easy, the facilitator reads the text of the policy and facilitates a consent round on the following question:
“Are there paramount objections against keeping that policy?”
Objections are then processed into amendments of the policy, if the objections can’t be resolved, the policy is dropped.
A round is a simple instrument for facilitation in a group that allows everyone to speak without creating a discussion. For rounds to work well with larger groups, the group and facilitator should to sit or stand in a circle.
For a round the facilitator invites a random person in to speak briefly, and then goes around the circle clockwise or counterclockwise so that everyone gets the chance to speak. If much has been shared in the round, the facilitator may want return to those who spoke first and ask if somebody wants to share more after having heard the others.
Not all people in a group are equal, some speak more easily in front of others, some don’t. But everyone’s contribution has value to the group, when it is focussed and to the point.
Rounds create the safe space for everyone to be heard, maybe not at first, for some it takes a few rounds of practice.
Usually rounds elicit much more information than a discussion, because there is no bias towards those with (formal or perceived) authority, and no competition for speaking time.
Groups used to rounds naturally cultivate listening to understand in favour of listening to reply: everyone knows they will be heard by the group, so they are free to listen to what the others have to say.
Simply start using rounds, it is a simple and natural process, in the beginning you don’t even have to tell people that you are using them.
From a position of authority (such as a facilitator or team lead) simply ask a question or raise a topic and then point to the first person in your round, call them by their name and invite them to speak briefly, maybe in 2–3 sentences. When they are done, point to the next person, call their name and repeat that invitation. Continue until the round is finished.
If the speaker is interrupted or a discussion breaks out, tell the group that you want to hear everyone’s contribution without interruption, and that you will either have a discussion afterwards or do a second round so everyone can share their ideas or arguments.
After a few rounds the facilitator can explain the idea of rounds to the group and invite them to take it to the next level: form a circle that opens slightly towards the facilitator, and from now on the facilitator will only address the first and the second speaker, and then only establish eye contact with the rest of the round. This, and the fact that you will pick a different first speaker and direction for each new round helps the people being mindful and active participants in the group ([Artful Participation]), which positively affects their capabilities for listening, empathizing and contributing.
Operations are our daily tasks that move us closer to fulfilling our aims, building products, customer interactions, services we provide.
Governance is the set of rules we follow, policies created to serve our aims in guiding our operational decisions.
If you imagine the day-to-day operations as a river, governance is the river bed, the policies that guide operational (one-time) decisions.
Effective governance benefits from a bird’s eye view, you need to be able to see the big picture. This is hard to do when your in the midst of operational decisions.
The usual way to do this is delegate governance to managers. Alas, they lack in current knowledge about operations, so the governance decisions they bring back from the ivory tower are quite often not very helpful.
Setting aside some time for the operational teams to deal with governance matters allows themselves allows them to take governance decisions with both the right mindset and the right knowledge.
First a team needs to collect topics for their governance meetings. Those topics arise in day-to-day operations, for agile teams also in retrospectives. For co-located teams probably the easiest way to collect these topics is with sticky notes on a wall.
These topics will then be processed into the agenda of a Governance Meeting. For most teams this will happen weekly or bi-weekly, but really disciplined and mature teams might opt for governance meetings on demand: When a previously agreed upon number of topics is reached the team holds a time-boxed governance meeting where the notes are first prioritised and then processed. What’s left over is either discarded as irrelevant or remains on the wall.
transparency - all information is up-to-date and accessible for all unless we consent to secrets
Note This section is a very short overview on The Sociocratic Method (what I would call Sociocracy 2.0). A few things are deliberately missing, e.g. the nine step plan or the remuneration system. For further study I recommend the publicly available sociocratic norms SCN 1000–0 and SCN 500.
The Sociocratic Method (SCM) is a whole system approach for efficient governance, inclusive decision making, and the ongoing evaluation and improvement of an organization.
SCM has three core values:
An organization needs to have clarity about and consent on their vision, mission and aims.
The organization gathers around the vision, the dreamed of and desired future. The mission is the way towards that future, the big picture and the principles and values.
The mission is then broken down further into aims, e.g. products, services, experiences the organization produces for the people it serves. Policies are created to serve aims, and guide the day-to-day operational tasks, which develop and maintain the aims.
A sociocratic organization is laid out in a hierarchical structure of circles, e.g. a semi-autonomous and self-organized group of people who contribute towards common aims. The aims of the individual circles are derived from the organization’s vision and mission. The top circle connects an organization with its environment, the general circle is responsible for coordination of operations of the organizations. Each higher circle sends a functional leader to the next lower circles, which each elect a delegate who becomes a full member in decision making of the next higher circle circle. This is called double linking, because there is always two people in each circle to bring in the other circle’s perspective to proposal and decisions.
A circle meets on a regular basis to consent to and review policies. For that the circle uses consent decision making, a facilitated process where each member of a circle is specifically asked for their consent to a policy proposal. A proposal can only be blocked with a paramount and argued objection, i.e. a substantial reason why that proposal is an impediment to the circle’s aims. Proposals often are amended integrating the wisdom brought to light through an objection.
Consent decision making is organized in rounds, where each person speaks in turn, to maintain equivalence of the participants.
There’s six different meeting processes involving consent, the first three are about policies, the other there are about people:
In SCM, all policy decisions are taken by the people who are affected by those policies, and all policies are evaluated on a regular basis. Each policy is assigned a review date at which that policy scheduled for review in a circle meeting. The circle may keep or amend the policy, and set a new review date, or even consent to dropping the policy altogether. Any circle member can request a policy review sooner than the consented timeframe is necessary. This feedback loop, sometimes referred to as plan - implement - evaluate, allows for effective continuous refinement of all policies, and prunes what is no longer necessary.
Each circle has full autonomy over they way they run their operations, this is just another policy. A circle may elect an autocratic leader, or consent to using majority or consensus voting, or something entirely different for their operations. This policy, as any other, has a review date.
Policy decisions and decisions on operational matters are strictly separated and never conducted in the same meeting.
For each circle there’s a set of pre-defined roles: a facilitator who facilitates all processes, a logbook keeper who records all decisions and other important information in the logbook, (the circle’s memory, which is visible to everyone in the organization), a secretary who organizes meetings, and probably an operational leader if the circle finds they need one. Other roles will be created by the circle as required.
Circle members are elected into roles using sociocratic elections, a process where candidates are nominated and arguments for their nominations are presented before the decision is made by consent.
Each role undergoes a regular performance review a process guided by the circle member who fills that particular role. The resulting development plan and recommendations for improving the role description are proposed to the circle in the circle meeting.
Holacracy® is a trademark of HolacracyOne LLC.
Since Holacracy started out as a adaptation of The Sociocratic Method, I get a lot of questions about its relation so sociocracy, whether it’s better or worse, what the main differences are. For the moment I’d rather focus on updating and finishing this this guide, maybe then it’s time for a more detailed statement. For now I’ll make it brief:
Holacracy is a rather complicated and rigid system, which in my opinion limits the range of organizations it can bring value to. From what I have heard, training and consulting about Holacracy are rather expensive, which will probably limit applicability even further. As Holacracy is a trademark (and brand) of HolacracyOne, changes and adaptations to the method need to be approved by HolacracyOne, otherwise you can’t claim you’re doing Holacracy.
Writing this guide would not have been possible without the help of James Priest (of thriveincommunity.co.uk), my good friend and partner in creating Sociocracy 3.0). James introduced me to Sociocracy and taught me a significant part of what I know about Sociocracy today.
Another great source of wisdom without which all of this would never have been possible are the comments of participants in my workshops, the members of the Sociocracy Circle in Berlin and my peers in the Agile Coaching Community.
Bernhard Bockelbrink is co-founder of The Sociocracy 3.0 Movement. As an agile coach, consultant and trainer he is supporting organizations in agile transformations and helps them on their way towards an evolved culture of leadership and close collaboration that allows them to sustainably grow great products and services with happy people.
He has 18 years of experience in as a coach, CTO, scrum master, product owner, project manager, technology consultant and developer in Startups, small-/medium-sized businesses and enterprises, and a passion for agile and lean software development that goes back to the late 1990s.
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organization: people come together to accomplish a task that one person could not accomplish alone ↩
this applies not only to sociocracy, but to e.g. Scrum as well ↩
stealing somebody’s time is the subtlest form of murder ↩
i.e. a compromise ↩
as in “write it down for all to see” ↩
from lat. gubernare, to steer a vessel ↩
a lean organization would call this kaikaku ↩
or somebody has read a new book ↩
and contact me so I may add it here ↩
sorry, no citation ↩
as both the fear of financial loss and the prospect of financial gain are destructive forces ↩
e.g. people this role has interacted with ↩
the market, the team, the strategy, the product, etc. ↩
Also called dynamic governance, apparently there’s people who so are afraid of Socialism that even the stem of the term makes them shiver. ↩
or lead - do - measure ↩
sometimes also called meeting manager ↩