What is Sociocracy?
Sociocracy is a method of governing organizations that produces greater commitment, higher levels of creativity, distributed leadership, deeper harmony, and dramatically increased productivity. The principles and practices, based on the values of equivalence, effectiveness, and transparency, are designed to support both unity and respect for the individual.
Why Is It Different?
Sociocracy vests power in the “socius,” the companions, the people who regularly interact with one another and have a common aim. Decisions are made in consultation with each other, in consideration of the needs of each person in the context of the aims of the organization.
By contrast, democracy vests power in the “demos,” in the population, without respect to their understanding of the issues or of each other. In a democracy, the majority of the “demos” can ignore the minority of the “demos” when they make decisions. This inevitably produces factions and conflict rather than harmony. It encourages people to build alliances, trade favors, and think politically rather than achieving the aims of the organization.
An autocracy vests power in one person or set of persons, an “auto” that can ignore the rest of the organization and make decisions without consultation. This discourages the development of leadership and creative ideas in the organization. This can also produce bad decisions because other members of the organization are afraid to share negative information. While some associations are democratic, most are autocratic with power vested in a board of directors. Employees and members alike can be ignored. Non-profits, like businesses, are almost exclusively autocratic.
In a sociocratic organization, whether it is a business, an association, or a community, power is vested in all members of the organization. Each person has the power and responsibility to make the decisions that govern their own participation in the organization.
The Three (or Four) Basic Principles
Observing the basic principles is important because they ensure that the organization doesn’t slip back into autocratic or disorganized decision-making. There are many more practices and methods that are essential to implementing the basic principles but these requirements guide the adaptation of those methods to specific circumstances. The three basic principles are essential.
The principle of consent governs policy decision-making. Consent means a member has no argued and paramount objections to a proposed policy. “Argued” means reasoned or explained. “Paramount” means all important. An objection is not a veto; it is a valid reason why a particular decision will prevent a member of the group from doing their job or otherwise supporting its aims.
Objections are solicited because they provide positive information. The reasoning behind them allows the group to improve the proposal so all members of the group can work toward the aim more effectively.
Policies are decisions that limit or permit future operational decisions and actions. They include budgets, strategic plans, allocation of resources, including money and people, and the basis for leadership by the Operational Leader. Policies govern the day-to-day activities of the working group.
An extension of consent, and sometimes presented as a fourth principle, is that people are elected to roles and responsibilities by consent. The members of the working group nominate and discuss the task description and nominees availability and positive ability to fulfill the task, and then consent to the assignment. The nominee must also consent. This process ensures that the team selects the person that the group believes is the best for the task and that they will support on the task. The task description and the discussion ensures that the person elected understands the group’s expectations.
A sociocratic organization is governed by “circles,” semi-autonomous policy decision-making groups that correspond to working groups, whether they are departments, teams, or local neighborhood associations. Each circle has its own aim and steers its own work by performing all the functions of leading, doing, and measuring on its own operations. Together the three steering functions establish a feedback loop, making the circle self-correcting, or self-regulating.
In circle meetings, each person is equivalent and has the power to consent or object to proposed actions that affect their responsibility in the organization.
On a daily basis, activities are directed by a leader without discussion or reevaluation of decisions. This produces efficiency and forward movement. If there is disagreement, the leader makes the decision in the moment. the issue is discussed in the next circle meeting, and a policy is established to govern such decisions in the future.
To ensure that feedback travels up and down and across the organization, circles are arranged in a hierarchy of overlapping circles. The overlapping is formed by the circle’s operational leader and one or more elected representatives who are full members of both circles. This overlap is called a “double link.”
The double-link is unique to sociocracy and forms a feedback loop that allows the system to self-correct. The operational leader is elected by the higher circle to communicate the decisions and needs of the larger organization to the circle. The circle then elects one or more of its members to communicate the decisions and needs of the circle to the higher circle. While each link participates fully in all aspect of circle discussions, they are responsible for communicating specific information.
Other Methods and Practices
There are many other methods and practices that support the governance of the sociocratic organization, but the beauty is the simplicity of the basic principles. As long as the principles are maintained and the values—equivalence, effectiveness, and transparency—guide the application of methods and practices, they will produce organizations that are harmonious and productive. The sociocratic vision.