Sociocracy is based on mid-nineteenth-century ideas around applied sociology. Initially, a sociocracy was defined as a government applying what it had learned from sociologists to create a society that benefitted everyone. As a result, societies could avoid autocratic rulers who would only act in their own best interests. Sociocracy therefore is a governance system that helps organizations self-govern based on values of equality.
In business, sociocracy is a systems-based governance approach that advocates employee empowerment, autonomy, and self-expression. This allows employees to work in alignment with company goals and strategies while maintaining their individuality at the project level. In this way, a sociocracy is a participatory form of decision making that differs from the traditional vertical (hierarchical) management system.
Sociocracy is based on certain methods, principles, and structures that create resilient and coherent systems. In the next section, we will discuss these in more detail.
The three pillars of sociocracy
Sociocratic principles are realized through three key features, known as pillars.
1 – Decision making by elected consent
Decision-making is performed by consent, with all circle members engaged collaboratively to choose an elected person from among their peers.
Each member argues in favor of the person they consider the most competent, and each member must provide consent for the same individual to reach group consensus. However, consensus in a sociocracy means that no circle member feels the need to oppose a decision by way of a reasoned objection.
Note also that decisions are not made by an authority, traditional hierarchy structure, or majority vote.
The organization of working groups, units, or departments is represented by nested, hierarchical circles. Here, hierarchical refers to domains of authority. There is no relationship to control, power, or coercion.
During meetings, circle members function as equals and each circle elects a secretary, facilitator, chair, and leader. Day-to-day decisions are made by the leader, but the leader is governed by a policy formulated by every member of each circle.
Each circle is linked to both a parent and sub-circle via a double link, otherwise known as an overlap. This overlap occurs when one or two members of one circle become elected delegates in the parent circle. In other words, they are full participating members of both circles. Delegates work closely with parent circle (operational) leaders to ensure that their specific needs, goals, or proposals are duly considered.
3 – Feedback
Feedback is a critical part of all activities and roles at each level of the organization. It should be given by all employees and not concentrated on those with seniority or title.
In a sociocracy, feedback takes the form of meaningful information about the functioning of an organization. It should be collected systematically and cyclically using the lead-do-measure principle:
- Lead – plan a meeting and then make policy. This includes the collaborative creation of an agenda and even trivial details such as where and when the meeting will take place.
- Do – perform the meeting and carry out policy. Sociocracy advocates the use of rounds, where each member of the circle has a chance to speak once per round of discussion. This fosters mutual understanding and teaches employees listening skills.
- Measure – evaluate the meeting and evaluate policy. Evaluating the effectiveness or quality of the meeting itself is a core component of sociocracy. The secretary of the circle should record the minutes and suggest issues or topics for discussion in subsequent meetings.
Feedback should always focus on whether the function in question was able to move the circle closer to its goals.
- Sociocracy is an organizational governance system with a focus on equality and continuous improvement.
- Sociocracy empowers employees to make their own decisions while maintaining an alignment with company goals and strategies.
- Sociocracy is based on three key pillars: decision making by elected consent, circles with double-links, and continuous and collaborative feedback.
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