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.
|Concept Overview||– Sociocracy is a holistic governance system and organizational structure that prioritizes equivalence, transparency, and effectiveness. It emphasizes shared decision-making and aims to create harmonious and self-organizing groups or organizations.|
|Core Principles||– Equivalence: All individuals have equal influence in decision-making, ensuring that power is distributed rather than concentrated in a few. – Consent Decision-Making: Decisions are made when there are no paramount objections, fostering consensus while allowing for swift action. – Circle Structure: Organizations are divided into interconnected circles, each with specific responsibilities and autonomy. – Double-Linking: Circles are connected by individuals who serve in multiple circles, facilitating communication and alignment. – Continuous Improvement: Sociocracy encourages continuous feedback and adaptation through iterative processes, promoting resilience and flexibility.|
|Governance Process||– Sociocratic organizations employ a governance process known as the Consent Decision-Making Process. It involves presenting a proposal, seeking consent (no paramount objections), and ensuring that all concerns are addressed. This process balances autonomy and alignment.|
|Organizational Structure||– Sociocratic organizations are structured in nested circles. Each circle has its specific role and autonomy while being linked to broader circles. This structure promotes transparency, accountability, and communication while allowing for local decision-making.|
|Leadership||– Leadership in Sociocracy is distributed rather than relying on a single authority figure. Leaders emerge based on their ability to contribute effectively within circles. The focus is on role-based leadership that can change as needed, fostering collaboration and diversity of perspectives.|
|Adaptability||– A key strength of Sociocracy lies in its adaptability. Organizations can adjust and evolve rapidly to changing circumstances. The feedback loop and continuous improvement processes make it resilient and capable of responding to complexity effectively.|
|Challenges||– Implementing Sociocracy can be challenging, particularly for organizations accustomed to traditional hierarchies. Achieving true equivalence and consent may require cultural shifts and comprehensive training. Misunderstanding or misapplication of the principles can lead to ineffectiveness.|
|Applications||– Sociocracy has found applications in various sectors, including businesses, nonprofits, community organizations, and education. It is well-suited for organizations seeking to promote collaboration, efficiency, and adaptability while ensuring equivalence among members.|
|Global Adoption||– Sociocracy has gained global recognition and is utilized in numerous countries. Its principles align with modern values of shared leadership, equality, and responsive governance, making it relevant to diverse cultures and organizational contexts.|
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.
2 – Circles and double-linking
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.
- Origins and Principles:
- Sociocracy traces its roots to mid-nineteenth-century ideas of applied sociology, aiming to create a society that benefits everyone through governance informed by sociological insights.
- It opposes autocratic rulers and promotes a system based on values of equality.
- Application in Business:
- In business, sociocracy is a governance approach that emphasizes employee empowerment, autonomy, and self-expression.
- It enables employees to work in alignment with company objectives while retaining individuality at the project level.
- Sociocracy stands in contrast to traditional hierarchical management.
- Three Pillars of Sociocracy:
- Decision Making by Elected Consent:
- Decision-making occurs by consent, where circle members collaboratively choose an elected person from their peers.
- Consensus is reached when no member has reasoned objections, not by authority or majority vote.
- Circles and Double-Linking:
- Working groups are organized into nested, hierarchical circles based on domains of authority.
- Each circle elects leaders, and day-to-day decisions are governed by policies agreed upon by all members.
- Circles are linked to parent and sub-circles through elected delegates who actively participate in both levels.
- Feedback is integral at all levels and roles within the organization.
- It’s given by all employees systematically and cyclically, emphasizing meaningful information about organizational functioning.
- Feedback follows the lead-do-measure principle, focusing on planning, execution, and evaluation of meetings and policies.
- Decision Making by Elected Consent:
- Continuous Improvement:
- Sociocracy emphasizes continuous improvement and alignment with organizational goals.
- Through elected consent, circles with double-links, and feedback processes, the system aims to enhance decision-making, collaboration, and performance
Types of Organizational Structures
Siloed Organizational Structures
Open Organizational Structures
Connected Business Frameworks
Organizational Structure Case Studies
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