Implementation paths and resources — all you need to get started
Theodor (Ted) Rau, Sociocracy For All
We assume you’re part of an organization — your own business, your workplace, your community, your association. You have some basic knowledge in sociocracy.
Let’s say you know that you are dreaming of turning your organization into a self-managed organization, using sociocracy (or any related framework). Now what?
First of all, let me say that I don’t believe in a cookie-cutter method. Every organization is a little different. And every organization has its unique advantages and potential challenges. Interestingly, every organization has to shift in some way. (For example, a very flat organization will have to get used to some structure. Yet, a very hierarchical organization has to get used to more shared and distributed authority.)
Yet, there are some lessons people have learned by seeing the process dozens of dozens of times. Here are the steps, in a nutshell. (A longer version is in our chapter “Implementing sociocracy” in the handbook Many Voices One Song. Shared Power With Sociocracy published in June 2018.)
1. Understand sociocracy — connecting and educating
1.1 Educate yourself
If you are reading this, you are probably in this phase! Here is what you can do. Learn more about sociocracy, read case studies, watch videos. Yet, don’t stop there! Being able to do sociocracy in practice is just as important as knowing a lot. Make it concrete: become a better facilitator, learn how to protect working groups and people in roles and trust them.
1.2 Bring in others
First of all, keep in mind that people are hesitant when they hear sociocracy — or anything, really — for the first time. Does it work? Is it too weird? We have seen it countless times: someone learns about sociocracy and gets very excited. → The enthusiast learns more and more and gets more and more excited. → People around them interpret it as “too missionary” and turn away.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, you have to be proactive early. Find others in your organization that might be interested in exploring self-governance and sociocracy. Team up with them.
In addition, give people a chance to practice instead of just talking about it. People take ownership of the processes as soon as they have made their own first-hand experiences.
Typical ways to invite others into the conversation are to share videos, read books together and run a study group. Some groups have formed a study circle and run it sociocratically. (That study circle often transitions into an implementation circle, see below.)
1.3 Who else is out there?
Face outward. Who else is out there, maybe in similar situations or fields? Let’s be honest, the sociocracy enthusiasts in any organization need credibility, and this validation often comes from the outside. That way, it’s not just crazy you. This can come in the form of outside speakers, reading case studies and listening to webinars.
1.4 SoFA resources for this stage
- a free MOOC to learn on your own (ca. 45min)
- you can share blog articles, in particular this one: ‘3 tools from sociocracy to try out right away‘
- training to try sociocracy yourself, offered a few times a year
- learn together in a study group (with SoFA’s ELC curriculum)
- (in development: interactive map of sociocratic organizations by sector and location)
2. Explore sociocracy — building a home base and experimenting
Now it’s time to learn more and to think it through for real. Make sociocracy your own, as a group. Operating as a backroom club is now not enough anymore.
2.1 Get clarity on the decision path
Make sure you have an official mandate to explore sociocracy as a governance system.
- If one person (or committee) is your ultimate decision maker, ask their permission to look at sociocracy as a potential governance method.
- In consensus-run organizations, get consensus from the decision-makers.
- For contexts of majority vote, you’ll have to vote on your new decision-making method. Don’t use a slim majority to introduce a consent-based system; that would start the new system off on the wrong foot!
The biggest trouble is to pursue this mandate if your current system is unclear on who decides and how. That’s sometimes the case in new and informal organizations. It can easily become a deal-breaker for any new system. There simply isn’t a way to get it approved. There has to be a pragmatic decision that’s well-grounded in the group. If not, they will die a slow death because of lack of clarity in their governance.
2.2 More skills for more people
Make sure people know enough about sociocracy to make an informed decision.
- To start, run pilot projects, for example by using, rounds, the consent process and the sociocratic meeting format in some teams.
- Host gatherings that train people.
- Train more people using the study group curriculum. Invite speakers.
- Your original study group can help spread training resources that they liked or make their own.
- Train facilitators.
- Encourage as many people as possible to attend webinars and watch webinar recordings.
2.3 Hearing concerns
Engage with people who might have concerns or objections to a new governance system. Listen with an open heart and mind — practice consent by hearing what’s under their concern and taking it seriously. See how their concerns can be addressed. For example, if their concern is practicability, then connect them with people who have implemented in a similar context. If their concern is a drop in productivity, make sure to work out a solid implementation plan that minimizes risks.
2.4 SoFA Resources for this stage
- Facilitation training online.
- SoFA’s youtube channel
- Upcoming webinars
- Info on hosting a workshop
- our sociocracy handbook (300 pages), Many Voices One Song
3. Making a decision and putting it in place
3.1 Writing a governance agreement
Your former study group will now turn into an implementation circle. They need to:
A. Describe the desired governance system
- First, define the parameters of your governance system (e.g. you need to describe your governance system, including decision-making systems, linking).
- Then describe the circle structure. You can try finding an organization that is similar to yours, or start by describing the aims and domains for each circle.
- Also consider operational roles that are necessary to start.
B. Create a transition roadmap.
- Describe how do you want to transition. (Some organizations transition all authority into circles all at once, some have a soft or incremental transition.)
- Define how your original circles will be populated. Old teams can transition into the new circles, or you can use a big selection process modified for large groups.
- Design a training plan and
- a set of criteria that you can use to evaluate your implementation some time down the road.
3.2 Get feedback
Get feedback on your governance agreement and the transition roadmap. Adjust both based on the feedback you have received. Repeat as many times as necessary. At the same time, remember that the circle structure doesn’t have to be perfect right away because you can always change it later. (Changing something a few months in is not unusual.)
3.3 Make a decision
The governance agreement and the implementation plan are ready. All concerns have been heard and addressed. You have trained everyone and you have a plan on how to ongoing training. Maybe you even have a plan on how to train new members. You’re ready. Make a final decision. Have a party!
Some organizations hold kick-off events with an external facilitator/trainer. This could be a multi-day workshop with (1) more training, (2) the final approval (3) a shared process where the first sets of circles are populated and the general circle is formed.
3.4 SoFA Resources for this stage
- Sociocracy For All offers a sample governance agreement; it was designed with communities in mind. However, most of the content will carry over to other organizations. (Other samples, as well as legal frames, are in development — help us if you want to!)
- Individual coaching to come up with a training and implementation plan, as well as a circle structure that supports your operations
- Invite an external sociocracy trainer, to guide you through a kick-off event. That way, the people driving the process can lean back and be equals in the process of adoption. This is important because this kick-off event transitions power from the implementation circle to the whole.
- List of case studies incl. organizational designs
4. And now what?
4.1 Into maintenance mode
On a technical level, the implementation circle can now turn into a governance improvement circle. Its domain might be ongoing education on governance, and in-house advice. (While I am at it, we hope you have a circle whose domain includes conflict resolution and ongoing education on communication skills as well!) Ongoing education is important to make sure you remain on track — mainstream culture will take every opportunity to creep back in.
4.2 Staying engaged
We recommend staying engaged with the self-management community as a way to keep learning. In connecting, you might also help pave the way for others. Keep reading, keep attending — or holding — webinars.
4.3 Movement weaving
It’s likely that you won’t stop at governance. Shared power might only be the beginning of more transformation. Next steps might be transparent salaries, new ownership models, etc.
I don’t see sociocracy as a ‘finished’ or ‘complete’ framework. It needs to evolve. We can provide the soil. That soil consists of all the other things people and organizations are doing. As a movement, the real work ahead of all of us is to weave together governance to other frameworks. Some weave it with emotional intelligence, non-violent communication, theory U, permaculture, agile,… Sociocracy is just one tool in a whole movement of frameworks and techniques that allow humans to have healthy relationships to themselves, each other, to their resources and to their ecosystem.
Enjoy the ride!
4.4 SoFA Resources for this stage
- Communities of practice (within SoFA membership): sharing with people from sociocratic organizations in your field (education, coop, IT, community etc).
- Articles like this one: The most typical struggles in sociocratic organizations and how to fix them, and webinars like this one on ongoing learning and sociocracy (recording).
- Meta frameworks like BossaNova (sociocracy + agile + beyond budgeting + open space) or models like the FairShare Commons that conceptualize new views on ownership and free organizations.