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Harry Robbins
25 Jun 2014

Democracy is dead, long live sociocracy

Outlandish has always been a very democratic, non-hierarchical company but this we took it to the next level.

With the help of Conscious Business People we’ve adopted sociocracy – a consensus-based decision making method invented by the Quakers and perfected by the Dutch. As part of this we’ve replaced the partnership board (Harry, Tam, Abi and Raz) as the ultimate decision making body in the company – now everyone’s truly their own boss. [edit: as of January 2016 this has all changed again and we’re becoming a co-operative]

Inspiring book. Hope the cover isn’t a result of consensus decision making.

Although a system in which everyone has to agree in order to make a decision sounds problematic, the evidence is that it’s an extremely powerful and even liberating method of governance. Sociocratic organisations have been shown to grow faster, weather problems better and be nicer places to work. There’s an excellent pamphlet on it – Creative Forces of Self Organisation – which covers the science, history and practice of the method. There’s also a great book with a really terrible cover that goes into it in a bit more detail.

Our move towards sociocracy is part of our programme to make sure we encapsulate and preserve all the things that were great about Outlandish when it was small. Our staff survey suggests that’s going pretty well, but as the company gets bigger we need better systems. We agree with Pixar who “start with the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute. We accept that, without meaning to, our company is stifling their talent in a myriad of unseen ways. Finally we try to identify those impediments and fix them”.

While four people can, fairly easily, align their desires, goals and plans, it is much  harder in a company of ten or more. We can’t all be in every meeting or take part in every decision; some of us are much more experienced than others; and we have increasingly specialised roles. We’ve therefore adopted a system that means that while we’re not all involved in every decision, we all have a right to be involved if we want to be.

We’d like to draw you an organisational diagram, but one of the side-effects of a multi-faceted non-hierarchical structure is that it’s hard to put down in 2D pixels. For now you’ll have to make do with some other people’s attempts:

 

Traditional company structure. Source: Creative Forces of Self-Organisation

Sociocratic company structure. Triangular circles, whatever next.

 

The People’s Association of Community Accupunture. They’re an underground paramilitary accupuncture organisation, Source: https://www.pocacoop.com/sociocracy

 

A more networked approach to showing an sociocratic organisational structure from https://www.transitionnetwork.org/stories/guest-blogger/2012-05/organiser-hosting-training-transition-making-donuts-and-bringing-new

This one’s about Dutch farming apparently: http://www.permacultuuracademie.nl/aardeschool/permacultuur-educatie-programmas/?lang=en

Not related to sociocracy, but quite cool. Source: http://twitpic.com/nzs9t