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How Sociocracy might benefit your organisation

By Abigail Handley, 20 Mar 2020

Outlandish has been using Sociocracy as its main decision making process for over 6 years, as well as its governance structure (tldr: business responsibilities are organised in self-elected circles) for over 3.

We wrote a blog post many moons ago heralding its introduction so I wanted to provide an evidence based update on why I think it is one of the most influential and beneficial changes we have ever made.

And also why we want to support others to trial it and bring it into their own businesses.

I’ll be as brief as I can, but the benefits I have seen in Outlandish are myriad and constant. I believe it has made our company:

  • More ‘equal’ (no org is truly equal, we can only try to achieve this)
  • More proactive and open to change
  • Have wider ownership of decisions and greater clarity about who is doing them (they get done!)
  • More empowered – if there is a problem, individuals can try and fix it
  • More efficient – we have practised making effective proposals that everyone can understand and buy in to

Here are a few illustrated examples of what the benefits actually look like:

It has made natural power dynamics within a team easier to notice and manage 

The consent based decision making process is a clear and transparent way of eliciting change in an organisation and it encourages participation in a relatively structured way. This helps dominant people ‘follow the rules’ and allows others to contribute – quieter or less confident people can speak and be heard.

It gives us a way to make decisions that everyone is responsible for understanding

And is clear how these will be acted on – in any organisation it is sometimes difficult to know when a decision has been made or when it was just a discussion. The proposal process has made us notice, document and make official important decisions, making the business more transparent and understood.

It makes us pro-active and realistic in the changes we make rather than paralysed by getting everyone to always agree.

The questions we ask ourselves when making proposals are: is it good enough for now? Is it safe enough to try? What is the smallest understandable and achievable step we can make, which no one has a critical concern about, that moves us towards a stated goal? 

Sociocratic rounds and checking in (the practice of saying where you are emotionally at any given time) have proven time and again incredibly useful in running effective meetings.

We always check in to meetings, including with clients. An example where this has been influential was with a client just a week ago where, for the first ten minutes of getting a coffee, the client seemed happy and cheerful and relaxed. The moment we asked for a check-in (she is used to the practice) she told us she was feeling ‘overwhelmed’. This information gave us a clear indication that she has a real need that we can help with. If we hadn’t done this, we might not have uncovered this need in the normal meeting proceedings.

We regularly have had pregnancies, sleepless nights (babies or otherwise) and incoming illnesses revealed, helping the group to have empathetic and effective meetings, taking into account what people are bringing in to the room at any one time. If there is one thing to start trying, it would be this.

We have become incredibly efficient in running proposals through practice.

We are currently in the process of resetting pay (blog-post pending) and, taking a sociocratic approach, we have tackled it in small steps. This month we passed two proposals in a row on one of the hardest subjects for co-operatives (or any organisation!) to talk about. I can only speak for myself but it felt calm, grown-up and really progressive to be able to do that when, once, talking about pay would always implode in a gloop of emotion.

I hold Sociocracy up (and the support we have received from Pete Burden) as the main reason for this, as well as the openness of our worker-owners to take it on with trust, grace and maturity.

So how are we trying to bring it to others?

We are putting on quarterly public Sociocracy 101 workshops in our co-working space Space 4. The next events are here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/outlandish-23255924855

These can also be adapted for in house all team training sessions and work really well as an away day activity to get teams thinking about how they could work differently.

We also offer a specific training sessions for agile teams on the consent process as the values and principles of agile project management methodologies and Sociocracy are incredibly well aligned.

Through the coronavirus outbreak we are offering all of these workshops fully remotely. The process we train and you practice in is centred around turn-taking and therefore translates particularly well to remote delivery.

Please do contact me (abi@outlandish.com) to find out more.