What is consent?

Consent is reached if, and only if, each and every member of a circle, after understanding the problem and thinking through the proposal in all its detail and implications, honestly states that they currently see no objection against implementing the proposal.

Everything else is not consent.

It’s not consent if somebody could not be bothered to prepare for the meeting and read the proposal. It’s not consent if someone after an exhausting meeting simply does not care and says “I have no objection” just to get it over with. It’s not consent if somebody misunderstood the problem, or (part of) the proposal.

The consequence of no consent is no agreement. No agreement is fine as long as there’s a shared understanding that there’s no agreement. Thinking we have an agreement, when in fact we don’t, is dangerous.

We may be tempted to believe that this just a problem for the individual: even if they misunderstood the proposal, they still have to adhere to the agreement. In fact, however, this is a massive risk for the whole circle: Without consent, we have not used all the knowledge available to determine that the proposal is good enough for now and safe enough to try. In other words, the proposal may very well be not be good enough, or not safe enough to try.

Understanding this will change our paradigm: For an organization to build a solid culture of “informed” consent it requires a lot more than just sticking to the meeting format and holding each individual accountable for their consent. We now hold everyone accountable for us all understanding that everyones consent is essential. For supporting each other to make sure there is consent, for watching out for each other, and creating a space where it is possible for each and every one of us to engage with each and every decision. Again and again, every time we make an agreement.

This is why we love proposal forming so much, it gives everyone the space and time to engage with a problem. The chances that we all understand a proposal we co-created are just so much higher. This is also why the tuners need to be aware of the rest of the group while tuning a proposal: the amount of creativity they can bring into the proposal when bridging ideas or adding new ones is limited to what the rest of the circle can consume and still achieve consent. With every circle, this changes over time, so we need to constantly watch it.

So sometimes you might say, “I have a concern: I do not think this is good enough for now and safe enough to try, because I’m afraid that some of us did not understand the proposal.” And if that happens over and over again, there’s a tension to be processed.

Sociocracy – capital or lowercase ‘s’?

Sociocracy – capital or lowercase ‘s’?

When I refer to “sociocracy” with a lowercase ‘s’, I refer to any system of running organizations where power (and decision making) is distributed to all members[^advocats of Holacracy would claim it’s roles and not people] of an organization through the principle of consent, and emergent knowledge is captured and integrated into working agreements[^policy] through objections.

Also, I refer to organizations governed with such a system as “a sociocracy” (as we would refer to some countries as “a democracy”).

Today we have three major flavours of sociocracy (with a lowercase ‘s’):

  • The Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method (SCM), as advocated by The Sociocracy Group (TSG), these days they simply call it Sociocracy (with a capital ‘S’). This method is also known as dynamic governance or Circle Forward in the USA1
  • Holacracy, a development of SCM by Brian Robertson and HolacracyOne, influenced by agile methodologies and the ideas of Ken Wilber, with the intention to making sociocracy available to the corporate world
  • Sociocracy 3.0, developed from both SCM and Holacracy, and integrated with as well as other lean and agile methodologies, in order to make sociocracy (with a lowercase ‘s’) available to as many organizations as possible. S3 is stewarded by the S3 Working Group.

It is a good thing we have a bit of diversity within sociocracy, because through that we can help many more organizations thrive. We could have a bit more exchange, but that is going to change soon.

sociocracy-variants


  1. some people over there apparently still have strong feelings about any word with the prefix “soci-“ 

The Setting is Crucial

It’s perfectly fine to hold workshops outside our organizations, but we need to be aware that often the conclusions we reach and the deep shared understanding we experience might no longer hold true when we are back at our workplace. It’s easy to be creative, bond with our teammates and create an illusion of breakthrough and enlightenment when you are in a fresh environment, and free of the shackles of habit and organizational culture. Facilitators and trainers often (consciously or subconsciously) use that to their advantage to create a group hallucination of an imminent revolution.

These occasions are fine to get a fresh perspective, but translating new and radical ideas and plans from these workshops or retreats to our everyday setting is a challenge, and we often get frustrated as resistances emerge and we encounter aspects we haven’t thought of before. Culture and habits still hold us in a tight grip and confine us.

For Sociocracy 3.0 to stick with our organization, it needs to stick with each and every member of that organization. We cannot achieve this through policy and rules we create outside, we need to go on a journey together and incrementally evolve our organizational culture, our shared understanding, our mindset, our habits. How we can achieve this largely depends on the culture we have, and if we don’t want to loose sight of that, we better hold workshops to change culture submerged in that culture.

It’s fine to bring in facilitators, trainers and coaches from outside, but however much we’re tempted to run away and feel the freedom, let’s stay inside the organization and stick to the change we can create here. It might appear slow at first, but it will save us a lot of time and frustration in the long run.

Three scenarios for creating a Sociocracy 3.0 organization

There’s three different places from which you can move towards a S3 organization:

The first is when you already have a business model and want to create ans S3 organization. Then it might be a good idea to talk about the shared values you want to embrace, and see how the business model is aligned with your values.

The second is when you get together to create a new organization, and all you know is that S3 is the way you want to work together. You will then use S3 to collaborate on finding the business model. If you agree on shared values early, these values will support you in identifying a business model which might work for all of you.

The third scenario is when an existing organization wants to transition to S3. In that case you can use your organizational values guide you towards addressing the biggest tension1 first.

Of course, with each of these scenarios there are many different paths to S3, and only you know which one is right for you. However, awareness of your shared values might make the path a bit easier to identify.


  1. i.e. whatever poses the biggest conflict to your values 

Sociocracy 3.0 vs. Holacracy

Right after my presentation on patterns for self-organizing teams at the tools4agileTeams conference I had a very engaging conversation with Martin Röll (of Structure and Process) , where we we tried to dig a bit deeper into the differences between Sociocracy 3.0 and Holacracy.

Here’s my perspective:

Both Holacracy and Sociocracy 3.0 are descendants of Gerard Endenburg’s sociocracy, but they’re not really interchangeable, because they originate from different paradigms[^views on the world], and from a different intention.

Holacracy creates a system based on a constitution and a body of rules, to make it easy for people to be efficient within that system. The emphasis is on structure and autonomy, alignment is towards purpose. The metaphors used are mostly technical/mechanical.

With Sociocracy 3.0 we focus on evolving a culture of effective collaboration aligned towards shared values and shared motivation1. The metaphors we use to teach come from organic and human systems, because ultimately, that’s what organizations are. Supporting each other in creating and living a strong culture significantly reduces our dependency on structure and rules[^although we cannot do without], and helps each other develop both personal integrity and autonomy.

It’s your challenge to figure out which paradigm will best support you in your context. Make sure you pick the one which resonates with you more.


  1. what we call a “driver”: a specific situation (or context) and the needs we associate with it 
Sociocracy in a nutshell

Sociocracy in a nutshell

Sociocracy[1] is a whole system approach for efficient governance[2], inclusive decision making, and the ongoing evaluation and improvement of an organisation.

Sociocracy has three core values:

  • equivalence: policy decisions are made in consent with everyone affected by that decision
  • effectiveness: the processes and methods are in harmony with human psychology and make positive contributions (“artful participation”) easy
  • transparency: everything in the organization is transparent by default, unless members consent to having secrets

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A framework for process evaluation

A framework for process evaluation

There’s many processes advertised as the path to organizational or individual enlightenment. But how can we find out if a process has a chance to fulfill that promise? I propose a simple framework to evaluate a process according to a few simple criteria, and a reality check at the end for good measure. I will then apply that framework to some popular processes.

Complete: a good process contains all elements that are required to deliver its promise, not down to the level of minutiae, but good enough to leave no gaps.

Lightweight: a good process is free of fluff, boiled down to the minimal set of practices that are necessary for creating value and learning about the principles that drive these practices.

Synergistic: the practices in the process reinforce each other, together they create more than the mere sum of their parts

Transformational: applying the process allows us to experience something greater than we had before, something that opens new perspectives and new possibilities for growth. A good process is valuable from the start, but it grows on us as we continue to explore it.

Transcendable: eventually, given enough practice, the transformation triggered by the process is “complete”, and we are ready to transcend the process. We embrace the principles behind the process in a way that allows us to apply them naturally and without the harness of the process. (more…)

Who is using sociocracy?

Who is using sociocracy?

When I give presentations or workshops on sociocracy, participants ask me for examples who is using sociocracy in real life. They do like the idea, but often the myth of power structures being necessary for success of an organization makes it hard for them to accept that sociocracy can be applied in an organizational context.

To demonstrate that sociocracy is applied in many organizations (both for-profit and non-profit) and intentional communities across the globe I decided to compile a non exhaustive-list of organizations using sociocracy1.

One reason why so many sociocratic organizations are located in the Netherlands may be that sociocratic organizations are not required to have a worker’s council. I don’t remember where I’ve read that, I will add a source when I find one. (more…)

How vision follows the values

How vision follows the values

Often people approach me about working with their organziations to solve a particular set of problems they have: product delivery is too slow, the product has quality issues, there’s a lack of alignment between departments or branches, they complain about a lack of innovation, or they need a new team that builds a new and better product to replace the mediocre ones they already have out there.

To better understand the context I usually ask them about their organization’s vision and values. Very often there’s no clear vision statement, and the answer goes along the lines of “become profitable”, “make money for the investors”, “become #1 in our target market” or simply prepare an exit. And All these statements may appear to be perfectly valid goals, to top brass who probably have bonuses attached to reaching those goals, but is not a vision to inspire anyone else in the organization. When I dig deeper, I often find that employee turnover is pretty high, and finding talent is becoming increasingly difficult. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, I see that as a direct consequence of the lack of vision: A clear and shared vision is a vital ingredient for sustainable success, because it allows a people to align towards a common goal, a brighter future they all want to be part of creating. A strong vision decouples success from the abilities of “managers” to “motivate”, and enables everyone to make smarter decisions and point out conflicts.

(more…)

Organizational Values Workshop

Organizational Values Workshop

Our personal values do not only guide our behaviour, they also influence on our motivation and well-being through how the groups we are with respect and reflect our values. Most organizations or groups are not aware of the values they share, impeding effective collaboration and meaningful relationships between individuals with fruitless discussions that usually go nowhere and leave everyone exhausted.

The aim of this workshop is finding the shared values of a group or organization and implementing strategies for the group to learn living those values. It uses a narrative approach to elicit personal values from each participant and then iteratively consolidates those values into themes with positive value statements to guide behaviour. Reserve some time after the workshop to celebrate. (more…)