Sociocracy 3.0 (a.k.a. S3) is framework for agile organisations, i.e. set of tools for people to collaborate effectively on achieving their shared objectives.

S3 builds on the “Sociocratic Circle Organization Method” (SCM, a.k.a. Dynamic Governance in the US), agile software development and lean thinking, and draws inspiration from many other sources, e.g. the scientific method, Non-Violent Communication, the Core Protocols, Holacracy (another descendant of SCM), psychology, coaching and facilitation techniques.

S3 is a collection of many modular, but mutually reinforcing patterns to promote an agile (i.e. empirical and hypothesis-driven) approach for all aspects of organisations, including coordination of work, making and evolving agreements, effective meetings, governance, building organisations, developing people, organisational structure, organisational development, alignment, and last but not least rolling out and evolving S3 patterns.

A pattern is a template for addressing specific situations or challenges, which can be adapted to context as needed (there’s even a specific pattern for doing that). All of the currently more than 65 patterns in S3 are guided by seven principles: empiricism, consent, equivalence, effectiveness, accountability, continuous improvement and transparency.

A culture of collaboration

S3 is about building a culture of collaboration that is aligned to people’s natural drive for purpose, autonomy and mastery, but also caters to another equally important aspect that is often ignored in the discussion: everyone’s basic need for relationship and belonging. S3 brings people closer together by integrating diverse personalities and points of view into solutions for complex problems – building respect and trust in each other along the way.

We believe that an effective organisation is one that is easy to change. To that end, rather than implementing a rigid system of rules and policy, S3 aims to support people in building self-accountability and discipline required to make just as many agreements as are needed to be effective, and evolve them as necessary, periodically eliminating those agreements which are no longer helpful.

S3 and other agile methods

While other agile frameworks and methods usually focus on software development and project management, and mostly omit the questions of management and governance, organisational structure and organisational change, S3 brings agile thinking to all aspects of an organisation. It aims to solve some interesting challenges: how can we create a coherent agile culture throughout an organisation that is not limited by hierarchical structures or traditional ideas of management (which we know are incompatible to agile), and how can the people in agile organisations thrive, and at the same time discover and develop resources and skills to effectively contribute to a flourishing organisation.

S3 complements the Lean Startup Method, Scrum, eXtreme Programming, Software Kanban (both on a team level and Enterprise Kanban), SAFe, DAD, LeSS, OpenAgile and many other agile and lean methodologies, and it even provides a way to adapt and evolve those methodologies, when an organisation outgrows them.

How to start

The pattern-based approach of S3 allows for an agile (and more common-sense) approach to organisational change: we invite organisations to keep doing what they do well, and only change where there’s a need to evolve, by pulling in one or several of S3’s patterns to resolve actual challenges they’re facing. This way, an organisation can organically grow and adapt to change, at their own pace, which is a stark contrast to the revolutionary change that is is mandated by the all-or-nothing approach of e.g. Scrum or Holacracy, which poses a great risk to organisations, but makes a great business model for consultants.

Any organisation experimenting with agile is most likely already familiar with several of the patterns contained in S3, e.g. working from a prioritised backlog, or visualising work (usually on a Scrum board or a Kanban board) or holding retrospectives. What often helps agile teams take things to the next level are the S3 patterns around making and evolving agreements. Take for example Consent Decision Making, which can be used to evolve policy in teams implementing Kanban, or product or architecture decisions in a Scrum team. When scaling agile development, teams can use structural patterns like the Delegate Circle or the Service Circle to align their efforts across teams, e.g. around the functions of architecture or product decisions. This is often combined with the pattern for selecting people to roles to determine who best represents each teams in these circles.

There’s a brief overview over all patterns at the S3 site, and a beta version of the upcoming S3 handbook with more detailed descriptions for many patterns at http://evolvingcollaboration.com/sociocracy-3-0-patterns-ebook/

What’s next?

As more and more organisations experiment with S3, the framework will be expanded with more patterns, and existing patterns will be refined and updated with variants which proved to be useful. One example for this is the Driver Mapping pattern, which was discovered and evolved as organisations wanted to dive deeper into S3 and needed a way to identify a circle structure that would make their organisation more effective.