Sociocracy and Healthier Organizations
by Juan Banda
It was a great pleasure to interview Adrian Perreau, who is a consultant, trainer, and frequent speaker at international conferences.
Adrian is a very active member of the Spanish Agile community and in the interview he told us about sociocracy, which is a subject that he is passionate about.
Adrian said that he was introduced to the world of sociocracy at the hands of James Priest, who is one of the creators of this trend. For Adrian, sociocracy combines Agile and Lean principles with tools for governance and decision-making at levels that go beyond a team. According to him it is important that organizations have their strategy defined at all levels, know how they are going to carry out operations, and are clear about how governance decisions will be made. Sociacracy provides tools to make governance decisions, decisions that will affect other decisions in the future.
Speaking of the tools provided by sociocracy, Adrian mentioned among the most valuable are the Organization in Circles, where circles are groups of people who, within a field of competency or domain, can make decisions for themselves. The people in this circle are based on the principle of equivalence, which is that every person who will be affected by a decision can take part in making it.
He explained that the circles and sub-circles end up creating a space of delegation within which effective decisions can be made without managers having to be present. Circles and sub-circles communicate and exchange information through a two-way double bond, which basically involves having representatives of super- and sub-circles interacting and carrying information in and out of their respective circles.
Another of the sociocracy tools that Adrian mentioned is the Consent Decision, which is based on power by argument, that is, if there is a need, someone brings a proposal to cover that need and together it is decided if that proposal is good enough and safe. Anyone in a group can file an objection, and together the proposal is improved iteratively and incrementally until there are no objections. In this decision-making model, opinion or personal taste is not the main thing, what matters is that whoever does not agree provides information on why that decision might not be safe for the group. In short, it does not matter where the proposal or objection comes from, what matters is to improve the argument.
Adrian said that sociocracy has not spread further within organizations due to the mistrust that leaders often have, mistrust that prevents them from seeing that employees have the information and ability to make good decisions themselves. Speaking of the principles of sociocracy, Adrian mentioned the following: transparency, continuous improvement, effectiveness, equivalence, responsibility and consent. If the leaders of an organization do not believe in equivalence and consent, it will be difficult for sociocracy to end up working for them.
To close the interview, Adrian recommended two basic practices for organizations that want to start exploring sociocracy. The first is to go from asking “do you agree with this decision?” to “do you have any objection to this decision?” The second is to speak in rounds, that is, to define who will speak and in what order.