Sociocracy: The Next Step Forward

Sociocracy: The Next Step Forward

July 2016 Sociocracy is a more evolved, participative and inclusive way of running communities and organisations which ensures that every single voice in the system is heard. Interview by Shammi Nanda. Intro by Punya Srivastava I fondly remember those elaborate picnics with extended family members in the verdant greens of Lodhi gardens nestled in Lutyen’s Delhi. Come November with its cozy and bright sunny days and our group of eight-10 families would start planning for the much anticipated occasion. In retrospect, what stood out for me was the collective planning; the to-and-fro evening phone calls a week before the D-day, a meeting of sorts at one of the houses to discuss the menu, activities, transportation, and budget, where at least one member of each family would participate. The idea was to reach a consensus on each topic, considering the factors involved like age, and preferences, so that each participant gets heard and finds something for himself or herself in the picnic. This was the first instance that came to my mind as the concept of sociocracy became clear to me. Sociocracy is a system of governance based on consent-decision making, that runs on feedback mechanisms. In simple words, sociocracy is a sustainable system for organising and running organisations. In simpler words, it is the rightful and even distribution of power at the decision-making level. Well, this is what we have been doing in our families – deciding things with consensus. Only now it is being celebrated as a concept for running organisations. What a cool way to not lose out on the talent pool in organisations and retain employees. As author Marcus Buckingham points out in his book, First, Break All the Rules, “People leave managers, not companies.” Indeed, most of the times, people quit an organisation or a company because they don’t feel accommodated, or heard enough by their immediate bosses. One of the pluses of a sociocratic structure is that it works as an organism or a self-operating system that has the capacity to repair itself, unlike a mechanism. “In majority vote democracy the majority overrules the minority, which Gandhi called ‘diluted fascism’, and has less chances to repair itself in the face of divergent view points emerging within a group. In sociocracy, the consent form of decision-making takes care of polarisation within the group. It can work through the polarisation since it has the processes to create consensus by ensuring that each person is heard,” says John Buck, a certified and internationally renowned Sociocratic Organisational Consultant and CEO of the US-based Sociocracy Consulting Group. As a consultant, John has led dozens of sociocracy implementation projects for a variety of organisations, resulting in greater effeciency and increased employee engagement. He believes that basic values such as equality, liberty, and transparency can make our work places dramatically more sustainable, elegant, and profitable. John has translated numerous documents from the original Dutch documents, Sociocracy-the organisation of decision making and Sociocracy as social design and has co-authored a book, We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy. He is also supporting a sociocracy-based community service www.jaipurmerashehar.org where people interested in making the city more sustainable have come together to re-imagine the city by starting life-enriching community initiatives. John came to India in the beginning of 2016 with Shammi Nanda and Prem Pavitra and travelled to five different cities on a Sociocracy Yatra, where they shared the concept of sociocracy with different communities. This generated keen interest in this consent- based governance system and led to the formation of the Sociocracy Asia Network, supported and guided by John. Here below is an in-depth interview with John Buck conducted by Shammi Nanda and the documentation team of the Sociocracy Workshop held in Udaipur. John Buck in animated conversation with an interested party on sociocracy What is sociocracy? There are different ways to describe sociocracy. You can think of it as a form of modern democracy that reflects the current complexities of society; you can think of it as a better way for leaders to learn to guide an organisation, or for the organisation to guide itself. You can think of it as a message for enabling everybody in the organisation to make their decisions and carry out their activities in an emergent, self-organising way. You can even think of it as a design system for creating an organism out of an organisation – bringing it alive, bringing it to consciousness. What is the difference between sociocracy and democracy? Sociocracy tries to actualise democratic values and in that way there is really no difference. It provides more modern ways of making decisions and offers more effective ways to run organisations. What drew you to sociocracy? When I got out of college and got into my first professional job as a technical writer at Boeing, I was struck by the fact that I could not vote for my boss even though I could vote for the mayor of Seattle, and that really bothered me. I kept asking myself the question, “Why can’t we have democratic values in business organisations?” Won’t a democratic approach make businesses more profitable, and more fun? And that started me on a search for somebody who might have the answer to my question. I finally found the work of Gerard Endenburg in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and very quickly recognised that it had some totally new concepts. And those new concepts were giving answers to your questions? Yeah, you can definitely vote for your boss in a sociocratic organisation. You have a say in who your boss is going to be. Another way to say it is, you are enfranchised in the organisation like a citizen rather than an employee. According to your observation, what happens when people integrate a sociocratic process in their organisations or businesses or families? After they have it established, and they are comfortable with it, first and foremost their day-to-day operations get into a flow – they no longer have to deal with daily crises. There is a greater commitment towards each other and the organisation. There is an energy and a frolic to the way people behave; a greater awareness and spirit. I did a master’s thesis in sociocracy where I found a statistically significant higher level of commitment in five sociocratically-run organisations in the Netherlands as compared to an average Dutch worker. Another study found lower sick leaves in an industrial plant after it adopted sociocracy. And so on. What are the hurdles and challenges that come in when you introduce sociocracy? The biggest challenge is training, and how to create opportunities for training. The good news is that there are new ideas involved, and the bad news also is that there are new ideas involved. Therefore, you have to build an atmosphere where everybody gets to know what is going on, so that new people who come into the organisation can get quickly oriented. Also it is very important that if there is a change in the top leadership the new leaders know what sociocracy is all about. Is there any way that sociocracy could be misused to manipulate power? What are the safeguards against this happening? If you implement it only partially, you can manipulate it. All the principles of sociocracy – consent, organising in circles, feedback loops, objection and transparency are meant to be eventually captured in the by-laws of the constitution of the organisation, to ensure stability and protection against somebody trying to manipulate the situation. Would you say that sociocracy is the need of the times we are living in? Yes, we live in more complex times than we have ever lived in. We are exposed to technology in many ways. Not just computer technology, but medical technology too which is causing population explosion. All this is unprecedented and we need a new way of governance to handle this complexity. Governance systems are failing in major ways on fronts like the economy, population, environment and so forth. So, sociocracy holds the promise of helping us govern ourselves in a way that can nurture harmony in society. What were the challenges you faced while introducing the approach in India? One of the challenges has been discovering that some of the terms I take for granted, like ‘objection’, have subtly different connotations in the context of Indian culture. For example, in Scotland, people tend to not like the word circle. For them it symbolises weakness. In the USA, people are fine with ‘circle’ but react with suspicion and discomfort to the word sociocracy. (It sounds like communism to them). In India, ‘objection’ seems to connote a negative personal attack rather than a fairly tame intellectual word. Can you see sociocracy working in India? Oh, yes. Definitely. People seemed to really get the idea that sociocracy is both egalitarian and gets things done. We have developed several special interest groups where people are willing to explore the application of sociocracy. Also, sociocracy has been working for quite some time in the Tamil Nadu region of India in the form of children’s parliaments and women’s parliaments. Where else is sociocracy being used? Sociocracy is being used in a number of countries around the world, and in a variety of businesses, NGOs, schools, and intentional communities. What are some of the ways it is being used at the grassroots level? One of the most interesting uses is to run intentional communities like co-housing on the principles of sociocracy. In India they are called Resident’s Welfare Associations (RWAs). So far governance has often been a problem in such societies as experience

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