About ELC

How do the 4 sessions work?
  • Before the first session.
    • Make a date! The course requires a group to learn and practice with during the sessions. Get your group of 4-7 people together and schedule a time/date. You can meet virtually or in person.
    • Make sure to invite your group members (see below) so they get access.
  • During the session.
    • All members meet for each session and go through the group exercises together. Each session takes about 2 hours, including all exercises.
  • Between sessions.
    • Answering your questions:
      • You can research the questions you’ve gathered in your session in the FAQ.
      • Meet with your coach to support your group in finding the answers in your group. (optional) We recommend getting coaching from our experienced Sociocracy For All coaches. We recommend 4×30 minutes of coaching ($220) alongside with this training.
    • Enjoy the additional materials! (You will receive them in an email.)
    • Read the articles in preparation for the next session. (You will receive them in an email.)
Training Philosophy

Sociocracy For All is a non-profit driven by a mission: making good governance methods available to everyone. We think that better decision-making and inclusion should be the new normal in all places where people come together: schools, businesses, volunteer organizations, schools, clubs, even families! 

To achieve the mission, we work with members and staff to make sociocracy accessible to as many people as possible, without compromising on quality. This ELC course is an example of that. We want to strengthen existing groups and give them the tools and the opportunity to learn together, like a workshop just for your group, on your own schedule, and tailored to your needs. A precursor of this curriculum has been used by dozens of groups, both to give an introduction, prepare an implementation, or to train new people in an already sociocratic organization. 

Coaches - how do we get a coach? (optional)

What’s a coach?

In ELC coaching, you meet with a coach for 30min between sessions. (Depending on scheduling, your whole group can meet with the coach or just 1-2 people from your group).

Your coach will be able to answer your specific questions about sociocracy and in your context, much more tailored to your needs that the FAQ.

How do I find a coach? 

If you’d like to find a coach for your group, you can visit the Sociocracy For All coaching page. ELC coaching is one of the options there. Buy the coaching ticket, and we’ll find a coach for you. 

What happens after this class?

If you’d like to continue with coaching afterward, you can get a regular coaching package on the coaching page

More questions? Email to [email protected]

Meetings in general

Who prepares the meetings?

In general, every circle makes their own policy on meeting preparation. The standard way is for the facilitator, leader, and secretary to prepare a meeting agenda. The idea is that the leader has an idea of the future of the circle’s work, while the secretary holds the circle’s records from the past and the facilitator is situated in the present of the circle’s process. Each contributes to planning a meeting that connects all parts, moving the circle forward.

In this curriculum, by default, the leader prepares the meetings. You can change that by consent.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.4.2

When should discussions about HOW to do things happen?
How to deal with issues arising that are outside the current format/topic?
What do we do if a meeting is getting off track?
How to help people keep to the time?

(1) The clearer the prompt, the easier it is for people to be succinct in responding.

(2) Make an agreement to time yourselves

(3) If someone goes over by a lot and what they say seems repetitive or off-topic, the facilitator can interrupt them and steer them back.

If people are repeating themselves, often they do so because they don’t have a sense of having being understood. In that case, it is very effective if the facilitator summarizes that person’s contribution and checks whether that was what they were trying to say. Oftentimes, people are relieved to hear that they were understood already. Or correcting the summary might help them sharpen what they were saying. If people are off-topic, this is most effective when it’s done with an energy of “we want to hear what you have to say but it might be better at a different point”. You can write down their concern or idea onto the backlog to make sure their contribution doesn’t fall through the cracks just because it was brought up at a moment that wasn’t appropriate for it.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 5

Who is responsible for timekeeping?
What if people "hate meetings"?

Firstly, how others feel about being in a meeting is not necessarily our business. They might resent being in a meeting without it having an effect on the group. Yet, if there is an impact on the group, it can be addressed. For example, when comments are coming across as dismissive, sharp, or if a person insists on cutting agenda items shorter and topics don’t get the attention and consideration other circle members are wanting to give them. In that case, give feedback and describe only the impact on you personally.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 4, sections 4.1-4.3

What if note-taking slows down meeting?
What if the facilitator is confused or lost?
Does the facilitator have to make all the proposals and answer all the questions?
How much do facilitators participate or hold themselves back from a group making decisions?
How can a facilitator encourage clarifying questions (instead of opinions)?
How can one feel more comfortable with asserting authority as the facilitator?
How can we create better flow between meetings?
If there are too many agenda items on our backlog - how do we select?
Can we use sociocratic meeting tools in a large group?

For information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 6.10.5 and 3.3, or see the article Sociocracy in large groups?

What is a "fishbowl"?

Fishbowl is when only a part of the group is actively involved in a process while the rest of the group watches – like someone watching fish in a fishbowl! It can be used in large groups, when only part of the group needs to have an active role. A coherent discussion can happen with many being able to listen.
People from the quiet, “outer” circle can signal that they want to participate in the discussion (e.g. by standing “in line”), and people from the inside circle can choose to give up their chair in favor of someone from the outside.

Operations vs. policy, and operational meetings

What exactly is the difference between operations and policy?

Operations are the concrete work that is done in contribution to the organization, for example writing emails, coding, doing bookkeeping, weeding, teaching. Operational decisions are made along the way by those who carry out that work. If operational decisions require coordination (for example to coordinate timing) then they can be made in operational meetings. Policy decisions are decisions about the same kind of work, just that they are made with a more general scope, effective for more than just one decision. For example, there might be an operational decision to cut a teaching lesson down by 30min to respond to an urgent matter. A policy decision would be to change the schedule more permanently, cutting down the time frame for all similar lessons, for example on the same day of the week. We think of operational decisions as one-time decisions while policy decisions are “bulk” decisions.

What is the difference between policy decisions and operational decisions?

Operational decisions only affect one instance. Policy decisions are general decisions that are in effect not only in the concrete case but also beyond. For example, if you make a decision on who is bringing out the trash today, that only affects today. If we make a policy on who is bringing out the trash in general, that’s a policy decision. (In this case, it’s who is filling a role.)

What formats work best for operational meetings?

Operational meetings can make use of rounds for check-ins. Most operational topics only require quick reports and decisions. Do reaction rounds for operational decisions when more consideration is needed.

Is an operations meeting a meeting in which you actually do work, or you just talk about the details of doing work? 

People seem to use the word for both. Operational decisions are always made when work is done (e.g. the order of tasks etc) so operational decisions are hard to separate from operations. So, an “operations meeting” can either mean “doing a piece of work together and making necessary decisions along the way” or it can mean to coordinate and make decisions so work can be done outside of the meeting.

Do we have to separate operational and policy (governance) meetings?

Depends on what works for you. Operational decisions are about making quick and pragmatic decisions for a one-time application, for example making a case-by-case decision on someone’s membership. Policy decisions aim to address a repeating or general issue and make a decision that covers a set of similar and related cases, for example making a generic membership policy.
In meetings, some really prefer to keep them separate. Making operational decisions in short and more frequent meetings and policy decisions with more space and time and – possibly – less frequently.
On the other hand, when a circle addresses an issue, it might not be a given that the circle will decide to make policy to address the issue. Other measures like feedback, operational decisions just for that case or the decision not to do anything could be taken instead. In this more problem-focused approach (different from a policy/outcome-oriented approach that assumes policy as the outcome), all topics can be mixed in the same meetings. Some groups address operational decisions in the first half of the meeting and policy in the second half of the meeting.
Bottomline: any group will have to find the most suitable approach for their own needs.

Is the difference between operations and policy more of a continuum than a sharp distinction? 

Yes. We might make an operational decision on one instance, or even a small set of instances, without ever declaring it policy and a generic agreement that applies. Similarly, sometimes circles make policy for a circumstance that is fairly unique. A related, very tangible example is the following: if we select, for example, a facilitator, we do it by consent and for a certain term, just like we make policy. Yet, if that facilitator has to leave early for a meeting, the facilitator might appoint someone to fill in, just as an operational decision. This is gradual: can the facilitator (or leader) appoint someone for one whole meeting without getting consent? How about for two meetings, or three or 6? The difference between operational and policy decisions is gradual.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.8

Rounds

Is the facilitator allowed to interrupt someone?

If the facilitator is acting in facilitator role (and not in member role), then yes. Interrupting others might be necessary to keep time, clarify, provide guidance and emotional support. This can be done more effectively if it happens with respect and transparency.
If a circle member who is facilitator interrupts someone to say something from member voice, it will likely be seen as overstepping the role which undermines trust. 

Can people raise their hand if they want to speak?

If you have a quick clarifying question or relevant information for the moment, hand-raising is ok.

Yet, even though hand-raising isn’t technically cross-talking, it has very similar effects. If you say something tender and three hands shoot up, that can be unsettling! Ask circle members to refrain from hand-raising just as they refrain from cross-talking. As facilitator, make sure to ask whether people have questions often enough that hand-raising doesn’t even become necessary.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5.3

Can a group member interrupt to give the facilitator pointers on process?

This can be a good idea, or it might not. Considerations are: Are there too many ideas on the table? Are we interfering with the facilitator’s process (even with the best intentions) and distracting the group just based on our personal preference? How does the facilitator receive our support? It is important to get that information, either by checking in after (e.g. in the meeting evaluation or privately) or, even better, to make an explicit agreement on whether/how the facilitator wants to receive ideas on process. This is particularly important if there is an imbalance of power and/or experience.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 4

Is it ok to interrupt to just add a bit of information/clarify/correct what someone said?

A lot of the time that’s a good idea, especially if it saves time by adding clarity in a succinct way. Yet, it can also be distracting and/or cause additional disturbance. If you wonder whether your level of interrupting rounds is appropriate to the group, ask for feedback. If you experience someone’s cross-talk as detrimental, give that feedback, ideally in a meeting evaluation or in a private setting. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5.3

What are good things to say when someone interrupts a round?

Be sure not to “wrong” the person but to steer their contribution towards a time when their questions, comments or input can be channeled into the process. Ask them to hold their thought/question/idea until the group gets to a phase where this kind of contribution fits it and is constructive. Keep in mind: not the comment itself is wrong, just its timing. If necessary, highlight the idea that rounds support everyone’s opportunity to be heard and to listen. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5.3

Can one pass in a round?

One can pass in some rounds. It’s ok to pass on clarifying questions or reactions. One cannot pass in consent rounds. It’s our preference not to pass in check-ins, meeting evaluations, nomination rounds, change rounds, or quick reactions. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5.3

Should we time people in rounds - and how?

Timing contributions in a round (for example for 1min each) works best if it based on an agreement that everyone has consented to. Before timing anyone, make a specific proposal, for example “I propose that we set a timer to 1min for this round. Any objections to that?” Then the facilitator can time or ask someone to be timekeeper, for example on a smartphone. Ideally, set the timer in a way so it gives a warning before the time interval is up, for example 30 seconds before the minute is up. A simple way is to set a timer on 30 seconds and restart it after it has sounded once. That gives everyone a better sense of how long their allotted time frame is and gives them a chance to finish their thought.
Another word on timing: when the timer rings, this does not mean the person has to stop immediately. The timer is just feedback that the time is up. If someone goes over time a lot routinely and you are negatively impacted by that, give feedback in the meeting evaluation. In our experience, when going overtime, it is good to acknowledge that the timer signal has been heard – even if it’s only in body language. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5.3

Can we adjust and clarify the prompt during a round?

Yes, that can make sense. Make sure not to cut anyone off if they want to still respond to the old prompt. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5.3

What if you have a clarifying question during a reaction round?
How does one meaningfully keep the flow moving in a timely way when using rounds?

It’s the facilitator’s job to keep rounds moving. Members may need to be reminded how the process works to not impede the flow. If members seem to require more time at their appointed turn, it may be because they are straying off-course in which case the facilitator can gently bring them back to the process. Cross-talk, talking out of turn can slow down the rounds. Refer to other questions on how to handle these issues.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5

What is the difference between speaking in rounds and using popcorn style?

Rounds do not guarantee a deepening of discussion. Nothing guarantees that. Rounds provide equivalence: every voice is heard. Rounds support listening better than popcorn style. A Circle can decide to have a period of popcorn discussion to see if that generates more creativity or deepening, and then return to a round to see where everyone is. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5

Selections

How many notes should the notetaker/secretary be taking?

Just enough. “Enough” means: all content that is relevant beyond the meeting needs to be recorded. For example, a decision about a policy needs to be recorded but a decision to go 15min over time does not have to be recorded because it’s not relevant anymore once the meeting is over. If you are gathering ideas to use later (e.g. proposal ideas, or qualifications), then write them down. Reactions in a reaction round are only noted down if they seem relevant for the future, for example if those reactions might be relevant for a re-write of policy. Hardly ever is it relevant who said what.
Remember that more words does not mean something is more transparent – too many words can make the content of meeting minutes harder to access.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 5.4.3-5.4.5

Can there be hard requirements among the qualifications in selection processes?

Yes. Sometimes we separate out the “must-have” vs. “nice-to-have” qualifications. Hard requirements are also sometimes written down in the role description. Don’t overengineer the qualifications, however, and only do the absolute minimum to come to a reasoned choice.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6

Do we consent to the list of qualifications in a selection process?

Yes. The list of qualifications serves to get on the same page on the circle’s priorities. For illustration, some in the group might think that experience is important for a facilitator. Others might think it would be ok to have a less experienced facilitator and let them learn on the job. The list of qualifications is both a snap shot of that particular moment in the life of the circle. Priorities of qualifications might change over time. At the same time, the list will probably include more general qualifications that stay more or less constant (like “good typer” as a qualification of a notetaker seems to be a given until a new technology replaces typing). That’s why it’s a good idea to keep the list of qualifications and review it every time, both to refresh everyone’s minds of the qualifications and to keep it current by adjusting it and consenting to it.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6

Does it make sense to write down nominations first before sharing in the nomination round?

Yes. The idea is to get people’s original ideas in the nomination round. If people don’t write their own nomination down before that round, sometimes they are swayed too soon or get embarrassed and don’t share their original idea. To prevent the narrowing down of ideas, we ask circle members to write them down. It can be a private note, a private chat message, a piece of paper that is turned in, writing it into a shared document at the same time – whatever you do, create some accountability to people’s own ideas while making sure people don’t see each other’s ideas as they are thinking about theirs. It doesn’t have to be strict or rigid – it’s not a test! Explain that original ideas are valued and keep it playful and light.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6

Why do we do the nominations steps?

The procedure of taking nominations rather than volunteers for roles tends to spread power around better by getting people into roles who wouldn’t normally volunteer for them.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6.3

If you don’t know the other circle members, how would you select?

In a brand-new circle, this can be an issue. It can make a lot of sense to spend some time on getting to know each other. What works well is a round on a general introduction and skill sets, as well as a self-assessment on “what is your style in groups?” to provide more information. In general, keep in mind that there is never certainty and that selections are not supposed to find the “best” candidate but simply someone able to fill the role. That means that even though getting to know each other more might yield a “better” candidate but it’s not necessary and might not be an efficient use of the circle’s time. Another measure you can take is to make terms relatively short for the first round of selections so you can move ahead while getting to know each other better for the next selection process. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6

Won’t you actually nominate people who are very present/visible to begin with?

Maybe. Remember, we’re looking for a candidate that everyone can consent to. The people who are most out there might at the same time not be as agreeable. In our experience, what we see is that surprises happen quite a bit and people are elected who are not the typical suspects.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6

Is it appropriate to mention if you do/or do not want a role?

We ask groups to avoid that so we can hear who the group thinks is qualified. Otherwise, we lose feedback, both for the qualified person and for the circle that is trying to find a person that could fill the role well. From our experience, it happens quite often that people who originally said that they would not be available ended up accepting, possibly with modifications. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6

Can we share reasons why someone (who we're not nominating) is NOT qualified for a role in our view?

There are two things to keep in mind here. One is that this can create a harmful group dynamic unless this feedback is delivered with a lot of skill. But more importantly, we don’t think there is any reason to talk about counter-reasons in the nomination round. You can always object IF that person becomes the candidate. Yet, in the nomination round and change round, typically there are several options so why argue about options that are not on the table yet? 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 3.6.3 and 3.6.4

What if there are multiple nominations for the same role?

Out of all the nominations, we pick one candidate and see if every circle member consents to the candidate filling the role. The facilitator makes sure a proposal is made and asks for consent.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6

Aren't people socially pressured into accepting roles?

Yes, that can happen. Every circle member has to be aware consent is only consent when there was a realistic chance to object. If you see a dynamic as described in the question, speak up, and address it.

What if no candidate accepts their selection?

Then the circle has important feedback, which is that no one is able or willing to fill the role. On a process level, if that happens, do a round on where you see the underlying roots of the issue and then address that. For example, everyone might be stretched too thin or the role description is unclear and people shy away from it. Or no one has the necessary expertise and the circle has to support people in building the necessary skills or acquire new members with those skills. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6

Does the facilitator propose the candidate in a selection?

The facilitator makes sure there is a proposal that the circle can react to in a consent round. There are situations where it’s best to ask someone else to make a proposal, for example if interpersonal considerations interfere (proposing yourself, proposing your partner, not proposing someone you don’t like,…), or if, in complex selections, the facilitator loses track. Asking someone else to make a proposal typically increases the trust level in the facilitator. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6.4

What are examples for objections during an selection?

Typical objections will be based on lack of experience, lack of time, lack of trust. It’s the circle’s decisions whether to stick with the candidate – especially if many people nominated the candidate – and make the proposal safer (by providing training, clearer expectations, by freeing up time), or to propose a different candidate.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6.3

How could one do selection processes in larger groups?

Here is an adaptation of the selection process for a large group. Everyone in the large group nominates a set number of people (for example 4) and writes their nomination on a sheet of paper. Then we ask the first person (let’s call them circle member 1) in the round who they nominated. They say the name of their first nomination. We ask everyone else in the room who nominated that person as well to stand up (raise their hand). Then we ask circle member 1 to share why they nominated that person. Circle member 1 shares their reasons, and we ask everyone who feels represented completely in what they heard to sit down/take their hand down. Then ask a circle member who is still standing to share their additional reasons for nominating the same person. Again, everyone who now feels represented completely by what has been shared can sit down. We do that until everyone sits. Then we ask circle member 2 to share who they nominated (can’t be the first nominee again but someone else on their list), and the whole process starts again until we have heard all the reasons and nominations, without any repetitions. We can do the same for the change round, encouraging to only speak if there is new information. The rest is the same as the regular process: the facilitator makes a proposal and we can hear objections.
A variation: after the change round, we can put the 5 people with the most nominations in a fishbowl and let them do another change round and the consent round. Other variations are possible as long as the approach and the person filling the role is accepted by consent.

(shortened from MVOS p.145; section 3.6.3)

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6.3

Can we change the list of qualifications during the nomination/change round?

Certainly, but with consent. You might want to add something important that came up in the nomination rounds, especially if you’re intending on re-using your list of qualifications for future selections. Yet, make sure not to overengineer the process. You’re not looking to produce a perfect list, and you’re not looking for a perfect candidate. Keep your process in proportion to the issue at hand.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6

What about people who fear that they will never be nominated (popularity contest)?

In the nomination process, it is hard for some if they are not nominated. It might remind them of childhood experiences of being one of the last to be picked for a team. They experience the selection process as a trial where the case is “do my peers know/like me enough to nominate me?” A selection process is not a popularity contest and neither is it a process that needs to spread appreciation evenly. The circle is trying to fill a role, that’s all.
We can take a deep breath and see what we do with the feedback that our skills are not visible to the group. We can nominate ourselves. We can ask to do a round on what the process brought up for us. We can do some inner work (with support, if desired) outside of the circle. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6.4

Can people abstain or pass during a nomination round?

The aim of a nomination and change round is to harvest the wisdom from the group on who might be qualified to fill a role. In that way, it is ok to pass. On the other hand, sometimes selection processes put circles into the slightly uncomfortable position of having to pick one person among a lot of equally qualified people. In an extreme case, everyone in the circle might pass in the nomination round. If that were to happen, then picking someone would be extra hard and the process would be slowed down. Also, people might pass because they are holding back information because they might feel intimidated because of some internal power dynamics.
Those could be reasons for a facilitator to not let anyone pass in a nomination or change round. Ideally, the facilitators reveal transparently what led them to choose either one.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6

What are your thoughts on rotating facilitation?

In general, this is possible and can be desired to give more people a chance to get experience. The potential downside is that if the role of facilitator includes preparing the meeting, this often doesn’t happen with rotating facilitation. Find a way to make sure meetings are just as well prepared by rotating facilitators as they would be with ongoing facilitators. Also, with rotating facilitation, it can be hard to improve because facilitation situations are too infrequent. A better strategy to give more people more experience is to make short terms, for example every 4 meetings. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.3.4

Why don't we ask for willingness or availability before doing a selection?

From Many Voices One Song (Section 3.6.3)

Whenever we teach this process, there is someone in the group that asks: Why don’t we ask whether that person wants to do that role? How can we talk about them serving in a role if we don’t know whether they are available and willing?

The first answer is that having information reduces the possibilities we have. I (Jerry) was part of a group that had been working together and we were planning to select a facilitator. I had a clear preference for someone and spoke with that person ahead of time, and she shared with me that she was not available. In the formal selection process, everyone but I nominated her in the nomination round, and she ended up being proposed as a candidate and consented to her own selection. Willingness, or lack thereof, may shift.

It makes quite an impression to be told by circle members how qualified oneself is for a role. It is not unheard of that the individual selected says afterward: I would have never volunteered for this role, but I was convinced by the positive feedback I heard here. I feel honored to fill this role.‘ Note that this is not about forcing people into a role. We assume they know that they can say no — and the group needs to allow them that space. They consent to fill the role — which is an active process and very different from being volunteered by not saying no loud enough! This process is designed to help people say yes and to create an opportunity of exploring what a no means and how it could become a yes.

This is why it is best to start the consent round so that the candidate speaks last. To achieve that, just start the round with the person next to the candidate and pass the round in the opposite direction. That way, the nominated person will get to hear everyone else first.

A tricky question is the following: I am one of the people that keep getting nominated, and understand that it is good to give feedback and I understand that people want me in a role. But I am over-committed in this organization. It is just a waste of time to even nominate me as I will object anyway. Situations and statements like these are tricky, and we’d like to share our thoughts because we assume that what we have to say might be useful. First of all, the people who perceive themselves as overcommitted are often the same people that would like to hear more appreciation of their work. Can we hear this as feedback on how much people appreciate our contribution to our circle? The election process is more than just finding someone as quickly as possible to do the job. It can be a time for reflection too on how we spread the work. If we sit through nominations just seeing them as a waste of time, we are missing the wonderful message in it: we appreciate you. Also, maybe more importantly, the fact that the same people are nominated again on a regular basis but then object because they are over-committed is very important feedback. What do we as a circle do with that? How do we interpret that? As a circle, do we think we could make better use of that member’s contribution? Maybe we could talk about their overall package of tasks in the circle. Maybe we can build more leadership around the easier tasks that person is doing so we can free up time and attention for the more visionary work. Whatever we do with it, we want to be sure to notice the feedback this process gives us.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6.3

Why do not we just let people volunteer?

From Many Voices One Song:

The basis for the decision of who fills the role is qualification. A volunteer might not be the fit person for the job. And the best candidate might not volunteer! Filling roles on a volunteer basis will not get us reliably good results. (Willingness, of course, is one factor. If someone really does not want to fill a role, chances are they will not perform well in that role.)

Inviting volunteers can get us into a lot of difficulties because it is difficult to object if volunteering is our method of decision making. The ability to object is important for collaboration. An organization is about doing something. Whether or not someone is suitable for a role is essential for creating a good work environment.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6.3

What if there is a "tie" in a selection process?

Imagine we have a group of 6 people, and 3 people nominate candidate A, and 3 people nominate candidate B. In majority vote, this would be a tie. If you are the facilitator (and you nominated one of those people) — what do you do?

For consent decision making, we have to know a little more. What is the underlying story?

The facilitator’s task is to get the group to come to a decision that everyone can work with. If that is true for both candidates, great. We can also say that. I am guessing that both candidates could get consent from the group which shows how much skill and trust we have in this group. Then make a decision, and be specific in your reasoning. We can go back to the qualifications and how we would prioritize them. For example, did we say we wanted to select someone who does not have a lot of experience yet? Then go with the least experienced candidate. Or is there another qualification that makes the difference? Always remember: we are looking to find a candidate that everyone can consent to. The task is not to find the best candidate.

We know it can be hard for groups to make a decision if it feels almost arbitrary and both candidates are good and respected. Split decisions are paralyzing so any way out of a split decision is better than paralysis. We invite readers to think about it not in terms of fairness. If we try to make it fair, there is hardly a good way out. (Workarounds are typically sharing roles, taking turns etc. which we don’t support without hesitation.) Instead of making it fair, look at it from the organization’s perspective. It is not a \textit{problem} to have two good members who can fill a role and have the full support from their circle – it’s a gift. It’s the expectation that things be fair that makes it so hard, not the fact that there is a tie.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.6.3

How is the leader different than the facilitator?

The leader is in charge of the doing, and the facilitator is in charge of the talking about the doing. The leader is in charge of making sure operations happen (depending on the domain for example: emails are written, fences are built, websites are functioning, articles are written, clients are contacted etc.). The facilitator is in charge of structuring meetings and making sure everyone’s input can be heard at a time when it’s productive.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.3

How are leaders chosen?

The leader is often chosen by the parent circle (as the top-down link) and needs to be accepted by consent from the (child) circle. Alternatively, the circle chooses its own leader, and that leader needs to be accepted by consent from the parent circle. Either way, the leader – since it’s a link position and that person is part of two circles in that role – needs consent from both circles they are in.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.3

What's the leader's role?

The leader’s job is to bring the general circle’s perspective to the smaller circle and the delegate’s job is to bring the perspective of the smaller circle to the general circle.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.3

Can we do only some parts of sociocracy?

Writing proposals

Where do proposals come from?
What are dimensions or considerations in picture forming?
How do we get from proposal ideas to a proposal?

If the group has a list of proposal ideas in front of them, sometimes all it takes is some re-ordering and cleaning up language and the proposal is ready to make a decision on.
Other times, proposal ideas are a long list of conflicting ideas. In that case, try to identify parts that are straightforward and consolidate them so you can shift your attention to the stickier aspects. It might be useful to do reaction rounds on one or two hot topics but sometimes it’s easier to move forward first and see in the consent process what rises to the level of objections. The goal is never to have a perfect proposal. “Perfect” takes too long and is not efficient. All it takes for now is good enough. Remember this policy is not cast in stone. Add a term to the proposal (for example 12 months). If the proposal seems risky, make the term shorter.
We discourage synthesizing a proposal as a group. Pick one or two people to do it, either during the meeting or between meetings, simply because it’s more time-efficient.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 3.2 and 3.3

How do we decide who writes up the proposal?
When synthesizing proposal pieces into a proposal, how much leeway is there to fill gaps?

As much as the group allows. Generally, clarifications and filling gaps is a good idea to generate a good-quality proposal. It really depends on how the group perceives it. The chances of it being received with gratitude are higher if the person synthesizing the proposal is upfront about their additions and reasoning behind them. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.3.2

When is policy needed?

Policy is needed whenever neither giving feedback or an operational (one-time) decision seems effective and efficient enough. One can think of policy as short-cuts. Imagine all individual decisions were made by getting everyone together and hearing everyone until everyone understands everyone else’s needs. That would take too long. So instead, we make an effort to understand all the needs at play and make policy, trusting that all needs are considered and that everyone in the organization trusts that being accountable to existing policy means to be able to act with consideration without having to solicit everyone’s thoughts on everything. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.1 and chapter 3

The Why of a proposal: when does that come into the conversation in a meeting?

Circles should be clear on why a proposal is needed in the first place. The better need for a proposal (and understanding the context and the underlying needs in a situation) is understood, the easier it will be to develop an effective proposal. If a circle thinks it’s worth its time, they will formulate a needs statement before developing a proposal. That same needs statement can be kept as a rationale for the policy to support the institutional memory around that policy.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.3.2 and chapter 3

What's the difference between consenting to a proposal vs. implementation of a proposal?

Consenting to a proposal is to approve it. For some policies, once they are approved, they need to be put into action. What does it take to make it happen? For example, some policies require to be known in the wider organization. Some policies require tracking or additional resources (like lists, physical objects, signs, etc), or work flows to hold people accountable. (Example: if we make a policy around noise control, then who holds the people accountable if they violate policy, and what happens next?)

 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 6 and section 6.10

Clarifying questions and Quick Reactions - what is the difference?

Clarifying questions are only questions about a piece of information. For example, if someone has an idea or a proposal and we don’t quite understand what they mean because it’s not expressed well or because we lack information to understand it – then we ask a clarifying question so we understand the proposal’s intention.

A reaction is an opinion or observation about the piece of information. For example, we might dislike the idea for different reasons, or we might dislike the way something is worded, or we might have a different idea we’d like to consider. Reactions are about our own thinking and feeling in relation to the idea.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5.2

Who can make a proposal?

Any circle member can make a proposal. Yet, the decision which proposal is considered for a decision depends on the kind of proposal. If it’s a policy proposal, it’s decided in the agenda-making whether this proposal is considered for a decision. If it’s a process proposal in a meeting (e.g. should we postpone this agenda item), then the facilitator decides.

Can you have a round to react to a reaction round, or do you “react” only once?

You can do as many reaction rounds as your group wants to. Doing two rounds is not unusual at all. More than two rounds, in our experience often doesn’t lead to more insight. If there is a need for an additional round, it’s often very effective to give a slightly new prompt, for example, to sharpen the focus on one controversial issue, or to ask for reactions to one particular aspect or to think about what could be a next step. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5

Why "quick" reactions? What if we need more time?

The quick reaction round comes after clarifying questions in the consent decision-making pattern and responds to the question ”What do I think about this proposal?” This is a round where almost anything goes. We can say what we want about the proposal. Whatever is alive within at that moment. We might voice concerns, confusion, opportunities, what we like, what we don’t like or we might not say anything at all.
A perfectly legitimate quick reaction is that you need more time to consider the proposal. A main part of the intent of quick reactions is to identify which parts of a proposal are generating easy approval and which parts are triggering confusion or concerns, so that we can focus attention on those elements of a proposal that need more time.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5

When can we express our personal preferences?

Personal preferences can feed into the proposal shaping. After the proposal is ready to be consented to, you can express your personal preferences in the quick reaction round. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5

Can amendments be added to the proposal after the quick reaction round?

Yes. Often, reactions to a proposal surface good improvements that can be used to modify the proposal instantly. The only caveat is that groups are encouraged not to spend too much time perfecting the proposal (since that’s most likely not time-efficient), and that tweaking the proposal too much can water it down or make it incoherent — often, groups start rushing at the end and might add amendments without thinking them through in the context of the whole proposal. Therefore be extra cautious when amending the proposal “on the fly”. Also, be sure that every circle member is aware of the modifications before consenting. 

 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 3.3 and 3.5.3

What if proposals are not clear and are not effectively leading us to a decision making process?

You can object to a proposal on the basis of it not being clear enough. If this is already clear leading up to a decision, make a proposal on how the proposal can be improved before more meeting time is spent aimlessly.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 3.2,3.3, and 5.5

What to do if someone wants to abstain from a consent round?

In a consent round, no one can abstain or “stand aside”. We need to hear from every circle member to determine whether there is consent for the proposal and to integrate objections. 


There are different reasons that lead some people to want to abstain.

  • If they don’t really care about the proposal, which means they don’t have an objection: ask them whether they have objections and if they don’t, count it as consent. 
  • If they don’t like the proposal and, for example, don’t want to be ‘responsible’ for it, ask them for their concerns and treat them as objections. They might shy away from objecting (for example if they are not used to be taken seriously in their concerns), or they might be upset because they didn’t get a sense of having been heard or for a reason not directly related to the meeting or the proposal. Hearing their input will be valuable both for them, the group dynamics and for the proposal. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.2.5

How can we make a consent decision if circle members are absent?

Technically, you can’t. There are several workarounds, and it’s good as a circle to decide on an absentee policy so you know what to do in those moments. 

  • Option A: have every circle member consent and ask for consent from absent circle members later. (The decision is only made after everyone consents.)
  • Option B: make a policy that people who are absent can’t object. (Carries the risk of power struggles and deterioration of trust) 
  • Option C: ask circle members’ opinions on proposals before the meeting. (Leaves lack of clarity if the proposed changes with amendments during the meeting.)

 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.2.5

Does consent need to be unanimous?
Is there a process for appealing decisions?

Objections

When do I consent? When do I object?

A circle member will object when they see that the proposal in question will negatively impact the circle’s achievement of its aim. A circle member will consent if they don’t have an objection, no matter whether the proposal aligns with their personal preferences or not. 

 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 3.2.2, 3.2.4 and chapter 3

What is the difference between a "negative reaction” and an “objection”?

A negative reaction can be pointing to an objection or just to a preference. On the other hand, one can object to a proposal without experiencing a negative reaction. So there really is only a loose connection between both terms. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.2.4 and see the blog post “The day I consented to a proposal I hated”

What if I am sure that someone's objection is really a personal preference?

First of all, assume that you can’t be certain about what is a personal preference or an objection before hearing more. Oftentimes, there is universal wisdom even in what looks like merely personal preference.
That said, don’t get yourself into a position where you are the judge on that. Let the group decide. Also don’t put the objection or the objector on trial. Instead, go through the understand-explore-decide steps: Understand the objection first. Ask the objector to help the group see how their objection shows that the proposal might negatively interfere with the aim of the circle. Then do a round on other people’s thoughts on the proposal and its effectiveness to meet the aim in light of the objection.
Our experience shows that by that time, something will have shifted. Either the wisdom underlying the objection has been found and can now be integrated, or the objector has been listened to and is willing to consent. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 3.2.4, 3.5, chapter 3, and read “Strategies for integrating objections”

What if someone's objection is based on a vague fear?

Dismissing people’s fear will just let them hold on to it tighter. So don’t discuss whether their fear is substantial.
Often, what works is to put in place an ‘alarm-system’. Ask the objector “I want to be sure that we notice when this happens. How would we notice as early as possible?” Then define a measurable that the circle can track (e.g. revenue going down more than 7% or fewer new members within 6 months, or a survey of member satisfaction after 3 months). Keep it simple enough. That way, you create a win-win situation: even if the fear never comes true, you were able to move forward with peace of mind. And the objector – and every other circle member – is assured that their concerns are taken seriously.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 3.2.4 and 3.2.5

How can we not get side-tracked when there is an objection?

The reason so many groups struggle is because they are afraid of the uncertainty and the potential for conflict that comes up with every objection. Stay calm and stick to the format. Understand – explore – decide will get you to a decision, even if it’s not in the current meeting. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 3.3 and 3.5

When do I explain my objection? In the consent round or later?

In the consent round, just say that you have an objection and, if it’s not obvious from what has been said during the quick reactions, about one sentence on why you are objecting. For some groups, objections are anxiety-producing, and hearing one sentence will give more context and lower the anxiety in the group. Complete the consent round to hear from everyone. If you know enough about the objections to cluster them, start with one objection or set of objections. Address them in an order that makes sense to you. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 3.2, 3.5, and Chapter 3

If there are multiple objections, do we address them one by one, or all at once?

Hear all objections first (briefly!). Then decide the order in which you address them. Sometimes, several objections can be clustered. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 3.2 and 3.5

What are ways to integrate an objection?

There are three different approaches and they are often combined. 

  • (1) Modify the proposal. Change the proposal slightly to meet the need expressed in the objection. For example, you can change the budget, make a measure optional, add a modification etc.
  • (2) Shorten the term. You can agree to leave the proposal unmodified and to try it out for a while. For example, you can shorten the term from 2 years to 3 months. In three months, there would be more information on how the policy has worked out which will make it easier to make a decision then. 
  • (3) Measure the concern. In this strategy, the policy is left the same and a measure is put in place to find out whether the concern bears true. For example, if a proposed change in membership policy raises the concern that fewer people would join the organization, then a circle can still consent to the change and at the same time make sure to measure how many new people are joining in comparison to before the change. Often, this is combined with shortening the term and a thorough review of the new information after the term is up. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 3.5 and read “Strategies for integrating objections”

What if people don’t object but are clearly uncomfortable?

It depends. If you have a sense that people are holding back, ask what their concerns are. Oftentimes, those concerns are very informative and valuable. Once the information is on the table and addressed, it is perfectly fine to still have concerns or dislikes and still object. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 3

How do you handle objections to objections?

There is no such thing as objections to objections. We don’t ‘validate’ objections. The group, in a round, explores the relationship of the objection, proposal, and the circle’s aim. If you are addressing objections, work towards integrating what you learn in understanding the objection.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 3.2.4 and 3.5

What If you can’t get consent within a circle?

To say you can’t get consent within a circle, means you’ve already tried and failed to find a small step forward that would give you the information that would confirm or release someone’s fears who has been reluctant to consent. Whenever I get stuck in a decision-making process I name the stuckness and ask the circle to do a round and have each person speak to the stuckness. If we really can’t find the way forward, then we pass off the issue to the next broader circle.
 There are multiple definitions of consensus theory and practice, some of which are similar and some different from consent. The Sociocracy decision-making process tends to emphasize rounds for equivalence rather than popcorn style of speaking which tends to invite debate rather than listening. Sociocracy asks the question do you have any objection rather than the question do you agree.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 3.2, 5.5, and 6.10

What if there were too many objections? What would the next steps be?

If you have a sense that the proposal can’t be integrated (even after a re-write), you can make a proposal to drop the proposal. That, again, is a decision to be made by consent. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5

What do you do with controversial decisions where the group is split?

Split decisions can be a tricky situation for a circle. A few helpful thoughts: try to stay open to other options. Thinking on an issue as a binary “either A or B” and assuming that A and B are incompatible will make it harder to be creative about solutions.

Creative solutions can also be:

  • (a) try each option for a set period of time
  • (b) try option A in one area/sub-set and option B in another with measures of how it’s going.

Ultimately, if there is no other way, do a selection process to nominate the different options as candidates of what proposal will be pursued further.
Split decisions can point to differences in aims; ask yourself whether you are in alignment regarding your circle’s or organization’s aim.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 3

Aims and domains

What is the difference between meetings, groups and circles?

Circles have an aim, a domain and clear membership. They will typically meet to coordinate their operations and to make policy decisions. Meetings can be circle meetings, but meetings can also just be gatherings of groups other than circles. For example, a non-decision making group (like a community practice) or an interest group (like in Open Space) can meet. In that case, a meeting wouldn’t be a circle meeting. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.7.1

Should aims be written down?

Yes! If they are written down, you will be able to refer to them, and you can be more intentional about achieving it.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 2

Aims - how does one define the aims?

For existing organizations that adopt sociocracy, the original set of aims will come from the governance agreement that puts the first circles in place. Following from that and for all circles forming organizations, each aim is set by the parent circle. The aims should be clear enough so it’s a clear description of what the circle is doing. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.2.1

How does one change the aim of a circle?

Changing the aim of a circle requires consent from the circle itself and from its parent circle. Either circle can propose such a change. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.2.1

Is a Sociocratic organisation a flat organisation?

A “flat” organization generally operates as a collective in that each and every member tends to be involved in every decision and limits positions of authority or power. Further decisions are made using consensus.
In that sense, Sociocracy is not a flat organization as it uses a hierarchy with key positions such as Delegate, Circle Leader, Facilitator, etc.
However, a flat organization could use sociocracy for its governance model by simply limiting the time that any one person can be in a role of leadership or authority.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 1

Do some circles have more authority than others?

All circles have exactly as much authority as is given to them when aims and domains for circles are defined. For example, an implementation document might give financial, overall strategical authority and hiring/firing of staff to the mission circle. Or it could distribute all of those areas of authority into department circles and the general circle. Ideally – in alignment with the spirit of sociocracy – authority is as distributed as possible. When implementing sociocracy in an existing organization, these are decisions that need to be made before adopting a circle structure. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 2

Which decisions will be made by the whole membership?

As few as possible – ideally none. Some organizations keep some domains as part of the whole membership when transitioning into sociocracy, for example, major changes in governance. Yet, ideally, the mission circle and the general circle as well as finance have clear domains in circles that take ownership of those decisions. In some places, an all-member meeting can be used to select a member representative to the board
That said, there can still be a place for all-member meetings that might not be decision-making meetings. For example, circles might ask for feedback for policies that are in the works, there can be intentional spaces for exploration and connection among the membership, or training for everyone on relevant topics. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.2

Is there circle-based policy and organization-wide policy?

A circle can make policy just for itself, both on process and on their work. For example, a circle might determine how they run their own meetings, or they might make a policy that only affects their own workflow. A circle can also, in their domain, make policy that is in effect organization-wide. For example, depending on how the domains are defined, a membership circle can have authority to make membership decisions for all members of the organization, not only the circle. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 3

Can a higher circle not accept a decision of a lower circle?

The higher circle includes the leader and delegate of the lower circle. The higher circle can raise an objection that the leader and delegate can bring back to the lower circle. And the higher circle can make a change to the domain of the lower circle – again, with consent of the leader and delegate of the lower circle. But the higher circle cannot just overturn a decision that is in another circle’s domain.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.3 and chapter 3

What if the aim of a circle or organization isn't within my range of tolerance?
What if a circle is chronically too busy to deal with all the items on the backlog?

Address this issue – ironically, this will be another item on your backlog! Yet, what you might decide to do is: 

  • weed out the backlog (delete items that are of less importance)
  • form helping circles to address some of the items
  • extend your meeting time or make more frequent meetings
  • form a sub-circle for part of your domain

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 5

Circles and roles

Can sociocratic meetings work for more than 7 people?

Yes. Meetings with more operational decisions can work with bigger groups. The more emphasis there is on policy, the more important it is to be able to deliberate which is easier in small groups.
Groups might want to consider forming a sub-circle if the nature of the work allows it. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 2

When does it make sense to form a sub-circle?

A group might want to form a subcircle if some topics of the meeting are only relevant for some of the circle members and those topics re-occur. If the circle is bigger than 6 people, it is worth thinking about separating out parts of the aim/domain into sub-circles but it depends more on the aim/domain than the number of people. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.2.2

Are there any all-member meetings in sociocracy?

There can be if that’s desired. The question is what are those meeting for? In sociocracy, typically it rarely happens that the entire membership makes decisions all together. Yet, all-member meetings can be a great place for connection, visioning, giving feedback and staying informed on what is going on. 

How many circles is too few?

Depends of course! Instead of asking for a number of circles, observe how well the circles are functioning. Do the aims and domains feel overwhelmingly big and a significant part of it never gets attention? Do you find yourself in meetings where half of the agenda items aren’t relevant to half of the circle members? Are there many people in a circle? Are meetings very long with overfull agendas?
If too many of these are true, forming sub-circles might be worth exploring. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 2

How many circles are too many?

Depends of course! Instead of asking for a number of circles, observe how well the circles are currently maintained. Are the aims and domains clear enough and enough people to take care of policy and operations as needed for the organization to function? Can each parent circle sustain and pay attention to all of its sub-circles? Does double-linking create a general circle or parent circles that are too big to function? Are people overwhelmed with the number of meetings, with a sense of fragmentation of the whole?
If too many of these are true, reducing circles might be one of the possible solutions.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 2

Which comes first, the general circle or outer circles?

Depends! Some organizations start as a general circle that might grow department circles. Some start with department circles and “grow” a general circle. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 2

What's the difference between the General Circle and the Mission Circle?

The Mission Circle is like a board. It often has external individuals or stakeholder representatives as members. It holds the organization true to its mission and its focus is on the general direction of the organization.
The General Circle is made up of leaders and delegates of department circles (plus in some cases the leader of the GC). They are much more focused on the day-to-day business of the organization, making sure that all the department circles are well-aligned and can be productive.
You can think of the difference as the difference between an advisory board and a management team. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.5

When do we define an operational role, when do we form a helping or a sub-circle?

Depends on how much operational and policy work you are expecting in that domain. If it’s only operational, form a role. If you expect there to be policy work also (that you are willing to pass on from your circle), form a sub-circle. If it’s temporary, form a helping circle. 

How does one create a (sub) circle?

Outside of an initial set of circles (that is defined in the governance agreement proposal for the implementation of sociocracy), circles are formed by their parent circle. Alternatively, a circle can form in isolation and ask to be “adopted” under a parent circle later. The connection to a parent circle is important to clarify the new circle’s domain.
To form a circle, it takes (1) a defined aim (2) a domain (3) a leader/convener and a plan for how the circle is populated. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.5

How do we fold (or end) a circle when it is no longer needed?

The circle needs to consent to its own folding, as well as the parent circle. At the very least, the parent circle needs to be informed – the domain automatically falls back to the parent circle.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.6.2

What's the delegate role?

The role of delegate is to talk with the coach (center circle eventually). Will carry questions and messages from the group to the coach (center circle eventually).

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.3.1

Is a Mission Circle required?

Not all organizations have a mission circle. If that is the case, often the general circle takes over typical mission circle tasks. Sometimes paying attention to the overall direction is simply not done in an organization and this often leaves a gap and a mission circle would be formed over time. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 2

What are your thoughts on rotating delegates?

It is hard to get into the swing of things with rotating roles. For delegates, this is an even bigger issue because they are part of two circles. The people filling the role as a delegate in the parent circle will only have spotty knowledge of the parent circle’s arch of conversation which makes it a tricky situation to be effective in. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.3.4

What if there are more people doing a particular kind of work than there should be circle members in a circle? (For example, 80 volunteers doing the same task.)

Circle membership

How does one join a circle?

Any individual can approach a circle (ideally the leader) and ask. The circle will then make a decision by consent. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.3.3

How many circles can a person be on?

That depends, of course, on the nature of the organization and the work, whether the work is full time or part time, how often circles meet, how involved the work is etc. The general answer is: a person can be a member of as many circles as they can be productive members of. For most people, what they can track is about 2-5 regular circles.
Remember that circle meetings are only a small part of the circle’s work – the focus should be on operations. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 2

Can people spontaneously join a circle if they are concerned about a decision the circle is about to make?

No! They can form a circle in the regular way (by consent from the circle). We highly discourage joining a circle just to have a say on one “hot” issue. If you feel strongly about an issue, then give feedback.
Working groups need to be protected so they can build expertise and team culture – the better they work together, the more considerate they can be with input from outside the circle. 

Can one lose circle membership?

A circle member can be removed from a circle. Of course, this is not something to take lightly.
Circle membership is a decision that requires consent. If someone’s circle membership is not within the range of tolerance of some other circle members anymore, we can propose to remove that person. This will only be done if that person’s circle membership keeps the circle from achieving its aim, for example because the emotional disturbance is distracting and seems avoidable. Note that removing someone from a circle is not necessarily the same as removing someone from the organization. Depending on the nature of the organization and its membership model, that person might remain a member, or might remain or become a member of a different circle where those issues might not arise.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.2.3

What do we do with circle members who "do what they want?"

If circle members are doing what they want outside of the aims and policies of the circle that implies an organizational lack of accountability. Are role expectations clear? Is feedback happening? Are you sharing with that person the impact on others of their working in an individualistic way? Do you have a graduated series of consequences when members don’t follow policy? It starts with feedback and it ends with the removal of the person from the circle, which in some cases may also mean removal from the organization. When we hear this question, we think the problem may be more systemic with the organization’s capacity and willingness to be accountable (in other words, face conflict rather than avoid it) than with an individual person’s behavior.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 6.10.5 and chapter 4

How does one remove someone from a circle? (process)

The process to remove someone from a circle is, on a process level, rather easy: it’s a proposal with clarifying questions, quick reactions and a consent round. The only difference to any other proposal is that the person asked to be removed does not have consent rights. That person can be included in the clarifying questions and in the quick reactions. If there are no objections, then that person loses circle membership. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 2.2.3, 6.5, and chapter 4

Is it an option for any member to NOT participate in a circle?

While this a decision each organization can make individually, it is compatible with sociocracy to have some people who are “only” doing work and who are not part of a circle. We sometimes call them “worker bees”. Obviously, their voices are then not heard as easily unless there is a good way for input. It is not unusual, especially in volunteer organizations, that someone might be doing work and being a circle member in one domain, but also carries out tasks that are within the domain of a circle that person is not a part of. 

If a person needs to be heard on a regular basis by a certain circle, a “buddie-system” might help to hear their input. 
In general, it seems important to emphasize that no one should be banned from being part of a circle without substantial reason, and no one should be forced to be part of a circle. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 2

Linking

Is anyone in the general circle a delegate or leader?

Yes. Each general circle member is leader or delegate from a department circle. One of them will often be the leader sent as top-down link from the mission circle as the general circle leader. In that case, the number of general circle members is leaders+delegates plus the operational leader of the general circle. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.5

Can there be single links (instead of double linking)?

Yes. We highly recommend double-linking on general circle level (between department circles and the general circle). Yet, on sub-circle level or below, single links can be enough. Double linking is also useful to create redundancy.
Remember that double-linking is a very effective strategy to make sure information flows and power is shared between circles. Yet the same needs can, under some conditions, bet met with a different strategy, for example, liaisons, delegates on-call etc. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.4

Can there be triple links?

Yes. Sometimes organizations may choose to have two delegates. Although this is technically unnecessary (since in consent, numbers of people doesn’t matter and no one can be outnumbered like in majority vote), some organizations like having a triple link, for example to create redundancy. There is no harm in doing this; yet it is rare. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 2.4

Who is elected into the mission circle?

For a running organization, this is decided by the current mission circle which includes the two links between general circle and mission circle. A mission circle will most likely define qualifications they would like to see of future members, including stakeholder representation and other expertise.
For a forming organization, if there is a general circle and no mission circle yet, one idea is for the general circle to select their leader and a delegate and possibly another member to form a mission circle of three people that can then add as many mission circle members with qualifications of their choice. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.5.3

How does having a Board translate into sociocracy?

Most of the time, the board functions will be taken on by the mission circle: holding the organization true to its mission, supporting staff, fiduciary responsibility.
Yet, in a sociocratic set-up, there is more flexibility. If a board is required by the local laws but – for whatever reason – the organization does not want to conflate that legal requirement with the mission circle, there are other options, like dividing up the domains traditionally held by the board into different circles. For example, the budget can be in the general circle’s domain.
Another option is to have the legally required board be a department circle (or even a sub-circle), especially in cases where the legal organization is just a subset of the “real” organization. For example, a homeowner association is just a sub-set of a community that might include renters and children.
Design the circle structure and the aims and domains in a way that supports what is important to your organization. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 2

Can there be lateral/diagonal links?

There can be as many people connecting – as liaisons – circles diagonally as an organization chooses. Yet, links are formally connecting parent and child circles. 

Be sure to create organizational structures where links are clear, and where every role clearly has a home and no role is double-represented. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.4

Information flow

How can we keep everyone in the organization informed?

The need to spread information comes with the decentralization of authority. A lot gets decided in a lot of places! How information can be spread in the best way highly depends on the culture and nature of the organization. Information flow happens (1) between circles through linking (2) through open meeting minutes and documents within the organization (3) between circles and the general membership (4) between any groups or individuals that desire it.
Tools can be synchronous (video or in person, live online tools) or asynchronous tools (online like email, slack, loomio; physical like a paper binder with documents or posters in a meeting room).

What are the criteria for deciding if additional information or input is relevant to the circle when making a decision?

It really depends on the moment, the experience level and level of trust in the group. Additional information or clarification is essential if no next step can be made without that information. E.g. if a proposal is not understood enough to be approved, then additional clarification is needed.
Issues arise when there is no agreement within the group on whether additional information is needed; for example when one part of the circle wants to move on but the others still want to explore additional information. Here, it depends on the scale of this issue. For moments with high significance, the proposal to move on can be objected to, and those objections should be integrated (also because this affects how the timing of the agenda works out). For minor issues, the facilitator might decide whether additional information seems relevant. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5

When do we reach out to input from outside the circle?

Special expertise might be needed in many cases to operate the circle effectively. The circle is responsible for noticing when it might be better to ask someone for input or help. Another consideration is the effect of group think (a psychological phenomenon where too much conformity in a group results in irrational decisions). That’s where asking for feedback from outside the circle and even outside the organization is useful to make sure enough fresh ideas find their way into the circle. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 4.4

How can we improve flow of information and group coherence outside of linking and circle meetings?

While linking and regular circle meetings with all circle members are ideal, there are other ways of making sure information can flow within and between groups. Come up with a system that effectively carries information into the general membership – some organizations use newsletters, posters, open meetings etc. 

For hearing individuals, circles can consider surveys, hearings, or salons. 

For uninvolved individuals, a proxy system where someone else stands in for a circle member. For example, if that person is unable to attend circle meetings due to scheduling or emotional issues, another person can meet with them directly and act as their proxy in circle meetings.  

How can we do circle feedback?

Circle feedback can be done in a lot of ways but a very simple and effective format is the following: each circle member will be focus person once. For each focus person, we follow the same process: the focus person reflects how they showed up in the circle both in operations and in meetings (interpersonally, related to content and regarding process). This will include both aspects the focus person is content with and aspects that the focus person would like to grow in. After the focus person has spoken, a round begins where people can add to the list of aspects around the focus person or reacts to what the focus person said about themselves. After every circle member has spoken, the focus person gets a chance to acknowledge, comment or express gratitude. The circle then shifts to a new focus person and the process begins again. The process is complete when every circle member has been focus person once.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 4

How often should a circle do "circle feedback"?

Circle feedback is a simple format to give each other feedback in a circle.
The frequency of this format depends on the nature of the work and the feedback culture of the circle and organization. As an orientation, 10% of the meetings can go into self-reflection of all kinds: on the circle aim, in performance reviews, in selection for roles and in the form of general circle feedback. In a circle with weekly meetings, this would mean engaging in a format of self-reflection about every quarter. In a circle that meets monthly, this would come down to once a year plus some.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 4

Social-emotional

What do we do if our circle has a strong, vocal person by whom people feel intimidated and afraid to give feedback?

Be aware that there is not only one story – the person coming across as “intimidating” might have no idea that this is how they are perceived. Responsibility is present on all sides: one person might act in ways that can be interpreted as overly assertive. Yet, others let it happen and/or interpret that person’s behavior in that way. Ideally, create a container where it is safe to bring this up. For example, a circle feedback can be a great tool to be more vocal and intentional about how we operate as a circle. The “intimidating person” might acknowledge this pattern themselves which will make it possible to be ally to the person. Or the other circle members can own and acknowledge their own perspective, with a lot of self-responsibility (meaning, for example, instead “you are intimidating and it’s your fault that no one dares to contradict you”, one can say something like “I don’t know what is going on for you when you ___ (interrupt others, make assertive statements) but I notice what happens for me, and that’s that I am discouraged because I don’t know what to say.) Remember it’s not about the words said, more about the thought that in every relationship, both sides are fully responsible.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 4, chapter 6, and section 6.10.5

What do we if someone's behavior is too hard on a circle? (social emotional)

Circle members come together to contribute to serving the circle’s aim. If that is not the case, the circle member might be removed. This might happen if a circle member is not behind the circle’s aim, or if the member’s communication or work style are not contributive or even detrimental to the circle’s work. The reasons for this might be that a circle member is too distracted emotionally to be constructive; it might be due to interpersonal struggles within the circle.
The first attempt will always be to give feedback to that person and to see whether they are aware of their behavior’s impact on the circle. The more specific and doable our requests of that person are, the more likely it will be for that person to act on the feedback. A circle might define other processes that support mutual understanding and cooperation and healing (like processes from restorative justice), like mediation, individual and group processes. If all fails, the circle can remove the circle member from the circle. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 4.1-4.3 and 6.10

What if someone's style can easily be perceived as dismissive or mean?

This might be best addressed outside of the meeting in a one-on-one conversation with the individual on their style and how it impacts the group. Some people are not aware and getting the feedback may resolve the issue quickly. If, on the other hand, the style of the individual continues and is deemed disruptive to the group, there may be no other choice than to remove them from the circle. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 4.1-4.3

How is conflict in circles handled?

Listenings, mediation, restorative circles. These are not specific to Dynamic Governance.
The Dynamic Governance process for any stuck place is: Let’s do rounds on that, i.e., how do we understand our stuckness, what is something that is safe enough to try so we get some feedback and keep learning and moving with experience. Rather than stay stuck in righteousness or fear.
The Decision Process Sheet (add link) has options for dealing with objections to proposals.
Ultimately if a circle cannot make a decision the issue is passed on to the higher circle for decision.
 Every circle should have a policy regarding the voice of absent members, such as “absent members have 24 hours to object to non-emergency decisions, in which case that decision will be reviewed at the next meeting or in a specially called meeting.”

What if someone wants to "stand up for the powerless" and it seems to be a "proxy war"?

Sometimes people feel the desire to stand up for a group or an individual where it seems out of proportion. It is hard to judge when that would be true. Yet, be aware that not all objections or discussions are actually about the issue at hand even though they sound like they might be. They might be about the sadness of inequality in the world and in between groups. They might be about experiences in the past or fears in the future. The trigger might be in the moment but the cause might not. In that case, good listening is important as disregarding the concerns might amplify them. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 4

When feelings come up from unmet needs, how do you address this within a large group without having to spend time doing rounds?

If it seems like good use of time (e.g. because it is important for the whole group to clarify and understand the unmet need), the facilitator can try to un-cover the wisdom brought to the group. The facilitator might also ask someone else or even a small group to listen, clarify and reflect back, like a fishbowl format. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 4 and section 6.10

What do we do if someone is upset or sad in a meeting?

Assuming the behavior is disruptive to the meeting and depending on the circumstances, you could 

(a) do a reaction round 

(b) invite the member to speak about what is going on for them and then ask them what they request from the circle followed up with a reaction round of reflective listening or empathy before hearing the focus member speak again. 

(c) Ask another circle member to support them outside of the meeting while the meeting continues or after it ends. 

(d) Take a 5-minute break or a minute of silence 

(e) any combination of these options. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 5.5.3

What is the relationship between sociocracy and nonviolent communication?

Nonviolent communication (NVC) and sociocracy have different origins. However, a number of organizations have adopted both at the same time, because they share a philosophy of life and human relationships which stresses the importance of the quality of connection and listening
 and the attention to the needs of all the members of the organization.
Sociocratic processes are designed so all voices are heard and taken into account in the organization’s governance.
Nonviolent communication focuses on empathy towards oneself and towards others and is designed to facilitate a compassionate way to take into account everybody’s perspective, their feelings, as well as strategies to fulfill their needs.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song chapter 4 and read this article: Sociocracy and NVC

How do we manage emotional safety in groups where members have a history together?

Address it. This could mean that the individuals or groups do some restorative work as a group or outside of the group. It is typically not sustainable to sweet these dynamics under the carpet. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 6.10

If one circle has a difficulty with a decision made by another circle, how does that get resolved?

If the two circles in this scenario are linked, then the responsibility to align between the two circles lies in the links. If not, then a good first step is to give feedback and give the circle a chance to respond. Your governance agreement might define a process of how that is best done, e.g. by email or by visiting a meeting of that circle. Mutual understanding and feedback typically go a long way.
Some governance agreements put in place an appeal process but this should always be very last resort because it is at odds with the basic values of distributed authority. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.4 and chapter 4

When strong emotions come up, how do you decide whether the group should deal with it?

Implementation

How do sociocratic workplaces deal with hiring and firing?

Hiring and firing are consent decisions by the circle that has that authority in its domain. Use the standard consent process. If the proposal is removal of a person from a circle or an organization, then the person in question can participate in the consent process up to but not including the consent round.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 2.2.3

How do staff fit into a nonprofit that uses sociocracy?
How do we deal with new members who don’t know what decisions have already been made?
Is everyone supposed to learn to be a facilitator?
We don't have enough people willing to facilitate!
How do we excite others about sociocracy?
What if we're sensing a quiet resistance to sociocracy principles being introduced to the group?
How does one transition from consensus to sociocracy?
What does one need to learn or know before learning sociocracy?
How do you introduce sociocracy into an existing group to help them transition to it?
When an organization that already has specific roles and terms, how does one transition to sociocracy?
What level of buy-in do we need before going for implementation?
How do we teach new members so they can quickly get up to speed?

In our experience, sociocracy is best learned both by experience and by explicit training. Simply learning by watching does not seem to be enough to pick it up. On the other hand, explicit training cannot replace real-life experience. When designing your onboarding process, keep both aspects in mind!
Another dimension is that a lot of repetition is needed to learn well. Many processes are not needed as often (like election processes) and can easily get forgotten. Also, there is a lot of re-learning that’s needed. Therefore, think of it as ongoing education. 

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song sections 6.10.5 and 6.11

Can sociocracy be done without training anyone?

There are two aspects to this:
(1) The first is that groups need to be in choice on how they run themselves. Don’t deceive or cover up what you are trying to do. If you are expecting or experiencing backlash to a “complete package” like sociocracy is perceived by some, use pieces and state why you want to use them. E.g. don’t say “I want to use rounds because that’s what is done in sociocracy” but say “I want to use rounds because they make it easier for everyone to listen and be heard.”

(2) There are limits of what we call “stealth implementation”, as they never create the level of clarity around governance that an explicit and agreed-upon governance system does. For example, as a facilitator of a group, you can use consent without calling it that; but as long as consent is not the agreed-upon method of decision-making and is only used here and there, the benefit of knowing that everyone will be heard, and the commitment to working towards a solution that works for everyone will only be present occasionally.

For more information, check out our handbook Many Voices One Song section 6.10

What if the group doesn't agree to using sociocracy?
How do we decide the original set of circles when adopting sociocracy in an existing organization?