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Setting your pace in self-management

People’s opinions seem to vary. Are self-management tools like sociocracy and Holacracy slow and bureaucratic? Or are they fast and agile?

This question conceals a bigger insight: how fast or slow you go, how bureaucratic or lean you are — that is totally up to you.

For a consent-based system —even more in sociocratic governance, where the very operating system is just an agreement that the organization can change — pace becomes a choice. Yet, oftentimes, groups aren’t intentional on how fast or slow they go.

 

What does going slow mean?

“Going slow” sounds more judgemental than I mean it! What I might label slow, others might call conscious or thorough. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being conscious or thorough.

Here are some examples of choice points where we can go fast or go slow:

  • “Before we can approve this project, we need to fill out our project canvas.”
  • “Before I do that task, we need to re-define my role and approve it.”
  • “I’d like to get input from our whole membership before we consider this direction.”
  • “I can’t consent to this unless we also define what happens in case XYZ….”

Let me be clear: for each and every one of those statements, I can think of dozens of examples where they are appropriate. But I can also think of dozens of examples where that level of detail is overkill.

 

What do I mean by going fast?

Going fast might mean moving forward before having figured out everything. Maybe going fast sounds liberating and enjoyable to you. (It does to me!) It might also sound threatening and dangerous to you.

There’s nothing wrong with going fast and caring about outcomes, lean processes, and quickly implemented decisions that we can try out.

Here are a few examples of choice points where we can go fast or decide to slow down:

  • (without really reading the proposal) “This looks great. Can we just do it?”
  • “I am looking for a pragmatic solution here, so no reason to ask for feedback outside of this team.”
  • “We can always decide that later.”

The same caveats apply: I can think of dozens of situations where these decisions are appropriate and might save us loads of time and resources. I can also think of dozens of examples where we might deeply regret our lack of consideration.

Sometimes we might think that we know which one will be better. The truth is that there is no certainty whatsoever whether going deep or going fast will turn out to be the best approach for a given situation. It’s easy to be wise in hindsight but impossible to know in advance.
While decision-making in uncertainty (and complexity, etc.) is fundamental, I won’t go into that now. The point of this article is just to raise awareness that pace is a choice. We can either not-know and move fast, or not-know and move slow.

Let’s have some range.

I’d guess most of us have a range of our favorite pace. Mine looks like this:

Same heat color spectrum with a bracket indicating a range on the “fast” spectrum.
 

While going fast counts as cool (lucky for me!), I think it falls short. A team of fast implementers can be joyful but also risky and harmful.

The same is, of course, true for teams where everyone is on the slow end of things.

Same heat color spectrum with a bracket indicating a range on the “slow” spectrum.

In general, having only one mode of operating is risky. A narrow range of options is always running the risk of missing what’s appropriate.

What I am looking for is a wide range and making intentional choices of how fast to go.

Same heat map with a bracket indicating a wide range.

A mix of people will accomplish that at the risk of increasing the potential of tensions between group members who want to push the group along or slow it down.

Another idea is to increase the range for each individual in the group. Each of us individually, and we as a collective — sometimes we go slow, sometimes we go fast. And we have a conversation about that. That’s what I mean by being intentional.

How bureaucratic or lean do you want to be?

Let’s revisit some of the statements above.

  • “Before we can approve this project, we need to fill out our project canvas.”

If your agreements dictate that you do that, then you’re not in choice. Do you think it’s worth doing? Then do it. Do you think there’s a reason to skip it? Then propose to skip it.

  • “Before I do that task, we need to re-define my role and approve it.”

If your governance system requires bureaucratic steps before taking action that can’t be questioned, then you’re locked into one side of the range. Can you get started without defining the role? Or is it worth defining the role in this case?

There’s no perfect pace. There’s only hitting an appropriate range moment to moment. You will probably modulate a bit over time.

Let’s not blame our systems for things we have control over. While some systems lend themselves for going slow or fast, ultimately, it’s our choice.

Bottomline: is self-management bureaucratic?

  • Choose to be as lean or thorough as you want to be in a given moment.
  • Have a conversation about the pace people in your team want to have. It makes great material for a check-out round in your meeting evaluation.
  • If your system of self-governance doesn’t meet your needs, then change it.

Like what you read? Consider facilitation training.)

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