Circle roles are all the roles that help the circle run itself. Those roles are very similar to what many organizations are doing anyway, with some additional tasks that are sociocracy-specific.
Different people fill different roles; it is possible to hold more than one role. For some roles, this is harder to do. For example, in practice, it is hard to pay attention to facilitation and note-taking simultaneously. Therefore, we recommend that the secretary and facilitator be filled by two separate individuals. Some combinations go well together, like secretary and logbook keeper. Roles in sociocracy are generally not about power but about paying attention.
The leader is aware of the circle in its larger context (over time, in the organization). The delegate pays attention to what needs to be communicated to the next-broader circle. The secretary watches over the records of the circle and their circulation. Focusing on the process during the circle meetings is the facilitator’s role. A logbook keeper attends to policies and documents for the whole organization. That way, we can ensure that the circle members together make the most of their operational efforts and their precious meeting time.
i. What does a leader do?
The role of the Leader is to:
- oversee operations of the Circle
- communicate the interests and decisions of the Circle’s broader Circle.
The leader makes time-sensitive operational decisions. Since decision-making on policy is done by consent, the leader operates within the frame of policy that the circle is giving.
Part of operational leadership is to hold the processes and to pay attention to the whole of the circle. What needs doing next? Are circle members doing what they agreed to do? Who needs a check-in, and what might be needed so operations can run more smoothly? What comes from a broader circle that needs to happen here? (In the case of ELC – what comes from the coach that needs to be known/done in the ELC?)
I like the image of a construction site: the building plan is the policy. The building activities are operations; every piece of sheet rock needs to be aligned with the building plan. The leader is aware of the policy and makes sure stuff gets done. Somebody has to pay attention to the whole.
As another example, imagine a membership circle. Any operation happens within the policy framework given by the membership circle. The operational activities of a membership circle might include outreach, orientations, and ongoing education. The circle sets who is responsible for communication with people contacting the organization seeking information about membership and how that is handled. The leader makes sure this actually happens by checking in with people or doing whatever level of management is needed to make sure things happen smoothly.
ii. Who selects the leader?
Which circle selects the leader depends on the type of organization. In a hierarchical organization (like a business), the leader will be selected top-down. Traditionally, the leader is the top-down link while the delegate is the bottom-up link (see Chapter 5 on double linking in Many Voices One Song). In a more horizontal organization, the leader can be selected by the circle and then confirmed by the next-broader circle.
The two scenarios are shown in this diagram. Since roles and membership of a group are always based on consent (an individual consents to being part of a group, and a circle consents to any new member), neither of the two scenarios involves power-over.
Whenever an existing circle creates a new circle, the existing circle will usually select the leader for the new circle.
Each Circle selects a delegate to participate in the next broader circle. The delegate serves as the “bottom-up” link between circles, from more specific to broader. The delegate participates as a full member in both circles. In order to have a double link, the delegate cannot be the same person as the Circle leader.
Hearing more than one voice from a circle in the broader circle supports the flow of information and transparency within an organization. A second voice is particularly useful when there is disagreement within a circle that needs to be represented. (It is possible in some contexts to forgo double-linking if equal voice and transparency are ensured through other means.)
The delegate attends the meetings of the next-broader circle The delegate will report from their circle and make sure issues or concerns from their circle will be heard.
Each circle selects a secretary to take notes and publish the minutes within the organization. In some organizations, the role of the secretary (also called the circle administrator) might also involve announcing circle meetings, preparing the agenda in consultation with other circle members, and distributing study materials and proposals. The secretary also tracks what needs to be on meeting agendas, particularly remembering when a policy needs to be reviewed or that it is time for a new selection process for a role whose term of office is ending. As the keeper of the records, the secretary interprets policies when questions arise.
Why notes or minutes are so important in sociocracy
Since decisions in sociocracy are made in small, focused circles, it is vital for the circle and the organization that meeting records are not only written down but also distributed to the large group and remain accessible — otherwise, no one would hear about new policies that might affect them. It is just as vital to keep the minutes accessible. In larger organizations, logbook keeping (storing all policies in a central place and keeping them updated) can be done by a separate organization-wide role called the logbook keeper. In smaller organizations, this will typically be part of the secretary’s role. Either way, it is important to define which tasks the secretary is expected to fulfill.
A facilitator is selected by each circle to run circle meetings. The facilitator will prepare the meeting agenda and guide the circle through all the steps of decision-making. The facilitator checks in with the leader to plan upcoming meetings.
Why is the leader not the facilitator?
The leader can be the facilitator if that works well for your circle. Since the skill set of a leader is very different from the skill set of a facilitator, sociocracy separates those two roles so that we are intentional about filling them. You might have someone in your circle who is good at both, but there are many examples of great leaders who do not enjoy facilitation and vice versa.
The leader role typically asks for a person who is a doer, and who is good at holding people accountable and paying attention to what needs to be done. A facilitator has to be comfortable in front of the group, paying attention to process and to listening and synthesizing. Obviously, these definitions are limited, but to put a slogan on it: the leader has to be competent in managing the content level of the circle, while the facilitator has to be competent on the process level. We have seen many examples of great leaders who do not enjoy facilitation. Also, it makes sense that the leader has free attention to attend to content during the meeting while the facilitator holds the process level.
Groups often ask whether they could just “share” the facilitation. The answer is, yes facilitation can be rotated among members under two conditions.
(1) Only one person is the facilitator per meeting (unless there is a good reason to fill in, for instance, if the facilitator is strongly attached to an outcome or triggered by a situation).
(2) If facilitation rotates over meetings, it must be clear who is responsible for the preparation of the agenda – does that rotate as well, or does only the actual facilitation rotate?
Preparing the meeting agenda is an important part of effective decision-making. While preparing the agenda, the facilitator — ideally with the circle leader and the secretary — thinks about the next steps for each agenda items: are we doing picture forming, is there a proposal ready, is everyone present at the meeting who we want there to gather feedback or make a decision? Just putting an item on the agenda is no guarantee of an effective meeting.
Being clear about what is realistic and desired as a next step can boost the circle’s productivity and will be highly appreciated The group can still spread the facilitation skills by having short terms for the facilitator, like setting short terms and having a selection process every four or five meetings so someone else gets the opportunity to practice. That way, it is still clear who is responsible for making the agenda and facilitating the meeting.