So, you want to implement sociocracy, but don’t know where to start? After gaining some basic knowledge, the next steps aren’t always clear. We’re here to help you out.
First of all, let me say that I don’t believe in a cookie-cutter method. Every organization is a little different. And every organization has its unique advantages and challenges. Interestingly, every organization has to shift in some way. For example, a very flat organization will have to get used to some structure. On the other hand, a very hierarchical organization will have to get used to more shared authority.
There are some lessons we have learned by seeing the process dozens of times. Here are the steps, in a nutshell. (A longer version is in our chapter “Implementing sociocracy” in the handbook Many Voices One Song. Shared Power With Sociocracy published in June 2018.)
Step 1. Understand sociocracy — connecting and educating
1.1 Educate yourself about implementing sociocracy
If you are reading this, you are probably in this phase! Here is what you can do. First off, learn more about sociocracy by reading case studies and watching videos. But don’t stop there! Being able to actually practice sociocracy is just as important as knowledge. Make it concrete: become a better facilitator, learn how to empower working groups and people in roles, and trust them.
1.2 Bring others from your group on board
First of all, keep in mind that most people are hesitant when they hear the word sociocracy for the first time. Does it work? Is it too weird?
We have seen it countless numbers of times:
- One person in an organization learns about sociocracy and gets very excited.
- → The enthusiast learns more and more and gets more and more excited.
- → People around them interpret it as “too missionary” and turn away.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, you have to be proactive early. Find others in your organization that might be interested in exploring self-governance and sociocracy. Team up with them.
In addition, give people a chance to practice instead of just talking about it. People take ownership of the process as soon as they have their own first-hand experiences.
Typical ways to invite others in are to share videos, read books together, or run a study group. Our Empowered Learning Circles study group curriculum is designed to lead a group through practicing sociocracy together in an accessible way. Some groups have formed a study circle and run it sociocratically. (That study circle often turns into an implementation circle later which is useful! They will be your companions when you implement sociocracy.)
Form a Study Group
1.3 Who else is out there implementing sociocracy?
Take a moment to look outside of your organization. Who else is out there in your field working to implement sociocracy? Let’s be honest, the sociocracy enthusiasts in any organization need credibility, and this validation often comes from the outside. That way, it’s not just your wacky idea. This credibility can come in the form of bringing in outside speakers, reading case studies, and listening to webinars.
1.4 SoFA resources for this stage of implementation
- Beginner training for yourself and your group
- Inspiring others:
- Find other organizations like yours in our case studies or on the map that implement sociocracy
- Sociocracy Moose – Learn Sociocracy in 45min, with these free, open-access, interactive videos. Each video will introduce you to the foundational ideas in animated videos and quizzes.
Step 2. Explore sociocracy — building a home base and experimenting
At this point, it’s time to learn more and to think your plan through. Make sociocracy your own, as a group. Operating in a small group is not enough anymore.
2.1 Get clarity on the decision path
Make sure you have an official mandate from your organization to explore sociocracy as a governance system.
- If one person (or committee) is your ultimate decision-maker, ask their permission to look at sociocracy as a potential governance method.
- In consensus-run organizations, get consensus from the decision-makers.
- If you use majority vote, you’ll have to vote on your new decision-making method. Don’t use a slim majority to introduce a consent-based system; that would start the new system off on the wrong foot!
The biggest obstacle to pursuing this mandate is if your current system is unclear on who decides and how they decide. That’s sometimes the case in new and informal organizations. If it’s unclear who decides what your governance system is, how will you ever adopt any governance system? You’ll simply get stuck. We’ve seen countless organizations die a slow death because lack of clarity in their governance prevented them from making any decisions. The only way out of that is to make a pragmatic decision that’s well-grounded in the group. You’ll need to inspire people and make sure they understand it enough to want it.
2.2 More skills for more people
Make sure people know enough about sociocracy to make an informed decision. Make sure to understand what sociocracy can look like in your organization by practicing and “trying it on”.
- To start, run pilot projects. Try using rounds, the consent process and the sociocratic meeting format in some teams.
- Host gatherings that train people, or train more people using our study group curriculum.
- Invite speakers – credibility from outside sometimes works! (We’re happy to help.)
- Train facilitators (find facilitation training on the training page) and find our facilitation resource page
Interested in facilitation training to take you to the next level?
2.3 Hearing concerns
Engage with people who might have concerns or objections to a new governance system. Listen with an open heart and mind. Practice consent by hearing what’s behind their concern and taking it seriously. See how their concerns can be addressed. For example, if their concern is feasibility, then connect them with people who have implemented sociocracy in a similar context. If their concern is a drop in productivity, make sure to work out a solid implementation plan that minimizes risks. Schedule set checkpoints and ask: Has productivity dropped? Frequent evaluations create more safety.
2.4 SoFA Resources for this stage of implementation
- Training for all levels: Facilitation training online. Also our immersion training SoLT to try sociocracy out organically.
- Find sector-specific content . We currently offer pages for coops, intentional communities, workplaces, schools, and nonprofits. Try your luck in our resource catalogue.
- Get a workshop tailored to you – online or in person? Info on hosting a workshop
- Our Sociocracy handbook Many Voices One Song – we also sell them in bulk!
Step 3. Making a decision to implement sociocracy and putting it in place
3.1 Writing a governance agreement
Your former study group will now turn into an implementation circle. They need to:
1. Describe the desired governance system
- First, define the parameters of your governance system. You need to describe your governance system, including decision-making systems, linking, etc.
- Then describe the circle structure. You can try finding an organization that is similar to yours or start by describing the aims and domains for each circle.
- Also consider operational roles that are necessary to start.
2. Create a transition roadmap to implement sociocracy
- Describe how do you want to transition. (Some organizations transition all authority into circles all at once, some have a soft or incremental transition.)
- Define how your original circles will be populated. Old teams can transition into the new circles, or you can use a big selection process modified for large groups.
- Design a training plan and a set of criteria that you can use to evaluate your implementation some time down the road.
Get feedback on your governance agreement and the transition roadmap. Adjust both based on the feedback you have received. Repeat as many times as necessary.
At the same time, remember that the circle structure doesn’t have to be perfect right away. You can always change it later after you’ve implemented sociocracy. (Changing something a few months into the process is not unusual at all.)
3.2 Make a decision to implement sociocracy
The governance agreement and the implementation plan are ready. All concerns have been heard and addressed. You have trained everyone and you have a plan on how to ongoing training. Maybe you even have a plan on how to train new members. You’re ready. Make a final decision. Have a party!
3.3 Fill your circles and form your General Circle
Some organizations hold kick-off events with an external facilitator/trainer. This could be a multi-day workshop with (1) more training, (2) the final approval (3) a shared process where the first sets of circles are populated and the general circle is formed. For some organizations, leadership needs to be selected. For others, the original roles carry over from the previous system.
3.4 SoFA Resources for this stage of implementation
- A few more advanced articles with useful pointers:
- Sociocracy For All offers sample documents for governance agreements. Check out the implementation page for our growing pool of resources.
- Coaching to come up with a training and implementation plan, as well as a circle structure that supports your operations
- Invite an external sociocracy trainer, to guide you through a kick-off event. That way, the people driving the process can lean back and be equals in the process of adoption. This is important because this kick-off event transitions power from the implementation circle to the whole.