Sociocracy and virtual meetings – engaging, clear and fair

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I’m in virtual meetings every day. Here is why I love them: 

While it is true that hanging out with real people is much more fun than staring at a screen, I actually find decision-making meetings on zoom much more productive than in-person meetings! Here is why:

1. More focus

More people are more focused: we all have the agenda and the live minutes in front of us. Everyone can follow exactly how we’re progressing. We’re all more accountable – and we can change things on the fly and stay accountable. And there is something about the written word that helps us stay on track.

2. More order

There is not as much cross-talk: in our practice, we mute ourselves when it’s not our turn to speak. That way, one is also less tempted to jump in and interrupt someone.

Let’s be honest – not everything that flies through our minds is worth saying out loud – right? Let’s save ourselves and each other the time and only speak when it’s our turn and we actually have things to say.

3. More co-creation

Decision-making is more co-creative and flexible: it’s much easier to develop a proposal together because we can write in a shared document, share links and even make drawings together – all of it in real time! I love that! 

Even better: add sociocracy!

A. Add rounds

A conventional video meeting can easily turn into chaos where a few people talk a lot and some don’t get to speak at all. That’s no fun at all! Rounds from sociocracy are a game-changer in virtual meetings!

What that means: instead of talking at will, talk one by one. The facilitator gives an order, and then all you need to do is listen. It’s easy, improves listening and connection. After just a few meetings, you’ll wonder why you ever did anything else!

Even better: 

  • The facilitator can call on two people at the same time, the next person and the person after that. That way, the second person can already prepare to find the unmute button to reduce waiting time for everyone.
  • To change the order in the round a bit, you can write down the order of names in the chat. That way, everyone knows what’s happening and can facilitator relax – even the facilitator. As a facilitator, I will sometimes re-use the same order a few times and then shuffle the names and put a new list in the chat. Doesn’t get more equal and easy than that, and you can’t do that as well in in-person meetings.

B. Add the sociocratic meeting format

Conventional meetings often aren’t optimized for clarity and connection. The sociocratic meeting format is. Start with an opening round, to give people a chance to arrive and to get to know each other. Human connection is the basis for collaboration and alignment! 

Also, end the meeting with a meeting evaluation. Especially if virtual meetings are new to your group, evaluate together what you could do better next time. Because – why wouldn’t you want to make it better next time?!

Even better: 

  • Add an ADMIN phase and improve the productivity and accountability of your circle! The ADMIN phase is a checklist of items that easily get forgotten at the beginning of a meeting:
    • A for attendance: are all roles filled? Who is present, who is absent? 
    • D for duration: how long is this meeting, and who has to leave early?
    • M for minutes: Is everyone informed (that needs to be informed) of what was decided? Were the minutes accurate? 
    • I for information: does anyone have an announcement that’s relevant for everyone? 
    • N for next meeting: is there clarity on when the next meeting is? Who can be there, who can’t?

C. Add consent

Long meetings are a pain but long meetings in front of a screen are even worse. Let’s keep meetings short! Fuzzy decision-making can be improved using consent. Consent means that a decision is made when there is no objection to it. That makes it easy to make decisions.

Also, consent makes it important to ask explicitly whether there are objections. No more lack of clarity of whether something was just talked about or decided! No more lack of clarity of what was actually decided! And no more endless talking and talking and talking about all other potential options. Instead, make a proposal, ask for objections and move forward.

Even better: 

  • Streamline decision-making processes by going through them step by step:
    • Understand: make sure everyone understands the proposal. Let people ask questions.
    • Explore: give people a chance to react to the proposal so everyone can be heard. One round is enough – takes only a few minutes and gives the decision better quality and buy-in!
    • Decide: now you’re ready to consent or object. Stay clear of rabbit holes by only focusing on objections.
  • Get trained to integrate objections so you can move elegantly and considerately through the process. Your team will love you for it!