Basic Concepts

Before diving into the content, consider taking time to learn about some basic concepts behind S3:

  • What is a pattern?
  • The Seven Principles
  • Making Sense of Organizations:
    • Drivers, Value and Waste
    • Domains, Delegation and Accountability
    • Governance and Operations

For any terms you don’t understand check out the glossary at the end.

Patterns

A pattern is a template for successfully navigating a specific context.

  • S3 patterns are discovered through observing many organizations as they solve problems and respond to opportunities
  • S3 patterns can be evolved and adapted to suit differing contexts
  • the patterns are grouped by topic into ten categories

Patterns are grouped by topic into ten categories

The Seven Principles

Sociocracy is built on seven principles that shape organizational culture. Since the seven principles are reflected in all of the patterns, understanding these principles is helpful for adopting and paramount to adapting Sociocracy 3.0 patterns.

Practicing Sociocracy 3.0 helps people appreciate the essential value that these core principles bring, both to individuals and to organizations.

The Seven Principles

The Principle of Effectiveness: Devote time only to what brings you closer toward achieving your objectives.

The Principle of Consent: Raise, seek out and resolve objections to decisions and actions.

The Principle of Empiricism: Test all assumptions you rely on, through experiments and continuous revision.

The Principle of Continuous Improvement: Change incrementally to accommodate steady empirical learning.

The Principle of Equivalence: Involve people in making and evolving decisions that affect them.

The Principle of Transparency: Record all information that is valuable for the organization, and make it accessible to everyone, unless there is a reason for confidentiality.

The Principle of Accountability: Respond when something is needed, do what you agreed to do, and take ownership for the course of the organization.

The Principle of Accountability

Respond when something is needed, do what you agreed to do, and take ownership for the course of the organization.

Act within the constraints of any agreements governing domains you are accountable for, including the organization itself, teams you are part of, and roles you keep.

Every member of the organization is accountable for effectively responding to organizational drivers, both in doing the work and in ensuring (supporting) effective collaboration.

Individuals are also accountable for their work, ongoing learning and development, and for supporting one another.

Everyone in an organization is accountable for aligning activity with organizational values.

Making Sense of Organizations

Drivers

A driver is a person’s or a group’s motive for responding to a specific situation.

Drivers:

  • can be used to derive goals, objectives, aims, mission, vision, purpose
  • can change over time
Drivers, Value and Waste

Value is the importance, worth or usefulness of something in relation to a driver.

Waste is anything unnecessary for — or standing in the way of — a (more) effective response of a driver.

By adopting the concept of value and waste, many practices and ideas from lean production and lean software development can be utilized by organizations pulling in S3 patterns:

  • value stream mapping
  • various strategies for eliminating waste
  • the Kanban Method

Domains

A domain is a distinct area of influence, activity and decision making within an organization.

All domains are within the overall domain of an organization and may overlap and/or be fully contained within other domains.

Domains are delegated to people (e.g. to a unit, department, team or individuals), who take responsibility for the domain, and act within its defined constraints on influence and autonomy.

Domains may overlap and/or be fully contained within other domains

Delegating Domains

Those delegating a domain (the delegators) still retain overall accountability for that domain, allocate resources and often define:

  • the organizational need the domain is designed to respond to
  • key responsibilities (key deliverables, any critical risks to manage, other essential work and decision making being delegated)
  • constraints to the autonomy and influence of those the domain is delegated to (the delegatees), usually related to the organization itself (dependencies, involvement of the delegator, reporting etc.)
Drivers and Domains

It’s also possible to understand a domain in relation to organizational drivers:

  • the domain’s primary driver - the main driver the people accounting for that domain (the delegatees) respond to
  • the set of subdrivers the organization may benefit from addressing when responding to the primary driver, which include:
    • key responsibilities (any driver following directly from the domain’s primary driver)
    • drivers for constraints of the domain (which typically relate to the organization’s wider context)

Drivers and domains

Governance and Operations

S3 seeks to enable productivity by freeing people up to do and decide as much as possible for themselves, while ensuring coherence in collaboration for a successful and effective organization.

Greater autonomy of individuals and teams necessitates clear agreements (i.e. guidelines and constraints) that enable smooth collaboration between those teams and individuals, and that support achievement of both long-term and short-term objectives. Regular iterative reviews and incremental evolution of agreements ensure they remain fit for purpose.

While a decision of short-term consequence can easily be amended on the spot, making more consequential agreements that constrain people’s behavior and activity, often benefits from a more participatory and deliberate decision making process.

Such agreements need to be documented, both to remember them and to support effective review, and to be communicated to people affected (who are ideally also involved in the creation and evolution of those agreements).

Therefore it’s valuable to distinguish between two categories of activities in an organization, one of which we refer to as governance, and the other as operations:

Governance in an organization (or a domain within it) is the act of setting objectives, and making and evolving decisions that guide people towards achieving them.

Operations is doing the work and organizing day to day activities within the constraints defined through governance.

For each domain in an organization there is a governing body: people with a mandate to make and evolve agreements which govern how the people doing the work in that domain create value.

There are many ways to distribute work and governance. Sometimes the governing body is a single person, e.g. in the case of a team lead, and sometimes it’s a group of people, e.g. in a circle where all circle members share responsibility for governance within the constraints of the domain.

Governance decisions set constraints on activity and guide future decisions.

This includes:

  • defining domains
  • delegating influence to people
  • allocating resources and capacity
  • specifying deliverables and prioritizing delivery.

Governance decisions can be made at any time and at any place, not just in a specific kind of meeting, although a regular meeting for making and evolving agreements is often a good idea.

Self-Governance: People governing themselves within the constraints of a domain.

Semi-Autonomy: The autonomy of people to create value within their domain, further limited by their own governance decisions, and objections (including those of the delegator and of representatives).

Self-Organization: Any activity or process through which people organize their day-to-day work without the influence of an external agent, and within constraints defined through governance. In any organization or team, self-organization and external influence co-exist.

Depending on the constraints set by the delegator, teams have more or less license to conduct governance and decide how they organize their operations, and are therefore more or less self-governing and self-organizing.

▶ Co-Creation And Evolution