Jump to:

Patterns and the Seven Principles


S3 offers a pattern-based approach to organizational change.

A pattern is a process, practice or guideline that serves as a template for successfully responding to a specific kind of challenge or opportunity. S3 patterns are discovered through observing people working together in organizations to solve problems and respond to opportunities they face. When you find that your habitual ways of doing things fail to bring about the outcomes you expected or hope for, you can look to S3 for patterns that might help.

The patterns are grouped by topic into ten categories to help you more easily identify those that are useful to you. They are modular and adaptable, can be used independently, and are mutually reinforcing, complementing one another when used in combination. S3 patterns can be evolved and adapted to address your specific needs.

By providing a menu of patterns to choose from according to need, S3 encourages an organic, iterative approach to change without a huge upfront investment . It meets people where they are and helps them move forward pulling in patterns at their own pace and according to their unique context.

Patterns are grouped by topic into ten categories; the Seven Principles are reflected in every pattern

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 – and supports their integration into organizational culture.

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.

Key Concepts for Making Sense of Organizations

In this section you’ll learn about the following key concepts:

  • Driver
  • Domain
  • Agreement
  • Objection
  • Governance and Operations

You will also discover how these concepts relate to value (and waste), delegation (and accountability), self-organization, self-governance and semi-autonomy.

When people understand these concepts, it gives them a common language for describing clearly what’s going on in the organization. This helps to increase shared understanding and enables constructive dialogue about what needs to be done.

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


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


  • 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 to 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


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 may overlap and/or be fully contained within other domains

Delegating Responsibility for Domains

Delegation is the grant of authority over a domain by one party to another.

Responsibility for domains is delegated to people (e.g. to a unit, department, team or individuals), who then act within its defined constraints on influence and autonomy.

When a domain is delegated to a group of people, they become a team, when it’s delegated to an individual, they become a role keeper.

Those delegating responsibility for a domain (the delegators) to others 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


An objection is an argument relating to a (proposed) agreement or activity that reveals unintended consequences you’d rather avoid, or that demonstrates worthwhile ways to improve.

Objections reveal information about (potential) unintended consequences, or about worthwhile ways to improve.

Be aware that withholding objections can harm the ability of individuals, teams or the whole organization to achieve their objectives.

It’s the responsibility of each individual in an organization to raise potential objections to proposals, decisions, existing agreements or activities.

Those accountable for an activity or (proposed) agreement in question, are responsible for considering arguments and addressing objections that are raised, when doing so will help to meet the organization’s objectives.

When seeking out potential objections, consider:

  • why the intended outcome would not be (fully) achieved: effectiveness
  • why it would be wasteful to proceed as proposed (or previously agreed): efficiency
  • the negative consequences something would have elsewhere (in the same domain, in the wider organization, or beyond): side-effects

The information revealed by objections can be used to improve:

  • current and planned activity
  • how people execute on decisions
  • existing agreements
  • proposals
  • shared understanding of drivers

Create a culture where people feel comfortable to raise potential objections at any time, so that they can relax into making decisions that are good enough for now and safe enough to try. This encourages developing a preference for trying things out, instead of attempting to anticipate and account for all possibilities in advance.

Harness a diversity of perspectives and be open to challenge your own, to discover when and what to change, and enjoy iterating more rapidly, running experiments and learning from the outcomes as you proceed.


Not all arguments raised are objections. Distinguish between objections, which always reveal useful information, and other arguments that are based only on assumptions, or a personal preference or opinion.

A concern is an assumption – or opinion – that doing something (even in the absence of objections) might stand in the way of (more) effective response to an organizational driver.

In Consent Decision Making, concerns can inform ways to further evolve agreements (including evaluation criteria and frequency of evaluation). Bring up concerns if you think it’s valuable to consider them, and at least record them along with the agreement, and monitor outcomes over time.

If in doubt about whether you have an objection or a concern, be proactive and check with others to see what they think too. (see Test Arguments Qualify as Objections).


An agreement is an agreed upon guideline, process, protocol or policy designed to guide the flow of value.

Shared guidelines about why, how and when to act, and what is specifically required, enable effective collaboration.

Agreements are created in response to organizational drivers, are regularly reviewed and evolved as necessary.

Overall accountability for an agreement lies with the people that make them.

An agreement can include delegation of specific responsibilities to individuals or groups.

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