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 process of setting objectives and making and evolving decisions that guide people towards achieving those objectives.

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 decide for themselves how to create value, limited by the constraints of their domain, and by objections brought by the delegator, representatives, or others.

Self-Organization: Any activity or process through which people organize work. Self-organization happens within the constraints of a domain, but without the direct influence of external agents. In any organization or team, self-organization co-exists with external influence (e.g. external objections or governance decisions that affect the domain).

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.