Sociocracy 3.0 - a.k.a. "S3" - brings you an extensive collection of guidelines and practices (patterns) that have proven helpful for organizations for improving performance, alignment, fulfillment and wellbeing.
S3 helps you discover how to best reach your objectives and navigate complexity, one step at a time, without the need for radical reorganization or a big change initiative:
Simply start with your area of greatest need, select one or more patterns to try, move at your own pace and develop skills as you go.
Regardless of your position in the organization, you will find patterns that are relevant and helpful for you.
Before diving into the content, consider taking time to learn about some basic concepts behind S3:
For any terms you don't understand check out the glossary at the end.
A pattern is a template for successfully navigating a specific context.
Effectiveness: Devote time only to what brings you closer towards achieving your objectives.
Consent: Do things in the absence of reasons not to.
Empiricism: Test all assumptions through experiments, continuous revision and falsification.
Continuous Improvement: Change incrementally to accommodate steady empirical learning.
Equivalence: Involve people in making and evolving decisions that affect them.
Transparency: Make all information accessible to everyone in an organization, unless there is a reason for confidentiality.
Accountability: Respond when something is needed, do what you agreed to and take ownership for the course of the organization.
A driver is a person’s or a group's motive for responding to a specific situation.
Value is the importance, worth or usefulness of something in relation to a driver.
Waste is anything not necessary for - or standing in the way of - 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:
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 accountability for the domain, within its defined constraints on influence and autonomy.
Those delegating a domain (the delegators) still retain overall accountability for that domain, and often define:
A domain can be defined in relation to an organizational driver - known as the domain’s primary driver - by the set of sub-drivers the organization may benefit from addressing when responding to that driver:
Governance: Continuously deciding what to do to achieve objectives, and setting constraints on how and when things will be done.
Self-Governance: People governing themselves within the constraints of a domain.
Self-Organization: People coordinating work within constraints defined through governance.
Operations (Doing the Work): People doing what needs to be done, guided by coordination and governance.
Semi-Autonomy: People with autonomy to create value, limited by the constraints of their domain.
Tracking, reviewing and evolving decisions made to achieve objectives enables an organization to continuously learn and improve.
Does it require or benefit from an individual or group decision?
Clarify what's happening and what's needed in relation to the organization, and respond as required.
Responses to drivers:
Some drivers are (directly or indirectly) related to an organization's primary driver, these are considered organizational drivers. Other drivers do not fall within the organization's domain.
A simple way to qualify organizational drivers is by checking:
Would responding to this driver improve - or avoid impeding - flow of value to an existing organizational driver? a.k.a. can it help or harm us?
The response to a driver is usually an experiment that is evolved over time, based on learning.
Identify and account for organizational drivers.
All members bring awareness to what might help or harm the organization, and aim to account for drivers in an effective way.
A tension is a personal experience: a symptom of dissonance between an individual's perception of a situation, and their expectations (or preferences).
Challenges and opportunities for an organization are revealed as people become aware of tension they experience in relation to them.
To discover drivers, look behind tension and describe what's happening and what's needed. Sometimes an inquiry reveals misconceptions and the tension goes away.
Awareness of organizational drivers can be passed to an appropriate domain to be addressed.
Describe organizational drivers to understand, communicate and remember them.
A simple way to describe a driver is with a brief statement explaining:
Depending on their perspective, a person or group may decide to describe a driver as a problem to solve or an opportunity to leverage.
A driver statement captures just enough information to communicate the need for an action or a decision. More information about the scope and details of the driver may be recorded besides the initial driver statement.
“The kitchen is a mess: there are no clean cups, the sink is full of dishes and it’s not possible to quickly grab a coffee and get right back to work. We need the kitchen in a usable state so we can stay focussed on our work.”
“The kitchen is a mess: there are no clean cups, the sink is full of dishes...”
Describe the current situation:
“...it’s not possible to quickly grab a coffee and get right back to work.”
Explain the effect of this situation on the organization:
“We need the kitchen in a usable state...”
Explain the need of the organization in relation to this situation:
“...so we can stay focussed on our work”.
Describe the impact of attending to that need:
A (facilitated) group process for decision making.
An objection is a reason why doing something stands in the way of (more) effective response to a driver.
Objections contain information that reveals:
It's the accountability of individuals to raise potential objections.
Those accountable for the action or (proposed) agreement in question, are responsible for considering arguments and addressing qualified objections.
Withholding objections can harm the ability of individuals, groups or the whole organization to respond to organizational drivers.
Being able to raise potential objections at any time means decisions only need to be good enough for now and safe enough to try.
How would doing this impede - or miss an opportunity to improve - flow of value to any organizational driver?
Some Helpful Questions:
A concern is an opinion that doing something (even if already considered good enough for now and safe enough to try) might impede – or miss an opportunity to improve – flow of value to an organizational driver.
In consent decision making, concerns:
If people believe a proposal may not be ‘safe enough to try’, they can raise concerns as objections to check with others about likelihood of harm.
Regular review of agreements is an essential practice for a learning organization; continuously evolving the body of agreements, and eliminating waste:
- preparation - schedule review - ensure necessary information is available
Involve everyone who will be affected by a decision, to maintain equivalence and accountability, and increase the amount of information available on the subject.
For larger groups:
Consider including those affected also in review and evolution of decisions.
A (facilitated) group process for co-creating a response to a driver.
Proposal forming may be also be used by an individual.
A group process for selecting people for roles.
Objections to a nominee may be resolved in many ways, including amending the role's domain description or by nominating someone else.
Note: This pattern can also be used for selection between a variety of options in other circumstances.
A workshop format to identify an effective response to a complex situation: organize start-ups, kick-off projects, tackle major impediments or opportunities, align organizational structure to the flow of value.
Small or large groups identify and prioritize drivers, progressing quickly from concept to action in self-organizing teams.
A simple protocol for learning, skill sharing, and building connections, with respect for people's autonomy.
Ask someone, "would you be willing to help me with ...?" The person asked answers with a simple "yes" or "no".
Invite a peer to give you some constructive feedback on:
People support each other to learn and grow in the roles and groups they serve.
The role keeper - or group - leads the peer review by setting up the process and speaking first in each step.
Ensure to invite people with complementing perspectives to contribute to the review, and a facilitator.
Improvement suggestions apply to personal development, collaboration, updates to domain description (including driver statement) and strategy.
A plan for how to develop more effective ways of accounting for a domain, agreed between delegator and delegatee.
The development plan may be created for a person in a role, or for a group (e.g. a department, circle, team or open domain).
Development may happen in the form of refining description of driver and domain, amendments to strategy, new or updated agreements and specific actions to be taken, either within the domain of the delegator, or the domain of the delegatee.
A development plan (and any accompanying recommendations for changes to the domain description and driver statement) requires consent from both the delegatee and the delegator.
An individual commitment to developing helpful interactions and effective collaboration:
Participating artfully may include interrupting, objecting or breaking agreements.
Intentionally shape the culture in your organization.
A value is a principle that guides behavior. Values define scope for action and ethical constraints.
A governance facilitator:
When using S3 for governance, the facilitator familiarizes themselves with the following patterns:
When entering into formal or informal agreements with others:
Be accountable for breaking agreements.
To preserve organizational culture, maintain self-accountability and help new members of an organization or circle have a smooth start:
Apply the role pattern to external contractors.
Support roles may be operational only, and external contractors consent to account for their role.
Secure S3 principles and patterns in your bylaws as needed to protect legal integrity and organizational culture
Decentralize power to influence within defined constraints. Enable people to decide and act for themselves in response to organizational drivers.
The delegator supports people in delivering value by:
Adjust constraints incrementally, considering capabilities, reliability and outcome.
Decentralize as much as possible, retain as much influence as necessary.
A circle is an equivalent, self-governing, and semi-autonomous group of people collaborating to account for a domain.
Delegate accountability for a domain to individuals.
A role is an area of accountability defined by a domain and assigned to an individual (the role keeper), who has autonomy to decide and act within the constraints of the role's domain.
The role keeper leads in creating a strategy for how to account for their domain, and evolves their strategy in collaboration with the delegator.
A role is a simple way for a group to delegate recurring tasks or a specific area of work to one of its members.
A role keeper may maintain a logbook and a governance backlog to evolve their approach towards delivering value.
Note: In S3, guidelines, processes or protocols created by individuals in roles are treated as agreements.
Facilitate flow of information and influence between two groups.
A group selects one of its members to represent their interests in the governance decisions of another group.
Facilitate two-way flow of information and influence between two groups.
Two interdependent groups each select one of their members to represent their interests in the governance decisions of the other group.
Representatives (a.k.a. links):
A group of people with the mandate to execute on a specific set of requirements defined by a delegator.
A helping team:
Members of the helping team:
A way to intentionally account for a domain by invitation rather than assignment.
The delegator of the open domain clarifies:
The delegator of the open domain is accountable for ensuring regular review of the open domain.
Depending on the constraints set by delegators, contributors may account for work and/or governance of the open domain.
An organization can benefit from intentionally communicating with and learning from others.
Acknowledging its interdependence, an organization can consciously invite outside information, influence or skills to assist with making decisions and to support collective learning.
Adapt and evolve S3 patterns to fit your specific context.
Create an environment that invites and enables members of the organization to drive change.
Change things when there is value in doing so:
Lead by example.
Behave and act in the ways you would like others to behave and act.
A way for individuals to initiate and facilitate change.
Invite everyone to create and run experiments for evolving the organization.
To reveal drivers and establish a metrics-based pull-system for organizational change.
Waste is anything not necessary for - or standing in the way of - effective response to a driver.
An agreement is an agreed upon guideline, process or protocol designed to guide the flow of value.
Note: In S3, guidelines, processes or protocols created by individuals in roles are treated as agreements.
A strategy is a high level approach how people will create value to successfully account for a domain.
A clear understanding of people's area of accountability and autonomy enables greater efficiency, effective collaboration and agility throughout the organization.
A simple way to clarify domains is with a domain description that contains:
Domain descriptions can be created for a role, position, circle, team, open domain, department, unit, or the whole organization.
You can either start by clarifying existing domains, or at least clarify new ones.
A deliverable is something which is provided as a result of an agreement in response to a driver. Deliverables include products, raw materials, services, experiences and transformations.
In the context of an agreement, clearly describing deliverables supports shared understanding:
Explicitly defining deliverables can be useful for improving:
Well-defined evaluation criteria can help to understand whether or not an agreement has had the desired effect.
A logbook is a (digital) system to store all information relevant for running an organization and its teams. The logbook is accessible to all members of an organization, and information is kept confidential only when there is good reason to do so.
Common platforms for logbooks are Wikis (e.g. Dokuwiki or MediaWiki), Content Management Systems (e.g. Wordpress), G Suite, Evernote or Trello etc.
The logbook keeper is accountable for maintaining a circle's logbook by:
Groups meet at regular intervals to decide what to do to achieve objectives, and to set constraints on how and when things will be done.
A governance meeting is usually:
A typical governance meeting includes:
Typical agenda items include:
Building in continuous improvement of work process through reflection and learning from past experience.
Many different activities for each phase can be found at plans-for-retrospectives.com
A meeting to coordinate work, facilitate learning, improve productivity and effectiveness.
People meet at regular intervals (1-4 weeks) in time-boxed meetings to plan and review work.
Meet on a regular basis (usually weekly) for reporting on and coordinating work.
A group facilitation technique to maintain equivalence.
Experienced groups might sometimes choose to fast-track certain rounds in S3 group processes.
Choose someone to facilitate a meeting. Even an inexperienced facilitator can help to focus a meeting and make a positive difference.
Take time for learning at the end of each meeting or workshop.
Reflect on interactions, celebrate successes and share suggestions for improvement.
Ask everyone in a round to reflect on any or all of the following topics in a brief sharing:
The meeting host is accountable for preparation and follow-up of meetings, workshops or other events.
The role may be assigned temporarily (i.e. for one specific event) or for a duration of time.
A governance backlog is a visible, prioritized list of items (drivers) that are related to governing a domain and require attention.
A backlog (to-do-list) is a visible list of (often prioritized) uncompleted work items (drivers) that need to be addressed.
Types of backlog include:
Each item on a (prioritized) backlog contains:
Order all uncompleted work items with the most important items first:
Transparency about the state of all work items currently pending, in progress or completed.
Limit the number of work items in any stage of your work process.
Work in Progress includes:
When an action would exceed an agreed upon limit of work items in progress, this needs to be brought up with the group before continuing.
A person in the role of a coordinator is accountable for coordinating a domain's operations and is selected for a limited term.
Organizational structure is the actual arrangement of domains and their connections. It reflects where power to influence is located, and the channels through which information and influence flow.
An effective organizational structure:
The basic building blocks for organizational structure are interdependent, connected domains.
Domains can be linked to form a hierarchy or a heterarchy (a.k.a. complex adaptive system, or network, where multiple functional structures can co-exist).
Sociocracy 3.0 describes a variety of patterns to grow organizational structure.
Outsource services required by two or more domains.
A service circle can be populated by members of the domains it serves, and/or by other people too.
Decide and align on how to address drivers affecting multiple domains.
Decisions of a delegate circle are acted upon in the various domains it serves.
Each circle selects one or more members as representative(s) to a delegate circle.
Delegate circles provide a way of steering organizations in alignment to the flow of value, and bring a diversity of perspective to governance decisions.
Deliver value in complex and competitive environments through decentralization (of resources and influence) and direct interaction between those creating value and the customers they serve.
Bring equivalence to governance in a typical organizational hierarchy.
Multi-stakeholder collaboration and alignment towards a shared driver.
Note: a service organization is often referred to as a backbone organization.
A pattern for multiple organizations (or domains) with a common driver to share learning and if valuable, coordinate and align action.
Latest version of this guide: http://sociocracy30.org/guide/
S3 website: http://sociocracy30.org
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This work by Bernhard Bockelbrink, James Priest and Liliana David is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/.
The latest version of this document is available at http://sociocracy30.org
The content of Sociocracy 3.0 reflects the accumulated experience and wisdom of contributors across generations. These people have shared a common quest to evolve more effective, harmonious and conscious ways of collaborating together.
Particular recognition goes to Gerard Endenburg and others over the years who have committed significant time towards evolving and documenting the Sociocratic Circle Organization Method, which has contributed towards and inspired the evolution of Sociocracy 3.0.
We’d also like to recognize all those who have worked extensively to facilitate the emergence of a more agile and lean mindset, and those who have evolved and shared various practices with the world.
Finally to acknowledge our numerous colleagues, customers, clients and attendees of Sociocracy 3.0 courses who have chosen to experiment with Sociocracy 3.0. Thank you for contributing your ongoing feedback to help evolve the patterns and enable us all to learn and grow.
By no means an exhaustive list, we’d like to offer our appreciation to the following people who directly contributed towards developing Sociocracy 3.0, or whose work influenced what it is today:
Gojko Adzic, Lysa Adkins, Christopher Alexander, David J. Anderson, Ruth Andrade, Jurgen Appelo, Kent Beck, Sue Bell, Jesper Boeg, Kees Boeke, Mary Boone, John Buck, Betty Cadbury, Diana Leafe Christian, Mike Cohn, Stephen Covey, Gigi Coyle, Jef Cumps, David Deida, Esther Derby, Kourosh Dini, Jutta Eckstein, Frands Frydendal, Gerard Endenburg, Andreas Hertel, Andrei Iuoraia, Francois Knuckel, Diana Larsen, Helmut Leitner, Jim and Michele McCarthy, Pieter van der Meche, Daniel Mezick, Susanne Mühlbauer, Niels Pfläging, Mary and Tom Poppendieck, Karl Popper, Brian Robertson, Marshall Rosenberg, Dave Snowden, Hal and Sidra Stone, Ken Schwaber, Jeff Sutherland, Sharon Villines, Nathaniel Whitestone, Ken Wilber, Jack Zimmerman.
... serves internationally, providing organizational development consultancy, learning facilitation, and mentoring for people wishing to evolve collaborative, adaptive organizations at scale.
... is an agile coach, trainer and consultant supporting individuals, teams and organizations in navigating complex challenges and developing a culture of effective, conscious and joyful collaboration.
... serves internationally, providing training, facilitation and mentoring to groups and organizations wishing to develop greater effectiveness and equivalence in collaboration.
Account for (v.): to take the responsibility for something that needs to be addressed. Accountability: Respond when something is needed, do what you agreed to and take ownership for the course of the organization. Agreement: An agreed upon guideline, process or protocol designed to guide the flow of value. Alignment: The process of bringing the actions of all parts of an organization in line with the organization's objectives. Backlog: A visible list of (often prioritized) uncompleted work items (drivers) that need to be addressed. Chosen Values: A set of principles a group (or an organization) has chosen to collectively adopt to guide their behavior in the context of their collaboration. Circle: An equivalent, semi-autonomous and self-governing group of people collaborating to account for a domain.
Complexity: An environment where unknowns are unknown, cause and effect can only be understood in retrospect, and actions lead to unpredictable changes. [Snowden and Boone] Concern: An opinion that doing something might impede – or miss an opportunity to improve – flow of value to an organizational driver. Consent: Do things in the absence of reasons not to. Continuous Improvement: Change incrementally to accommodate steady empirical learning. Delegatee: An individual or group accepting accountability for a domain delegated to them. Delegator: An individual or group delegating a domain to other(s) to be accountable for. Deliverable: Something which is provided as a result of an agreement in response to a driver. Deliverables include products, raw materials, services, experiences and transformations. Domain: A distinct area of influence, activity and decision making within an organization.
Driver: A person’s or a group's motive for responding to a specific situation. Effectiveness: Devote time only to what brings you closer towards achieving your objectives. Empiricism: Test all assumptions through experiments, continuous revision and falsification. Equivalence: Involve people in making and evolving decisions that affect them. Governance: Continuously deciding what to do to achieve objectives, and setting constraints on how and when things will be done. Governance Backlog: A visible, prioritized list of items (drivers) that are related to governing a domain and require attention. Key responsibilities: Essential work and decision making required in the context of a domain. Logbook: A (digital) system to store all information relevant for running an organization and its teams.
Need: A need is a lack of something wanted or deemed necessary. Objection: A reason why doing something stands in the way of (more) effective response to a driver. Operations (Doing the Work): People doing what needs to be done, guided by coordination and governance. Organization: A group of people collaborating towards a shared objective (driver). Organizational Driver: A driver that is (directly or indirectly) related to an organization's primary driver. Pattern: A template for successfully navigating a specific context. Peer Domain: Two peer domains are contained within the same immediate superdomain, and may be overlapping. Peer Drivers: Two drivers existing as a direct consequence of a response to the same superdriver, are called peer drivers.
Primary Driver: The driver that defines a domain is called the primary driver of that domain. Principle: A basic idea or rule that explains or controls how something happens or works. Role: An area of accountability defined by a domain and assigned to an individual. SCM: (the Sociocratic Circle-Organisation Method) An egalitarian governance method for organizations based on a sociocratic mindset, developed in the Netherlands by Gerard Endenburg. Self-Governance: People governing themselves within the constraints of a domain. Self-Organization: People coordinating work within constraints defined through governance. Semi-Autonomy: People with autonomy to create value, limited by the constraints of their domain. Sociocracy: A mindset where people affected by decisions can influence them on the basis of reasons to do so.
Strategy: A high level approach how people will create value to successfully account for a domain. Subdomain: A domain that is fully contained in another domain. Subdriver: A subdriver arises as a consequence of people responding to another driver (the superdriver) and is necessary to address to respond to the superdriver. Superdomain: A domain that fully contains another domain. Superdriver: see subdriver. Transparency: Make all information accessible to everyone in an organization, unless there is a reason for confidentiality. Value: The importance, worth or usefulness of something in relation to a driver. Also "a principle of some significance that guides behavior" (mostly used as plural, "values", or "organizational values"). Values: A set of principles of some significance that guides behavior. Not to be confused with "value" (singular) in the context of a driver.
Waste: Anything not necessary for - or standing in the way of - effective response of a driver.