Back on Aug 18 I posted an entry, Critique of Sociocracy, and it elicited an unusual amount of response. After taking time to digest it, here is my riposte, relying on the same format I used two months ago.
Yes, it's a different animal, and one that our culture is particularly poor at.
People bring their fears and anxieties and personal preferences to sociocratic circles and the workplace just as they bring them to any other context. When the number of group members who have learned to focus on the aim, listen to each other, and resolve objections reaches a tipping point, friction will be reduced. But certain personalities and differing aims will clash sooner or later.
The research by Richard Hackman at Harvard shows that teams work better together when they focus on and achieve success. All the other problems blamed for team dysfunction fade—personality clashes, inequality of effort, lack of expertise, etc., suddenly have no meaning. The identified problems are still there; they just no longer impede productivity.
Hackman found that addressing emotions, personalities, and contributions is less effective than focusing on an aim and accomplishing it. Since that is a prime purpose in sociocracy, it leads not only to effectiveness but to harmony—which sociocracy was originally designed to accomplish.
Hackman’s claim contradicts my experience in the field. In looking at his work it appears that his research was focused on the business world, where maintaining healthy relationships may not be as central as it is in cooperative groups in general, and in intentional communities especially.
I’ve found that once distress reaches a certain level it’s not possible to do good problem solving because of all the distortion that’s associated with high distress. You have to first attend to the distress. Most groups—sociocratic or otherwise—don’t handle this well. Lacking an agreement about how to engage with this dynamic, most groups are either paralyzed by distress, or seek ways to contain or marginalize those in distress, who tend to be labeled disruptive.
I think governance questions are things like:
o Committees and managerships in relation to plenary
o How committees and managers relate to each other
o Defining the difference between standing committees and ad hoc committees
o How authority is delegated
o How subgroups are populated and their work evaluated
o Standards for how committee work is made available to the whole group
I think decision-making questions are things like:
o How decisions are made
o How topics are addressed
o Standards for how meetings are run (including the role of facilitator)
o Standards for what's plenary worthy
o Standards for meeting notification
o Conditions under which meetings can be closed
o Standards for how plenary proposals get developed
o Conditions under which a dissenting minority can get overridden
o Standards for when an agreement might be reviewed
o Standards for minutes
As sociocracy definitely has things to say about how meetings are run, it’s clear to me that it delves into decision-making. More accurate, I think, is to describe sociocracy as a governance system and decision-making process that offers a particular, highly structured approach to consensus. It’s about doing consensus a certain way.
While I’m not sold on that model, I’m fine with its being put forward for consideration as a model. At the end of the day, the proof is in the doing, and if groups like what they’re getting with sociocracy then that trumps everything.