Sociocracy 3.0 for Dummies

An explanation of some important patterns from Sociocracy 3.0


Marty de Jonge

3 years ago | 7 min read

An explanation of some important patterns from Sociocracy 3.0

Self-organization does not go “naturally”. In fact: it’s hard work. Because where previously the manager laid out the lines and divided the tasks, the team now has to solve this together. How do you prevent yourself from ending up in an endless conversation in which everyone has their say and results remain far away?
With Sociocracy 3.0 (S3 for short) you and your team make decisions in an equal manner, quickly, so that you can take action. This is an introduction to the practical application of Sociocracy 3.0.
Thanks to for the original explanation

What is Sociocracy 3.0?

Sociocracy 3.0 is a result of the continuous development of the sociocratic circle of organizational methodology, holacracy and many other methodologies.

The big difference is that Sociocracy 3.0 is modular (you only use what you need to solve your tension, without the obligation to use everything from the toolbox) and gives you many practical tools to improve the effectiveness of the collaboration. This was done by incorporating parts from Lean and Agile methods about structuring the organization and linking them to non-violent communication. Nothing new here?

Not really, some may sound like “common sense” or you already know it. However, the combination makes it unique and very effective!

A collection of patterns: It is therefore a collection of patterns that contribute to effective and equal cooperation. There are, among other things, patterns about decision making, coming to an agreement and implementing the action, all intended to develop agile, resilient organizations.

The basics of Sociocracy 3.0 is in the 7 principles

The patterns offer practical tools that can be used as needed. These patterns are based on 7 basic principles that are essential in shaping the culture of an organization. Understanding these principles is therefore a good starting point when you want to get further with self-organization.

  1. Transparency: All information is available to everyone unless there is a good reason not to.
  2. Equivalence: Everyone who is affected by a decision must be able to influence this decision for good reasons. We are not all the same, but everyone’s voice weighs the same.
  3. Empiricism: Test statements by experimenting, reviewing and falsifying (examining the possible untruth).
  4. Continuous improvement: Adjust and improve step by step to achieve a consistent and desired result.
  5. Effectiveness: Doing what is right at this moment. This doesn’t say anything about the process, but everything about the outcome. Efficiency, on the other hand, is only about the process, using as few resources as possible to achieve a result.
  6. Consent: Make a decision, do something because there are no reasons not to do this. With consensus we go in search of unanimity, everyone agrees. with consent, we actively look for objections in order to make the proposal better.
  7. Accountability: Respond when necessary, stick to agreements and take ownership over the course of the organization.

Come to the right actions with your team

The action starts with decision-making: what are we going to do, who will do it and how are we going to do it?

To reach these decisions it is important to give all people who are affected by this the space to contribute to a decision. Hierarchical functions and departments have no influence. It's essential to be sure that you only do the things that are needed and that they are the right ones. A decision is made on basis of consent: as long as no one has any objection, a proposal will continue. A number of steps are followed for this.

From tension to action with Sociocracy 3.0

Within S3 navigation is done via tension. That means that action is only taken when it is clear, what creates the tension. Tension arises when a big difference is experiences between the current situation and the desired situation. This tension encourages action and is called a “driver”.

Someone from the team feels tension around the distribution of value in the team. The person invites the team to a meeting about this tension. We come together and the tension is converted into a driver. A first formulation is written for this; “The way of valuing is not equivalent, it is necessary to develop a new, equivalent way of valuing”.

Is it important for the organization to act?

Before this can determined, it’s important that the driver is understandable for everyone and that you are sure it’s a driver of the organization.

Sometimes someone experiences tension, without this having to do with the organization. To determine this, ask for consent from the driver. Clearly formulating the driver requires a bit of work. Logically, because you want to be sure that everyone is talking about the same problem, in order to find the rights solution that justifies the need!

The process of consent decision making revealed that not everyone experiences the same tension. By submitting objections and subsequent improvement proposals, a new driver is formulated;
“The current way of valuing does not feel equal for everyone. It is desirable to arrive at an understandable, supported, transparent way of valuing.”
Consent on this driver does not mean that everyone feels this tension, but that it is valuable for the organization to start working on a solution for this driver.

The proposal is formed

When there is consent on a driver, different patterns are used to form a proposal for a possible solution. This process ensures that optimum use is made of the collective intelligence of the group and that you arrive at a supported solution through co-creation, for which everyone is liable. It starts with asking clarifying questions, which lead to a deeper, more detailed and shared knowledge about the driver.

When everyone feels that there is a common understanding of the driver, you can move on to the next round of questions. This is intended to map out all possibilities and impossibilities.

There are information questions, these can be answered immediately and provide clarity. Besides that, there are generative questions, these cannot be answered immediately and they broaden the perspective.

When this round is over you can try to answer the questions if possible. Now that the boundaries are clear and the looks have broadened, it is time to collect ideas. All this input is ultimately used to come up with a proposal. This is not done together with everyone, but team members, “tuners”, are selected for this.

The team asked questions such as “How was the current valuation method developed?”, “What possible forms of valuation are there?”, “What criteria do we attach value to?” And “How do other companies do this?”.
An answer can be given directly to the first two questions; the current valuation has been determined in collaboration with the individual in conversation with one of the founders. The question “what are we paying for your efforts in this organisation” has been the guiding principle here.
The other questions help generate ideas. The ideas that arose were:
- linking valuation to output (energy, involvement, objectives, etc.) instead of input (hours),
- drawing up an algorithm in which various criteria lead to a rate, and
- setting a basic rate and any agreement to jointly divide additional income every so often.

How to work with ‘tuners’

To determine who are suitable tuners, three questions are asked:

  • who should be involved (due to authority, mandate)?
  • who wants to be involved (due to involvement, energy)?
  • And from whom is it useful if it is there (eg due to expertise)?

Based on these questions, logical tuners are proposed. Try to look for (no more than) two or three people. They have the freedom to make a proposal of all ideas and the prioritization of the recitals and to introduce the proposal for decision-making. It is therefore important to check that there is no objection to the selected tuners. Ask the question: ‘Is it harmful if these people give substance to the tuner role?’

Before elaborating the proposal, two people indicated that they would like to do this (the tuners). Nobody objected to this, but there was a concern.
The two tuners had the same way of thinking, which could possibly lead to tunnel vision. We then nominated someone to cooperate with the proposal. Nobody objected to this and it also took away the worries. The final proposal will be presented and accepted if no one has objected!

Consent decision on the proposal

The tuners submit the proposal made to the group in order to come to decision. In Sociocracy 3.0 this is done based on consent. The process of consent consists of a number of structured steps that the facilitator guides”

  • Consent on the driver (to prevent us from deciding on something that is no longer relevant)
  • The presentation of the proposal by the owner/tuner
  • A round of enlightening questions (intended to understand the proposal, not to give suggestions or solutions!)
  • A short response to the proposal, to be able to get rid of any blocking feelings and emotions that may be in the room.
  • Expressing objections in order to prevent damage
  • Celebrating the decision
  • Finally hearing the concerns in order to check what wisdom or added value is still available in the group.

For expressing objections, hand gestures are used during a voting round:

  • Thumbs up are “I have no objections and can implement the proposal.”
  • Hand open, palm down is “I have concerns, but no objection” and it does not stop the proposal.
  • The hand open, palm up is “I see an objection to continuing with this driver.” You would like to use this wisdom and add it to the proposal, after checking with the group whether this is indeed a valid argument.

We present the proposal prepared by the tuners to the team members for a decision. After a few questions to clarify the proposal, it is time to vote. Because we have used both informative as generative questions, most of the important considerations have been included in the proposal:
“a transparent formula for remuneration, with variables that can have different value”.
There are no objections to implementing this. However, there is a concern:
‘ have we done justice to the feeling of equality?’
Good point, we are going to evaluate that but it is not something that holds us back from making a decision at this moment!

Evaluate agreements

Decisions are made with today’s wisdom. However, nobody knows how the future will develop.

Perhaps the composition of the team will be very different in six months, and that makes that the driver is no longer up to date. Or a solution was chosen that did not do justice to the original driver. That is why you always plan an evaluation date for every decision made in Sociocracy 3.0. Do it immediately what you have made the decision. Planning an evaluation moment right away prevents you from ending up with an endless list of (no longer relevant or valuable) decisions that were once made.

And….. Action
And so you’ve gone through the entire cycle. The issue of equal pay in this example has been tackled (for the time being), with which the energy can be fully focused on executing the decision and generate value and progress on the continuous improvement journey!!!

<< Acknowledgements to Erik Soonieus and Josje Van De Kerkhof. original on >>


Created by

Marty de Jonge

As an agnostic change agent, I am constantly amazed at what happens in organizations and learn every day. Enthusiastic writer and always open for discussion.







Related Articles