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Reflections on Experiencing Sociocracy

by Tracy Kramer

I’ve been a member of THCB since July 2021 and first heard about sociocracy at the welcome event I attended that month. I could tell from the start that this way of organising and running a group was seen as being very central to the values of THCB. I was introduced to the sociocracy manual, Many Voices One Song, the very title of which hints at the way in which this egalitarian form of governance seeks to ensure that all voices are heard. We were also introduced to the various ‘circles’ (groups of members working on a specific aim and domain within the organisation, or work teams) that make up THCB, and those of us wanting to get more involved started thinking about which circle(s) we might like to join.

I initially felt most drawn to the Community Pyschology circle and went on to join this. The aims of this circle involve supporting the well-being of the community and individuals within it. Soon after I joined, we as a circle decided to learn more about Nonviolent Communication (NVC) by forming an NVC practice group. NVC closely aligns with sociocracy because both are based on the idea that everyone’s needs matter.

In the early months of my membership of THCB I also took part in my first proper training in sociocracy. A group of us met online over four sessions to work through the modules of the Sociocracy Basics training, which is provided by Sociocracy for All (or SoFA), an organisation that champions the use of sociocracy. The training took us through the main elements of sociocracy - how groups can organise themselves in a non-hierarchical way through the use of circles, what individual roles are needed in circles and how to select who will fill these, and how decisions can be made together and all voices heard by using rounds (in which everyone gets the chance to speak if they want to).

As my involvement with THCB deepened, I later got involved with Community Outreach work for the Sea Mills project and later helped to re-form the dormant Dreamocracy circle, which looks after the implementation and learning of sociocracy within THCB. During our role selection process I found myself becoming a Facilitator. This felt like a lovely opportunity because I am not someone who usually gravitates to that sort of role, but I knew that I would be able to develop some important new skills and stretch beyond my comfort zone in a safe and supportive environment.

Then in spring of this year I had the opportunity to take part in SoFA’s Facilitation course. Like my previous training, this took place online with a small group of other THCB members who wanted to further develop their sociocracy knowledge and skills. I am confident in saying that we all enjoyed the training very much and it was a fantastic way to bond with some of my fellow members - it gave me a real sense of learning in the company of friends.

A key element of these trainings is to practise what you are learning about by dealing with realistic scenarios in the group. For example, an important part of decision making using sociocracy is integrating any objections, so we had scenarios to play out in which one person would raise an objection to a proposal and we would work in rounds to hear everyone’s thoughts. The person acting as facilitator during this exercise would then use the techniques we were learning to help us as a group find a revised proposal that would take on the concerns of the objector. With sociocratic decisions you keep going until everyone is happy to consent - that they feel the proposed decision is ‘good enough for now, safe enough to try.’ This is quite different to deciding by majority voting and, although it can sometimes take longer to reach a decision, the advantage is that all voices are heard and more creative solutions can actually emerge from this.

I continue to find sociocracy a fascinating way to structure the governance of an organisation. I still have much to learn and my skills at facilitation are still in their early stages, but I am looking forward to continuing to develop. I also find it interesting to think about how the principles of sociocratic decision making can be brought into all sorts of interactions we have with others in which we want to find the best way forward for everyone involved.

I have also found myself in meetings within other organisations I am part of, which are not being run on sociocratic principles, and have noticed how for the sake of efficiency some voices are shut down. In these settings I’ve sometimes felt a real sense that some of the knowledge and creativity in the room has gone unharnessed, which seems such a shame. No organisational structure is perfect, as what we are trying to organise is humans - and we are complicated! But I really value so much about sociocracy - the ways in which it shares and distributes power, fosters connection, cooperation and collective learning and allows objections to be a source of wisdom. And at its core is the belief that all voices matter and should be heard, not just the loudest or most confident ones. We all matter and together we can do great (and difficult) things!

Photo by Steve Johnson:


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