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A decision-making tool that will change our mindset about decisions, group processes and relationship to ourselves.
First developed in the Netherlands, Sociocracy is a collaborative governance tool that roots down into positivism and Quaker practices. Today, thanks to many contributors, variously different versions of Sociocracy exist. They share the basic principles and philosophy but provide different procedures, from Holacracy to the Agile and Lean methodology, to Sociocracy 2.0 and 3.0. They are free and open methodologies that provide a group governance structure, (scaling up to - ideally - the entire world!) with defined procedures - or patterns - to create proposals, make decisions, define roles and much more.
As soon as the training started, I felt I was involved in a much deeper process than I’d expected… I’d been hearing random people and friends talking about sociocracy for months, so finally I decided in July 2017 to engage in a five-day introduction to Sociocracy training. The course was hosted by the ecovillage “Tempo di Vivere” and part of the Erasmus+ funded project, Sociocracy Empowering Organizational Capacity (SEOC). It was aimed at empowering people to establish effective governance in organizations, companies and informal groups (Source: http://sociocracy30.intranzitie.org/). Our wonderful facilitator was Genny Carraro, together with a team of experts that included Simona Straforini. I joined the training expecting to add a new tool to my facilitation skill-set in dealing with the decision-making process that supports groups. I found much more…
As a first activity, Genny invited us to explore our inner sociocracy: the dialogue of voices from our different characters, the parts of ourselves that we are inhabited by. The idea behind this was that group processes are deep, complex and composed of many different layers. The first wise step to take when engaging in group processes was actually self-awareness; building a grounded, mindful relationship with yourself. This was a great ‘aha’ moment for me: groupwork is deeply entangled with those relationships we have with ourselves.
So the whole training and since has been more about my personal process rather than group dynamics. Yes, we have been practising different sociocratic methodologies, procedures, analysis in details; but what has touched and changed me the most have been the personal conflicts I have been experiencing with other people while trying to learn a new tool. To phrase it in a few words: this tool, that apparently deals with very concrete and action-oriented issues with complex procedures and step by step structures, has more to do with personal growth than many other approaches that apparently deal directly with our inner world.
Now I’m using Sociocracy to work as a facilitator with groups and to manage governance in some of the projects I’m involved with. I’m not an expert, and rather than setting up complete Sociocratic structures I just use some of the tools and procedures in a lighter way. But still, sticking to the procedures has brought me many new insights. For example, I’ve been working with a group of young people about regenerating a public place. The group had to present their project to the public administration and we needed to decide who was going to present it. I must admit that as the tutor of the group I had my own idea about who should have been doing it, but in this case, we decided to stick to the sociocratic procedure to define new roles. Totally unexpected for me, the final decision was to have two people doing the presentation, one of which was a shy young foreign woman who did not speak very fluent Italian. She decided she could step out from her comfort zone and do the presentation because she was supported by the other person. Such a win-win, personal and group-empowering solution I hadn’t, as a tutor, considered.
Besides the procedures, there are also some “mantras” or basic principles that have been changing my mindset about decision making. The first one is that a decision should be “Good enough for now and safe enough to try” Not the best decision, not a definitive forever-lasting decision, but a good enough decision that we test and adjust based on our experience, and a safe-enough one so that a potential failure won’t be too risky. Both imperfection and time are included in the decision; two dimensions that I was not used to considering in the usual way I dealt with decisions as something definitive and key, and that brought a lot of pressure to the process.
Another mantra I love is “fail fast and pivot” Failure is a great learning tool as long as we allow ourself to do it, and if we are flexible enough to pivot, we can change direction with a light heart and a light mind. The last brilliant insight for me is about how Sociocracy understands objections: objecting to a proposal is a gift to the group. The gesture used for this is showing a closed fist, fingers up, ready to open, as if you were bringing a surprise to a loved one. This means that when one objects, one is really working towards a better solution for the whole group. All we have to do now, is try it!
1. How do you feel when working with groups or experiencing group dynamics? What are your recurrent patterns?
2. What is your relationship with perfection?
3. Have you ever stopped to reflect on the culture of the groups you are part of? As a simple activity, you may choose one of these groups; your family, your working environment, an association you are part of... and write down the values, principles and patterns you share as a group. Both the explicit ones - the ones you have discussed and agreed about - and the unseen ones - values or habits you may not be aware of.
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