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 / Autumn 2006 / Issue 44(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Sociocratic Method

Elections by Consent. Individuals are elected to roles only after open discussion results in a clear choice, with no reasoned objections. First, each person writes his or her name on a ballot, as well as the name of a nominee. The meeting leader reads each nomination, asking members to explain why they chose their candidate. After discussion, people can (and often do) change their nominations. Finally, the chairperson formally proposes the person the group seems to be leaning toward (typically the person with the most nominations), and everyone then has a chance to present objections. This may continue for a few rounds, and when there are no more objections to a candidate, he or she is selected.

Decision-making meetings, as practiced in sociocracy, are an extremely efficient means of communication and an excellent way to establish trust. Early in Ternary’s history with sociocracy, a programming team circle held an election for its representative to the development department circle. Woody, who had been at the company longest, received the most nominations. But during the objection round, Najati, another programmer, noted that Woody was skeptical about sociocracy. At this early stage, he suggested, the representative should really believe in the process. Everyone, including Woody, felt this argument made sense, and another programmer (in fact, Najati) was elected instead. This was a potentially charged situation; Woody and Najati had butted heads before. But the process cut through the problem entirely; Woody was happy to have Najati elected in his stead. The group converged on the decision that actually made the most sense for the success of the organization, with egos set aside. Despite the sound of it, consent is usually much faster than autocratic decision making. The highly disciplined process helps the group stay focused and move swiftly through examination of an issue and actual decision making.

Sociocracy has been extremely beneficial for us at Ternary. We’re one of the fastest-growing companies in Philadelphia — with revenue growth of 38 percent last year and an average of 50 percent per year over the last three years. We could never have achieved this under a traditional management system. We plan to find or create other companies ready to adopt our governance model, in hopes of creating a sociocratic collective that would make it easier for our organizations to do business with one another.

Author Profile:

Brian Robertson ([email protected]) is the president and CEO of Ternary Software, a provider of software development services that he founded in 2001. Previously, he was the chief technology officer of ReviewNet Corporation, a provider of online testing.

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