CHEER Embraces Sociocracy

CHEER became a sociocracy in 2019. “A sociocratic organization can be organized very differently than a traditional organization,” notes CHEER’s Executive Director Bruce Baker. This blog post relies heavily on a recent sociocracy orientation that Baker gave to various members of the CHEER team (via Zoom). Italicized portions of the article are direct quotes from Baker.

The modern conceptualization of sociocracy originally comes from the Netherlands and the word sociocracy dates back to the 19 th century. The purpose of it is to incorporate the broad knowledge of a group and to reach optimal decisions. The more involved people are, the more likely they are to support a particular project or initiative. Sociocracy also fosters transparency and equality. The idea is for all team members to make a meaningful contribution and to achieve shared goals.

During his presentation, Baker notes that CHEER adheres to specific standards for meetings:

  • Everyone has an opportunity to express themselves;

  • Everyone feels that what they expressed was heard; and

  • Everyone feels that their contributions will make a difference.

The bottom line is that sociocracy is an efficacious way to make decisions since it’s a structure that ensures everyone is heard.

Baker notes that circles – the various, smaller groups that comprise a sociocracy – need a meaningful purpose, including the following:

  • Vision: What would you like to see come about in the world;

  • Mission: How we fulfill the vision; and

  • Aim: The concrete and specific results our circle produces.

The idea is to gain consent from all circle participants. To be clear, that doesn’t mean that everyone always agrees with one another. Consent is not consensus. Rather, the idea is to come up with “[a] strategy that everyone can live with.”

Circles help organizations reach better decisions because they ensure a range of people are heard from. Outcomes are shared by circle participants.

CHEER is comprised of both foundational circles and project or program circles. Foundational circles include governance, engagement, support, and information. Project or program circles include health, housing and community development, empowerment and leadership development, and youth development. At the center of CHEER’s organizational chart lies the coordinating circle, which is essentially an all-staff meeting. There are two types of circle meetings, policy meetings and operational meetings.

Sociocracy is a nuanced, thoughtful and, at times, challenging form of governance. Also referred to as “dynamic governance,” obtaining consent from all participants is paramount. As CHEER moves forward with this lively model, it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

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Silver Spring, MD 20901

Phone: 301.589.3633

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