Kategoriarkiv: Decisions

Experiences from the Nordic Friends Yearly Meeting 2017

The purpose of this post is to share some of my experiences from the Nordic Friends Yearly Meeting (June 29—July 2), which was held at Nordiska Folkhögskolan, Kungälv, Sweden.

I’m very interested in the Quakers method of making collective decisions and have written about it here and here (in Swedish).

Here is my review (in English) of Michael J. Sheeran’s book Beyond Majority Rule: voteless decisions in the Religious Society of Friends. Sheeran spent two years (1973—75) conducting interviews, reading, and observing the actual decision-making of the Friends. He is convinced that the Quakers have something of first importance to share in their method.2 I am so too!

Here is also my review (in English) of A Quaker Approach to the Conduct of Research: Collaborative Practice and Communal Discernment, which has grown out of a decade of experiments employing Quaker processes of communal discernment in research.1 The book itself is an example of collaborative work.

Nordiska Folkhögskolan, Kungälv, Sweden.

The Nordic Friends Yearly Meeting started and ended with meetings for (silent) worship and decision-making. The clerks3 from the Nordic countries welcomed all participants at the start, and functionaries for the Yearly Meeting were elected. The epistle4 was reviewed and approved at the end of the Yearly Meeting. Each Nordic country had, in addition, their own decision-making meetings. I participated in the meeting of the Swedish Friends.

The theme for the Yearly Meeting was ”Am I my brother’s keeper?” The theme was explored in a talk by a Finnish Friend (in no less than four languages). Her conclusion was that Cain and Abel, in the biblical Book of Genesis, represent two sides of each human being, and each society, in patterns of active and passive violence. Several workshops were held on the theme.

Participating in the Yearly Meeting was an experience on many levels. My focus here is on the decision-making. The primary reason why I wanted to participate was to observe the actual decision-making, but sitting in silence together with others during long time influences you more than you might think.

Initially, I viewed myself as an observer, but I realized after a while that it was an impossible role. A Swedish Friend expressed it as ”a Friend of Friends is a Friend.” And a Friend from Great Britain told me that you are a participant in the decision-making meeting simply by being present. Interestingly, he had experiences of making decisions in meetings with a thousand participants.

Two clerks guided the decision-making meeting of the Swedish Friends. The clerks passed a candle between themselves to show the meeting who was the active clerk. The clerk kept the meeting in silence by looking down, and invited people to speak by looking up. Participants who talked stood up. The point is that only one person can stand up at a time. The minute of each item was prepared before moving on to the next item.

One of the agenda items had to do with the approval of new members. I was sent out together with other non-members during that item. I was later told that the meeting had become particularly interesting at that time and that the clerk had handled it really well. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to see it myself.

It was decided at the final meeting that the next Nordic Friends Yearly Meeting will be held in 2020. As already mentioned, the meeting epistle was also reviewed and approved. I got the impression that the presiding clerks were relieved that it went so smoothly. The meeting ended thirty minutes ahead of time.

The key takeaway for me is that the Quakers show that it’s possible to make collective decisions. A prerequisite, though, is the following: ”We act as a community, whose members love and trust each other. […] As a […] community, […] we have a continuing responsibility to nurture the soil in which unity may be found.”4

The theme which was explored is, in my view, related to the sharing of decision-making power (or lack thereof). The desire to have power over people, to force our view on them, leads to violence. The places to begin applying the skills and generosity to avoid violence and to resolve conflicts are in our personal relationships, our workplaces, and wherever decisions are made.

1 Gray Cox et al., A Quaker Approach to the Conduct of Research: Collaborative Practice and Communal Discernment (Quaker Institute for the Future, 2014), p. ix.
2 Michael J. Sheeran, Beyond Majority Rule: voteless decisions in the Religious Society of Friends, p. ix.
3 The clerk (ombud in Swedish) guides the meeting. The clerk has to discern the ‘the sense of the meeting’ of each item and prepare a minute. The final decision about whether the minute represents the sense of the meeting is the responsibility of the meeting itself, not of the clerk. See Clerks – Quakers in Britain (accessed 2017-07-03).
4 The epistle (epistel in Swedish) is a letter sent by the Yearly Meeting to all other Yearly Meetings. See Epistle (Quaker) – Wikipedia (accessed 2017-07-03).
5 Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker faith & practice (5th Edition, 2013), Chapter 3.02.

Quaker decision-making in a secular context

The following quote (in italics) is an example of collective decision-making in a former Soviet country after the fall of the Soviet Union:

… I [Leonard Joy] was charged to support a team created to manage a process for the redesign of the public sector. … I chose to act as would a clerk in a Quaker meeting. The team included former government officials and a member of the secret police. … they could not contain themselves from argument, … interrupting for their voice to be heard.

They acknowledged that this was not productive and accepted my clerking authority, which now required them to open their meetings with silent worship. Of course, I did not call it that. I asked them to center themselves in their role in search for the greater good. …

I also asked them to speak only when acknowledged by the clerk—which, of course, I called “the chair.” I further asked them not to present arguments against one another but to each contribute what they understood that was relevant to the decision. I emphasized that we should use the ego to serve the task and not the task to serve the ego.

I further explained the aim of coming to unity and the value of that in securing ownership of the outcome. In my role as chairman I gave periodic reports of what seemed to be agreed, what seemed to need further resolution, and what I sensed that this would take, inviting contributions on these matters.

We made small posters and stuck them on the wall—prompts to remind us of what was now required of us. … Indeed, the value of the new practice was readily seen and it became adopted with pride. The team members set out to spread this culture in the meetings they were calling in the different branches of the administration …

–Leonard Joy1

1 Gray Cox et al., A Quaker Approach to Research: Collaborative Practice and Communal Discernment, pp. 40–41.

Related post:
Book Review: A Quaker Approach to Research

Anteckningar från ett kväkerskt beslutsmöte

Jag är intresserad av hur man kan ta vara på en grupps kollektiva kunskap och intelligens. Kväkarnas sätt att fatta beslut är unik. Metoden har även har studerats akademiskt. Här är min recension av Beyond Majority Rule (på engelska), som bygger på Michael J. Sheerans doktorsavhandling.

I februari 2014 gick jag en kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod. Här är mina intryck från kursen. Sedan dess har jag tänkt att det skulle vara intressant att få vara med på ett beslutsmöte. I januari 2017 fick jag slutligen tillfälle att vara med på ett av kväkarnas lokala beslutsmöten i Stockholm. Det möte jag var med på hålls månadsvis.

Beslutsmötet är ett medlemsmöte, men jag fick ombudets tillåtelse att vara med som observatör. (Den person som leder beslutsmötet kallas ombud.) Ombudet inbjöd mig också att vara med på andaktsmötet som hölls innan beslutsmötet. Mellan andakts- och beslutsmötena ingick en fika med kaffe och smörgås. Jag fick intrycket att andakten och den gemensamma fikastunden ingick i ombudets förberedelse inför beslutsmötet.

Kväkargården, Stockholm.

Beslutsmötet inleddes med en runda bland deltagarna. Jag valde att presentera mig själv helt kort och berätta varför jag var där, men flera personer var personliga i sina inledande kommentarer.

I detta fall var mötesformen relativt informell eftersom det var ett litet beslutsmöte. Jag la märke till att var och en diskret vände sig till ombudet innan hen talade. Vid ett tillfälle blev den person som talade avbruten av en annan person. Ombudet ingrep då så snabbt att jag knappt hann märka vad som hände. Vid ett annat tillfälle bad ombudet om ”framkallningstid”, vilket är en stund av tystnad. Återigen hann jag knappt lägga märke till vad som fick ombudet att agera, men jag förstod att ombudet ville dra ner på tempot och bjuda in till eftertanke.

Då och då försökte ombudet sammanfatta vad som hade sagts. Om någon tyckte att ombudet inte riktigt hade förstått så fortsatte samtalet. Så småningom bad ombudet om tystnad för att skriva ner beslutet. Ombudet tog påfallande god tid på sig, men det visade sig att formuleringarna verkligen återspeglade det som hade sagts på ett bra sätt.

Jag noterade också att besluten i sig hanterades varsamt. Ett av besluten berörde t.ex. en icke närvarande medlem. Mötet såg i detta fall till att beslutet inte onödigt begränsar denna medlems framtida handlingsutrymme.

Mötet avslutades med en runda. Jag valde att passa.

Efter beslutsmötet blev jag ombedd att dela med mig av mina intryck. Det som gjorde störst intryck på mig var användningen av ”framkallningstid”, samt att ombudet tog god tid på sig för att omsorgsfullt formulera besluten.

Jag upplevde också att samtalet löpte fritt, men att det ändå var disciplinerat.  Vid detta möte satt deltagarna hela tiden. Vid större möten med fler deltagare ställer sig den som talar. Poängen är att endast en person kan stå åt gången.

Till sist vill jag rikta ett varmt tack till ombudet för att jag fick vara med! Det var en ny och intressant erfarenhet, som har gjort intryck.

Principen för samtycke i sociokrati bygger på kväkarnas beslutsmetod. Jag ser likheter och skillnader mellan kväkarnas sätt att fatta beslut och sociokrati. I båda fallen inleds och avslutas mötet med rundor, men i ett sociokratiskt beslutsmöte används rundor hela tiden.

I sociokrati presenteras först ett förslag, som sedan följs av fråge-, reaktions- och beslutsrundor. Personer som är ovana vid sociokratiskt beslutsfattande brukar blanda ihop dessa rundor, t.ex. genom att ge reaktioner under frågerundan, eller rentav genom att börja göra invändningar, fast formulerade som frågor, under frågerundan.

En annan skillnad som jag har sett i den praktiska tillämpningen är att kväkarna med sin ”framkallningstid” medvetet drar ner på tempot när det börja ”hetta till”. I sociokratiska sammanhang har jag sett hur en erfaren sociokrati-konsult tvärtom har ökat tempot när det har kommit invändningar. (Troligen har det skett omedvetet?)

Ytterligare en skillnad är att kväkarna söker efter mötets mening, medan det i sociokrati snarare handlar om att hantera invändningar. Det är en subtil, men viktig skillnad. Principen för samtycke i sociokrati skulle lika gärna kunna kallas principen för inga invändningar.

Relaterade inlägg:
Kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod
En historisk tillbakablick på kväkarnas beslutsmetod
Att lyssna till livet i allt
Om att arbeta

Relaterade inlägg (på engelska):
Book Review: Beyond Majority Rule
What Wikimedia can learn from the Quakers

Analysis of egalitarian dynamics among the G/wi

This is a post in my organizing ”between and beyond” series. Other posts are here. The purpose of this post is to explore the egalitarian dynamics among the G/wi-speaking people in the Central Kalahari Reserve of Botswana. The analysis is summarized here.

The egalitarian dynamics among foraging societies hold clues to a deeper generative ”order” for organizing. The example below is from Politics and history in band societies edited by Eleanor Leacock and Richard Lee. George Silberbauer spent time together with the G/wi in 1958–66. The G/wi were the only permanent inhabitants in the remote and arid heart of Botswana.1 Exploration for, and exploitation of, natural resources have disrupted the lives of the G/wi. The close-knit, self-sufficient organization of the G/wi were gone already in the 1950s.2


The community (the band)

  • The social community is the band.3
  • The band has a stable identity as a group of people living in a geographically specific territory and controlling the use of the resources of that territory.4
  • Membership of the band is less stable than its identity. Members are free to join other bands and are, therefore, free to leave the current band.5
  • The size of the community is limited by available resources of food etc. The community is open, but is nevertheless a finite one.6

Groups (cliques)

  • Cliques are unstable groups which which shift when moving to a new campsite every three to six weeks. The group’s composition is determined by the preference for one another’s close company.7
  • Interaction within a clique is much more intense than between cliques. The exchange of goods and services is higher within the clique. The women usually form a food-gathering group, and the men assist one another.8
  • Cliques also become focuses of opinion and function as sub-units of agreement within the band.9


  • Leadership is the extent to which an individual’s suggestion or opinion attracts public support.10
  • The leadership is authoritative, rather than authoritarian. Knowledge, experience, and firmness are characteristics which win support. Expertise in one area may be seen as not at all relevant to another area.11
  • Leadership shifts unpredictably. Many discussions and lack of competitiveness separates idea from identity.12


  • The process of reaching a decision is initiated by somebody identifying and communicating a problem which calls for decision.13
  • Decisions affecting the band as a whole are arrived at through discussion in which all adult, and near-adult, members may participate.14
  • There are many ways to discuss: A quiet, serious discussion; A campaign of persuasion; Or a public harangue.15 The ‘forced eavesdrop’ avoids direct confrontation. Opponents are free to do the same.16
  • The time taken for discussion is naturally limited by the urgency of the matter. Less urgent matters can be debated for long with the subject cropping up from time to time until a satisfying solution to the problem is reached.17
  • If discussion becomes too angry or excited, debate is temporarily adjourned by the withdrawal of the attention of the calmer participants until things cool down.18
  • Public decisions cover a wide field. That which is not public is permitted to be private, but there is little which escapes the concern and insight of band fellows.19


  • Decisions are arrived at by consensus. Consensus is a term in common use but without common meaning. It is not unanimity of opinion or decision. In the same way as egalitarian doesn’t mean equality.20
  • Consensus is reached by examining the various possible courses of action and rejection of all but one to which there remains no significant opposition.21
  • Significant opposition is the dissent of those to whom the proposal is not acceptable, who are unable to live with it, and who are not prepared to concede the decision.22
  • The fact that it is the band as a whole which decides is both necessary and sufficient to legitimize what is decided and to make the decision binding.23


  • The consent in consensus negates coercion, and vice versa.24
  • The openness of the band gives members freedom to move to another band.25
  • The power lies in what the band decides and in book-keeping of material benefits and social balance.26
  • The leadership is facilitative, rather than forceful, seeking ways of getting things done, while accommodating dissent.27

The example above shows how deeply leadership and decision-making is embedded in the social context of the G/wi. The leadership is authoritative, rather than authoritarian, and shifts unpredictably depending on the situation. The decision-making is done in many ways depending on the kind of decision and the urgency of the decision. Individual band members choose freely which groups to join, and strives for cooperation in the activities he or she wishes to undertake. It is also interesting to notice how the openness of the band gives members freedom to move to another band. The freedom to move to another band is an effective way to meet coercion. The loss of many band members would be costly to those remaining. An open, egalitarian, social structure is authentic because it’s based on a natural belonging together, while a closed, coercive, social structure is counterfeit because it’s a forced belonging together.

1 Ibid., Eleanor Leacock, Richard Lee (editors), Politics and history in band societies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 23.
2 Ibid., p. 24.
3 Ibid..
4 Ibid..
5 Ibid..
6 Ibid., p. 26.
7 Ibid., p. 28.
8 Ibid..
9 Ibid..
10 Ibid., p. 29.
11 Ibid..
12 Ibid..
13 Ibid..
14 Ibid., p. 26.
15 Ibid..
16 Ibid., p. 27.
17 Ibid..
18 Ibid., p. 29.
19 Ibid., p. 30.
20 Ibid., p. 31.
21 Ibid., p. 32.
22 Ibid., p. 34.
23 Ibid., p. 32.
24 Ibid..
25 Ibid., p. 33.
26 Ibid., p. 34.
27 Ibid..

Related posts:
Organizing in between and beyond posts

Coming to the right solution for all

When we have to find solutions, we take our time. We begin in a circle of chiefs, with the grandmothers standing behind. The chiefs must answer to the grandmothers and to the community they represent for their decisions. They understand that they have a lot of responsibility, not to their own egos, but to the grandmothers and to the community. And so, if it is not possible to find the right solution at one council, we wait until the next time there is a meeting. There is no shame in not finding the solution quickly. There is shame in not coming to the right solution for all who are affected.
— Six Nations Elder in Canada 1

1 Birgitt Williams, The Genuine Contact Way: Nourishing a Culture of Leadership, (DALAR, July 2014), p. 195.


Indaba” (pronounced IN-DAR-BAH), comes from the Zulu and Xhosa people of southern Africa, and is used to simplify discussions between many parties.

When things got tricky at the climate-change summit in Paris, indabas where held at all hours of the day. An indaba is designed to allow each part to speak personally and state their thresholds, while also suggesting solutions to find a common ground.

This Quartz article describes indabas as a way to reach consensus, but to me it sounds more like consent.

See also indaba on Wikipedia.

Book Review: Beyond Majority Rule

Beyond Majority Rule: voteless decisions in the Religious Society of Friends is the publication of Michael J. Sheeran’s doctoral work in the Dept. of Politics at Princeton University. He spent two years (1973—75) conducting interviews, reading, and observing the actual decision-making of the Quakers. Sheeran is convinced that the Quakers “have something of first importance to share in their technique of reaching a viable resolution of their own problems” (p. ix).

Knowing, respecting, and trusting each other
A prerequisite is “having a group of limited size who know and respect and trust each other” (p. ix). The members of this group must “be willing to listen to each other with open minds, to learn from each other and be willing to feel into the shaping of a decision” (p. ix). Among common blockages are having “a fixed and unchangeable mind as to the outcome”, the unwillingness “to lay aside pressure tactics to force an early decision”, and not following the Quaker caution “to use as few words as possible and as many as are necessary” (p. x).

The Presence in the midst
Central to the Quaker understanding of unity-based decision making is the idea that there is “that of God in every one” (p. 3). Quakers do not begin with a theory. They begin with an event in which, ideally, “the presence of God is experienced by each person as part of a group experience” (p. 5). A meeting is “covered” or “gathered into the Life”, when the group is aware of “the Presence in the midst” (p. 6). Richard Vann wrote already in 1683 that “even one person out of harmony with the meeting could prevent it from accomplishing anything” (p. 6).

Advice rather than regulation
Friends are chary of “binding the spirit” by regulations (p. 47). Instead, they provide “advice rather than regulation” (p. 47). Meetings always “begins with silence and closes in silence” (p. 49). If the meeting is properly carried through, there may emerge an “openness not to my wishes and my designs and my surface preferences but [an] openness to the deeper levels … where the problem may be resolved in quite a different way than had ever occurred to me” (p. 50).

Decision-making principles
There are “a number of factors which seem characteristic of Quaker decision making” (p. 51):

  1. unanimous decisions—no voting;
  2. silent periods—at start of meeting and when conflict arises;
  3. moratorium—when agreement cannot be reached;
  4. participation by all with ideas on the subject;
  5. learning to listen—not going to meeting with mind made up;
  6. absence of leaders—the clerk steers but does not dominate;
  7. nobody outranks anybody;
  8. factual-focus—emotions kept to a minimum; and
  9. small meetings—typically limited numbers.

These factors, or principles, are explored in the book in an attempt to bring the reader beyond a “superficial comprehension” (p. 51). While doing so, Michael J. Sheeran puts the focus on “two central and subtle matters: the nature of unity in a decision and the systems of belief which seem to underlie successful use of the method” (p. 52).

Group searching together
A point of pride about Quaker decisions is that they “occasion the emergence of … a higher synthesis of individual ideas” (p. 53). The goals of Quaker decision making are “different from those of majority rule” (p. 54). The proposals made at the beginning of a discussion are “usually seen … as starting points, not as finished products unsusceptible to modification” (p. 54). In Quaker decision making, it is not only presumed “that each participant seeks the best solution”, but it is also presumed “that the group, by searching together, can reach such a … solution” (p. 55). Attitudes contrary to this searching together suffers “subtle but sharp sanctions” (p. 55). The attitudes demanded of Friends is one of “openness to one another’s ideas —the ability to put aside pet notions in favor of the next person’s insight” (p. 55).

Release from fear and reluctance to express one’s ideas
Michael J. Sheeran emphasizes that “those who dread the effects of candour in a Meeting are not giving that Meeting the opportunity which it needs to realize all the possibilities of its group life” (p. 55). “Release from fear, from shyness, from reluctance to express one’s ideas” is given high priority by the Friends (p. 55). Opinions should always be expressed “humbly and tentatively in the realization that no one person sees the whole truth and that the whole meeting can see more of Truth than can any part of it” (p. 56). “Tentativeness and an artless willingness to face the weaknesses in one’s position rather than to paper them over with distracting allusions” are equally important, and “sanctions against unacceptable rhetoric are subtle but effective” (p. 56). Friends “emphasize the importance of encouraging every participant in a meeting to feel that his or her contribution will be received with appreciation” (p. 57).

Emotions are difficult
Friends sometimes have difficulties in revealing “their own inner feelings or to seek out ways of speaking which will let people know—in a non-rhetorical manner—the depth of their feelings” (p. 57). As a result, “the emotional dimensions of topics sometimes do not get the frank attention they deserve” (p. 57). However, it’s important to remember that Friends are “not opposed to emotions, [and] not opposed to their having an important bearing on decisions” (p. 58).

Being face-to-face, acceptance and mutual respect
The need for “openness” has some direct corollaries. The method is “harmstrung whenever participants cannot be face-to-face” (p. 60). Another corollary is that the topics which a group can successfully deal with are “normally limited by the strength of the bonds of respect for one another” within the group (pp. 60—61). The emphasis is on “acceptance of one another, mutual respect, avoidance of the manipulative conduct …, and one’s dependence on searching together with the group for better conclusions than anyone alone could have attained” (p. 61).

Unity is not unanimity or consensus
One major difficulty is that “no conventional term adequately expresses the phenomenon of decisional agreement in a Quaker meeting” (p. 63). Some describe all decisions as “unanimous on the grounds that any objecting member could prevent action”, but this is misleading since it “implies that all participants are satisfied when a decision is reached—a point hardly true of many Quaker decisions” (p. 63). Other speak of “consensus, thereby underscoring that the bulk of those present agree even if one or two objectors remain”, but this is misleading too (p. 63). Michael J. Sheeran emphasizes that “Quakers are simply not satisfied to know that even the overwhelming majority are in agreement” (p. 63). Given this verbal difficulty, the term used by the Friends is “unity” rather than “unanimity” or “consensus” (p. 63). Another early Quaker term used was “concord” (p. 63), which is Sheeran’s preferred term.

At least two stages of discussion
There are at least two stages of discussion in the decision-making. The “preliminary stage follows initial presentation of both the problem and its possible solutions” (p. 64). At this point, “participants often ask questions of the person who has made the presentation, offer tentative alternatives to the proposal, and even find themselves more in the posture of brainstorming than of making serious judgments” (p. 64). Remarks contrary to the proposal “are taken to be exploratory” (p. 64). The transition from “the preliminary to the serious phase” is normally informal (p. 64). An individual will “offer a suggestion—perhaps a rejection of the basic proposal for a novel reason—and then sit back to see what response the idea draws from the group” (p. 64). Such a statement “does not involve personal commitment to the idea”, but is “a testing of the waters” (p. 64). The ability to “differentiate tentative from serious and ambiguous remarks” is important for all participants, and especially for the clerk, whose “duty it is to read the group and decide whether there is serious objection to the general direction in which discussion is moving” (p. 64).

The tide may or may not build
As Friends begin “to speak their serious conclusions, the tide will build” (p. 64). Listeners who find a speaker’s remarks match their own will follow his or her words with “I agree” or “I can unite with that” or “that speaks my mind” (p. 65). Sometimes “several currents are running in the tide, pulling the meeting in two or more directions”, and sometimes there may be “no tide or current at all” (p. 65). In either of these situations, the discussion continues until a conclusion emerges, at the “suggestion of the clerk or some other participant”, or that “there is agreement that no conclusion can be reached for now” (p. 65). If the tide is running in a particular direction, the clerk is expected “to make a judgment that the group is now ready for agreement and to propose a tentative minute … as the clerk understands it from listening to the discussion”.

Objections to a proposal
Each group member has “two quite different questions to ask” when the clerk proposes a minute (p. 65). First, does the proposed minute catch the tide of the discussion? If the answer is no, then this opinion is expected to be raised. Discussions follows such an objection, with various Friends “stating how they respond to the minute as an expression of the group’s will” (p. 65). Then, the clerk “rephrases or withdraws the minute if necessary” (p. 65). Michael J. Sheeran observes that “it is often the case that one person’s statement of misgivings leads others to reassess their judgments, giving more prominence to matters they had initially dismissed” (p. 66). If a person still can’t agree, the group is unable to proceed. However, Sheeran also observes that “the realities, fortunately, are much more subtly adapted to the complexities of human disagreement” (p. 66)

A whole spectrum of objections
There’s actually a “whole spectrum of dissent available” in Quaker decision making (pp. 66—72):

  • I disagree but do not wish to stand in the way
  • Please minute me as opposed
  • I am unable to unite with the proposal
  • Absence

Even if deliberate absence “signifies deep disagreement with a proposal, it does not necessarily block action” (p. 70). The group is expected “go ahead at once if the objector follows the typical approach of stating his or her unease but affirming a desire not to stand in the way” (p. 71). The same is true “if he or she asks to be minuted as opposed, although it seems that the group will proceed in much more chary fashion” (p. 71). If the individual simply is “unable to unite, the group will normally delay action” (p. 71). Michael J. Sheeran notes that “the group’s willingness to delay is a function of the apparent importance of the objector’s objection” (p. 71). The group’s readiness to delay “also depends on its respect for the objector” (p. 71). A third factor is time. “The more urgent the matter, the more highly regarded the objector needs to be” (p. 71). “The relative significance of each factor depends in each situation upon the entire set of relationships existing at a given moment within the group under consideration” (p. 72).

The religious dimension
The religious dimension of a meeting can run a spectrum “from the merest formality to an extraordinary quality very significant to the decision being taken” (p. 82). “Truly worshipful decisions tend to occur in situations of high risk”, but the occasions “when such dramatic religious depth is called for are not common” (p. 83). The typical meeting oscillates between “a superficial and a rather profound religious tone” depending upon the topic under discussion (p. 84). Michael J. Sheeran observes that “decisions at the religious level … tend to draw greater acceptance from those present” (p. 84). One Friend said that “decisions based on human considerations are fine, but they’re not enough for sacrifices of really important things like family and friends and life goals.” (p. 84).

Same vocabulary with different meanings
Michael J. Sheeran found that Friends language is ambiguous. “Everybody seemed to use the same vocabulary but with different meanings” (p. 85). But, when Sheeran “reflected on the atmosphere and the tone of his interviews instead of the words that were exchanged”, he found that “the experience itself [of the gathered meeting] was what counted” (p. 87).

Strengths of Quaker leadership
Quaker leadership demands “the intertwining of traditional basic leadership skills with a peculiar skill at reading the sense of the meeting” (p. 99). The most important duty of the clerk is “to judge the sense of the meeting” (p. 95). In doing this, “the clerk is likely to consider the general reputation of the leading speakers for each viewpoint, the extent of information and experience each brings to the topic, the apparent conviction beneath a remark, and other intangible factors” (p. 95). “The opportunity to manipulate is obvious” (p. 96), but Sheeran notes that “abuse of power seems curiously rare” (p. 97). “The great caution clerks feel about abuse of power came out frequently in the interviews”, with the most experienced clerks “appearing most chary of abuse” (p. 98). Of fundamental importance is that “Quaker theory sees the clerk or other leader as servant of the meeting, not its director” (p. 100). The clerk’s role, as mentioned previously, is to “articulate the unity which he or she discovers and to facilitate the formation of that unity” (p. 100). The good clerk “knows whether people are saying what they really think” (p. 100). Michael J. Sheeran refers to this phenomenon as the ability to “read” the group (p. 101). He even goes a step further and wonders whether it’s perhaps “a weakness, given our theory that leadership is still needed” (p. 103).

Weaknesses of Quaker leadership
Quaker leadership “provides great support to the goal of reaching unity on divisive questions” (p. 104), but it has weaknesses too. The most obvious problem is that “there is no guarantee that individuals with the ability to read the community accurately will also excel in the basic organizational skills required for running a meeting” (p. 104). Given the “spectrum of possible combinations of strengths and weaknesses” there are “quite different styles and emphases in various Quaker groups using the same fundamental procedures” (p. 104). Another problem is that the individual who can discern the unity “quickly exercises an influence that is subtle and pervasive” (p. 105). Thus, “the person who comes to the meeting with a solution in his back pocket might wait until the group seems ripe for the idea instead of proposing it at the outset” (p. 105). The speaker’s preparations in advance may then be confused with “an inspired reading of the present level of agreement of the assembly” (p. 105). The group has little defense against such manipulation.

In a fundamental sense, Friends decision making ”presuppose that participants are in community” (p. 115). Participants need to be willing to say what they really think, listen to each other, and be willing to make decisions work out successfully. Michael J. Sheeran’s book is recommended reading for everyone who is interested in how to move beyond majority rule into group-centered decision-making.

How Quakers make unanimous decisions

Don Miller (left) and Jim Rough (right)

Here is a video where Don Miller explains to Jim Rough how Quakers have been making unanimous decisions for 350 years. Don says Quakers reject the idea of consensus.1

1 Don Miller, Quaker Process (#125) at 7:44, The Jim Rough Show, Port Townsend Television, 27 August 2010.

Related post (in Swedish):
Kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod

The Tyranny of Structurelessness

Jo Freeman’s essay on The Tyranny of Structurelessness is about the tyranny of ”elites”, where an ”elite” is defined as ”a small group of people who have power over a larger group of which they are part”. The problem with these ”elites” is that they don’t have ”direct responsibility to that larger group, and often without their knowledge or consent”. The conclusion then is that these ”elites” should ”at least [be] responsible to the group at large”. This means, for example, that the ”rules of decision-making must be open and available to everyone”. The assumption is that a ”formal structure” can ”hinder the informal structure from having predominant control”. I’m not so sure! I don’t think formal structures help if all people care about are their own ”elitist” interests. I think the cognitive model of human beings as rule-followers is inadequate.

Book Review: Team of Teams

Teams of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by Stanley McChrystal, with Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell, is a book about the restructuring of the Joint Special Operations Task Force from the ground up. The book is built upon the authors ”personal experiences”, together with their ”reviews” of ”published studies” and ”interviews” with ”experts in a wide variety of fields” (p. 5). The authors ”lay out the symptoms”, the ”root causes”, and the ”approaches” that they and others have found effective (p. 5). I think the book contains a useful blend of practical and theoretical knowledge.

The authors describe in detail throughout the book how they restructured the Task Force ”from the ground up on principles of extremely transparent information sharing … and decentralized decision-making authority”. In short, how the Task Force became ”a team of teams” (p. 20). The Task Force was an ”awesome machine”, but it was ”too slow, too static, and too specialized” to deal with its volatile environment (p. 81). Key to the necessary transformation was to understand what made the ”constituent teams adaptable, and how this differed from the structure and culture” of the Task Force at large (p. 92).

Trust & Purpose
The teams in the Task Force are forged ”methodically and deliberately” (p. 94). The purpose of the training is to ”build superteams” (p. 96). The training is all about ”developing trust and the ability to adapt within a small group” (p. 97). This is done because ”teams whose members know one another deeply perform better” (p. 98). Teams which are ”fused by trust and purpose” are much more potent, and ”can improvise a coordinated response to dynamic, real-time developments” (p. 98). ”Team members tackling complex environments must all grasp the team’s situation and overarching purpose” (p. 99). The physical hardship during the training “is a test, not of strength, but of commitment” (p. 99). Furthermore, “failure is always punished” (p. 97). The trainees who make it through the training ”believe in the cause” (p. 100), and are prepared “placing their lives at risk … alongside committed patriots” (p. 100).

Oneness & Adaptivity
The competitive advantage of teams is “their ability to think and act as a seamless unit” (p. 105). This is sometimes called “joint cognition” (p. 105). The point is that “a thorough integration of minds … can unlock far more complex solutions than a set of individual thinkers” (p. 105). Great teams are more like “awesome organisms” than “awesome machines” (p. 120). However, the challenge is that the larger the organization gets, the “harder it is for it to think and act as one” (p. 124). Team dynamics are “powerful but delicate” (p. 127), and teams are “much trickier to build and maintain than we like to think” (p. 127). Accomplishing a true “team of teams” involved “a complete reversal of the conventional approach to information sharing, delineation of roles, decision-making authority, and leadership” (p. 131).

Information Sharing
The transformation of the Task Force “demanded the adoption of extreme transparency” in order to provide “every team with an unobstructed, constantly up-to-date view of the rest of the organization” (p. 163). The critical first step was to share the “information widely” and be generous with “people and resources” (p. 167). The thinking was that the value of the “information and the power that came with it were greater the more it was shared” (p. 167). The “Operations & Intelligence brief” became the “heart muscle of the organism” and the “pulse by which it would live or die” (p. 164). The O&I, as it was commonly called, was a daily meeting “held by the leadership … to integrate everything the command is doing with everything it knows” (p. 164). Over time, the O&I began to “develop its own gravitational pull as more and more groups recognized what the speed and transparency … could offer” (p. 167). Individual and organizational “arrogance manifested itself in subtle ways as people tried to assert or maintain their preeminence”, but “eventually people either produced or faded in importance” (p. 166).

Information sharing was just a start. The next step was to strengthen the relationships “among the Task Force’s internal teams”, and between “the Task Force and the partner agencies” (p. 180). Slowly, “personal relationships” and “bonds of trust” grew between the teams (pp. 175—177). “Bonds of trust began to form” and “began to overcome internal competition and barriers to cooperation” (p. 180). The “new architecture” consisted of “extreme participatory transparency” and the “creation of strong internal connectivity across teams” (p. 197). Paradoxically, the “seemingly instantaneous communications … slowed rather than accelerated decision making” (p. 202).

The practice of relaying decision up and down the chain of command is based on “the assumption … that the cost of the delay is less than the cost of the errors produced by removing a supervisor” (p. 209). In reality, “the risks of acting too slowly were higher than the risks of letting competent people make judgment calls” (p. 209). Authority was pushed down “until it made us uncomfortable” (p. 214). On the whole, this initiative “met with tremendous success” (p. 214). “More important, and more surprising, we found that, even as speed increased and we pushed authority further down, the quality of decisions actually went up” (p. 214). One reason for this was that “an individual who makes a decision becomes more invested in its outcome” (p. 215). Another reason was that “leadership simply did not understand what was happening on the ground as thoroughly as the people who were there” (p. 215). “Individuals and teams closest to the problem, armed with unprecedented levels of insights from across the network, offer the best ability to decide and act decisively” (p. 219).

The role of the senior leader changed. The role “was no longer that of [a] controlling puppet master, but rather that of an empathetic crafter of culture” (p. 222). The focus shifted to “shaping the ecosystem” (p. 226). “Thinking out loud” and openly admitting “I don’t know” was “accepted, even appreciated” (p. 229). “Asking for opinions and advice showed respect”. The “overall message reinforced by the O&I was that we have a problem that only we can understand and solve” (p. 229). “A leader’s words matter, but actions ultimately do more to reinforce or undermine the implementation of a team of teams” (p. 232).

The authors emphasize that “there is no such thing as an organizational panacea—the details will always be different for different people, places, and objectives—but” they ”believe that” their ”model provides a good blueprint” (p. 249). I think something really important has to be at stake in order to be able to turn an organization into a team of teams. I also think you need to have true teams in place, and not just teams in name. The way of forging teams described in the book is extreme to say the least. And I think the role of senior leadership can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing if senior leadership really understands—and accepts—the central tenets outlined in the book. It’s a curse if senior leadership doesn’t, because then the team of teams will be turned into a “command of teams”, or just an old-fashioned “command” (p. 129). The book is well worth reading!

S. McChrystal, T. Collins, D. Silverman, & C. Fussell, Team of Teams, p. 129.

Related book review:
The Art of Action by Stephen Bungay

How will companies approach the management challenge?

Here is a visionary tweet by Kenneth Mikkelsen on how companies in the future will approach the management challenge. The businesses will:

  • Have a higher purpose beyond making profit
  • Hire people who are passionate about this higher purpose
  • See all shareholders as equally important
  • Cultivate long-term relationships with suppliers
  • Have open doors and be transparent with information
  • Encourage decision-making and autonomy all the way down
  • Pay well, provide excellent benefits and be generous with training/development
  • Volunteer services to the community
  • Narrow the gap in pay

Ackoff on consensus

I have written previously here that I am convinced that sociocratic principles can be implemented in many ways. Below is an additional example from Russel L. Ackoff on the use of consensus which sounds very sociocratic to me:

Decisions made by a majority of participants usually create a dissatisfied minority.

Decision-making by consensus avoids such abuse, but it appears to make reaching a conclusion very difficult if not impossible. This only appears to be the case because the nature of consensus is not well understood. It is complete agreement, not in principle, by in practice.

Agreement in practice is agreement to act; it does not require that the approved action is taken by all to be the best in principle.

When consensus is not reached, an attempt should first be made to design a test of the alternatives proposed, a test that all the participants accept as fair and one by whose outcome they are willing to abide.”

… I have never experienced one [session] in which consensus could not be reached …

Source: Russell L. Ackoff, The Democratic Corporation, pp. 81—83.

What is a good decision?

Frederic Laloux makes the following distinctions in Reinventing Organizations, page 46.

  • In the Impulsive-Red perspective, a good decision is the one that gets me what I want.
  • In Conformist-Amber, decisions are held up to the light of conformity to social norms.
  • In Achievement-Orange, effectiveness and success are the yardsticks by which decisions are made.
  • In Pluralistic-Green, matters are judged by the criteria of belonging and harmony.
  • In Evolutionary-Teal, there is a shift from external to internal yardsticks in the decision-making. Does this decision seem right? Am I being true to myself? Am I being of service to the world?


Quaker decision-making principles

There are a number of principles which are characteristic of Quaker decision-making:

  1. Unanimous decisions—no voting
  2. Silent periods—at start of meeting and when conflict arises
  3. Moratorium—when agreement cannot be reached
  4. Participation by all with ideas on the subject
  5. Learning to listen—not going to meeting with mind made up
  6. Absence of leaders—the clerk steers but does not dominate
  7. Nobody outranks anybody
  8. Factual-focus—emotions kept to a minimum
  9. Small meetings—typically limited numbers

Michael J. Sheeran, Beyond Majority Rule, p. 51.
Stuart Chase, Roads to Agreement, pp. 51-52.

Quaker-based decision-making

The principle of consent in sociocracy is derived from Quaker practices. The Quaker-based decision-making has a simple structure which allows for individual voices to be heard while moving the group towards unity (not unanimity). Key components are:

  • The belief in a common humanity and the ability to decide together.
  • Ensuring group members speak only once until others are heard.
  • Dissenters’ perspectives are welcomed.
  • The facilitator serves the group rather than acting as person-in-charge.
  • The facilitator articulates the sense of the discussion.
  • The facilitator discerns who is acting in selfish interest without concern for the group.
  • Ideas and solutions belong to the group.
  • Decisions belong to the group.

Reference: Wikipedia

Kväkarnas beslutsmetod

Principen för samtycke i sociokrati bygger på kväkarnas 350-åriga traditioner. Beslut hos kväkarna fattas inte genom majoritetsröstning. Istället nås enighet genom att man söker efter ”mötets mening”. I detta sökande är allas erfarenhet, förstånd och omdöme viktiga! Det innebär kväkarna har en djup respekt för individens integritet.  En grundläggande tanke hos kväkarna är att varje individ har tillgång till Ljuset. De är därför icke-hierarkiskt organiserade och saknar Ledare (med stort L).

Kväkartidsskrift Nr 1 2008, Vännernas samfund i Sverige: Frågor till kväkare.

Relaterade inlägg:
Kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod

The essentials of Quaker practice

Sociocratic decision-making by consent is derived from the Quaker tradition. Therefore, it’s interesting to understand how Quakers make decisions and why they do it that way. Here are the essentials of Quaker practice (adapted from Collective Intelligence and Quaker Practice by Leonard Joy):

1. There’s a desire for the common good
2. All voices are heard and listened to
3. All are respected including those affected by the decision
4. All interests are respected and cared for
5. Loving relationships are maintained
6. All are grounded in their own humanity
7. There’s sensitivity to interdependence
8. All speak out of the silence (the state of being personally grounded)
9. All address the facilitator not one another
10. All speak simply, not repeating what has already been offered
11. All speak one’s own truth
12. There’s commitment to air dissent
13. There’s authentic expression of feeling
14. Decision making is distinguished from ”threshing”
15. Necessary documents are prepared prior to meetings for decision
16. The facilitator offers the ”sense of the meeting”
17. The facilitator resolves difficulty in coming to unity
18. Decisions are made not by majority vote, nor by consensus, but by unity
19. There’s a structure to bring to bear the voices of many collectivities

Att ha koll på när du fattar beslut

Vi behöver få bättre koll på hur belöningsstyrda vi är i vårt beslutsfattande, säger Katarina Gospic, som skrivit boken Välj rätt – en guide till bra beslut (SvD 2012-09-17). Katarina listar sju saker att ha koll på när du fattar beslut:

  1. Så påverkar kort- och långsiktiga belöningar. Vår hjärna vill ha snabba belöningar. Långsiktiga mål kräver mer pannlobskraft.
  2. Styrs du av inre motivation eller yttre? Inre motivation är en mer hållbar drivkraft.
  3. Väljer du trygghet eller risk? Rädsla bidrar till flest beslut som blir fel i längden.
  4. Dominerar limbiska eller kortikala delar av hjärnan ditt beslut? Lär känna dig själv. Fattar du eftertänkt val (kortikala) eller låter du dina känslor styra (limbiska)?
  5. Ego vs grupp. Vi är egoistiska, men har också känsla för rättvisa. Eftersträva balans.
  6. Optimera dina system. Ät bra, rör på dig och sov tillräckligt. Då blir det lättare att tänka klokt.
  7. Ta en paus. Gå och tänk på något annat så blir det lättare att se skogen för alla trän.

Book Review: Culture Shock

CultureShockCulture Shock: A Handbook For 21st Century Business by Will McInnes is a brilliant title on a book which is about the culture shock of moving from the traditional autocratic way of doing business to a democratic approach where there is true participation, openness, fairness, and connectedness. The perspective of Culture Shock is that an organization is made up of people, rather than resources (although human). This means that for an organization to thrive it needs a very clear purpose, which creates meaning way beyond financial results.

The book resonates strongly with me. Will McInnes eloquently puts words on what I think and feel. I fully agree with him that a democratic workplace makes business-sense, society-sense, and people-sense. I think he is right in saying that the huge potential lies in the distribution of power through shared decision making. An inclusive, participative, approach to running our organizations has a “direct knock-on effect” on the way the organization performs. We all know innately that “being bad to people is being bad to the bottom line”.

There are a few areas where I have somewhat different perspectives than Will, but that is okay. We are talking about democracy and being authentic here. One example is the pace of change. Will thinks the new business culture is going to be mainstream within five or ten years. I do hope so, but I think the change we are talking about will take much more time. We are talking about changing domination structures. This change is a culture shock for those in power.

For the rest of us, it is an opportunity to be set free, to be allowed to thrive and show up fully as a human being even in the workplace. And here is the other culture shock. The emotional transparency required to be fully you is a demanding shift. And maybe this is why we have allowed our real lives to be different from our working lives for so long?

So, to give us the best chance of success, we need to step in and support each other. What is so nice is that there are people out there who have actually walked the alternative path for some time now. Will McInnes is one of them.