The Principle of Consent dictates that each policy decision (in which we make or change the rules by which we play) is made by Consent. Consent is not consensus — it does not mean that everyone agrees. It means that nobody is aware of a risk that we cannot afford to take. We know we have made a decision by Consent when somebody (usually the Facilitator) asks “Can you see any risks we cannot afford to take in adopting this proposal?” If each participant in the meeting indicates they do not see any risks we cannot afford to take, we have made a decision by consent to try out the experiment described in that proposal. If policies are the rules of the game, then operations are “playing the game”. While we only make policy decisions by consent, we can make operational decisions however the rules tell us to. Most often, this means very clear delegation of budgets and decisions to specific roles, and assigning people to those roles.
The Principle of Circles tells us that a sociocratic organization is made up of Circles – semi-autonomous, self-organizing teams that each make their own membership decisions, decide on their own working methods, and manage their own budgets. Each Circle defines its policy (and some policies which apply to other circles reporting to it) by Consent, and uses other decision-making methods as appropriate to its operational work. The key to the Principle of Circles is that each Circle is organized around delivering a specific type of value to a specific client (inside or outside the organization). A Circle for an orchard would include growers, truckers, sales people, and accountants — or at least the people managing sub-Circles devoted to those areas of work. Each specific type of value is known as an Aim.
The Principle of Feedback requires us to use feedback processes everywhere in our work, and especially in the power structure of the organization. While most companies have a top-down organizational structure, with managers providing links from one level of the organization down to the one below, those “single links” are often chokepoints for key information that people on the front lines know and the “top management” do not. Sociocratic organizations use “double links” to connect each Circle with the one above it. The Operational Leader role provides guidance and prioritization from the higher circle to one below it, especially during normal operations. The Representative role provides feedback and guidance from the lower circle to the one it reports to. While the Representatives may not have any operational responsibilities in the higher of their two circles, they (along with the Operational Leader) are full members of both circles for the purpose of any consent decision-making.
Election by Consent
The Principle of Election by Consent provides an important counter-balance. While we can delegate almost any decision to operational roles or processes, using a policy decision made with Consent, the one sort of decision we cannot delegate is the election of an important role — particularly the Representative. Representatives must be chosen by Consent of the Circle which they represent. This ensures that the organization is woven together by a web of consent, and that power flows in circles through the entire organization.