Creating Inclusivity with Sociocracy with Ted Rau
Inside Community Podcast — Ep. 012
Hear Ted Rau share how sociocracy brings an incredible opportunity to cooperative groups to embody higher levels of inclusivity through their governance.
At the beginning of this episode, we get a unique opportunity to hear Ted’s story of transitioning in community with children, as a transgender man.
In this episode
- What is sociocracy? (24 minutes)
- Size of community and timeline for implementing sociocracy (31 minutes)
- How sociocracy supports inclusivity (38 minutes)
- Downsides to sociocracy (41 minutes)
- Sociocracy 3.0 (49 minutes)
- Feedback and evaluation (57 minutes)
- Good process is quiet (1 hour 8 minutes)
About Ted Rau
Ted Rau is a trainer, consultant, and co-founder of the non-profit movement support organization Sociocracy For All. He grew up in Germany and studied linguistics before earning his Ph.D. in linguistics there in 2010. He moved to the USA and fulfilled a long-held wish to live in an intentional community where he still lives with his five children and 70 neighbors in a cohousing community in Massachusetts. Ted’s perspective is influenced by being transgender, by his interest in Nonviolent Communication and social justice, by being part of a global sociocracy organization at work, and a parent at home.
Learn from Ted
Learn from Ted and his Sociocracy for All co-founder Jerry Koch-Gonzalez, on our 5 week online course ‘Sociocracy Demystified‘, starting this Thursday June 23.
Podcast listeners, use this code: INSIDE30 and get 30% off!
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Thanks from Rebecca, your podcast host
Welcome to the inside community podcast. I’m your host, Rebecca Mesritz. One of the things that I think brings a lot of people to community. And perhaps this is something that you can also relate to, is a deep desire to be at home in a place where you feel like you truly belong. To feel like you are accepted for who you really are. This desire extends to a lot of different facets of community. And it’s not just about the social, or the intimacy that we build with our community mates. But we also want to see this type of inclusivity and acknowledgement and how we make decisions, and how we allow all of the voices to be heard in a conversation. My guest today has had an interesting journey in certain places and contexts that not only allow, but deeply support the presence of true and authentic self. As a transgender man and sociocracy trainer Ted Rao brings a unique perspective on how to make organizations function more efficiently, while honoring the voices of all of their members. Ted is a trainer consultant and co founder of the nonprofit movement support organization sociocracy for all. He grew up in Germany and earned his PhD there in linguistics, and then he moved to the USA and fulfilled a long held wish to live an intentional community, where he still lives with his five children and 70 neighbors in a cohousing and Massachusetts. Ted’s perspective is influenced by being transgender, by his interest in nonviolent communication and social justice by being part of a global sociocracy organization at work and a parent at home. Ted Rao, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me.
Well, I usually start my podcast with the same question. So I’d love to ask you if you can give the viewers the listeners a little bit of a snapshot into your community and what your community is like.
Oh, so I live in a community in Massachusetts. We have 32 houses. And it’s been built since 1994. So it’s been a while. But kind of at the edge of a town of a college town. So it’s not urban, but also not super rural around here, which is a good combination. And yeah, we do some gardening, we have a gorgeous common house. Yeah. But that’s I guess the snapshot. I’ve lived here since 2011. The people that really know each other.
So I’m part of the reason I’m excited to have you here is really to jump into ideas about inclusivity and community. And one of the ways that you really bring ideals of inclusivity forward is through your work with sociocracy. But you also have a really interesting personal journey. And I would love if you could share a little bit about your personal story. Give a little context here.
So So I assume what you’re referring to, is that a gender transition the last few years, maybe five years ago, it feels like forever, but I think that’s right. So that all happened in community that was interesting, of course, coming out to 90 people out at once. I also have five children. So that was an additional angle in the in the whole thing. And actually, I want to say that that to me, both transitioning and living in community and the work that I do actually are all, to me, that’s all the kind of the manifestation of the same vision, I want to say. Because one thing that came up for me around around doing the work that I do with sociocracy is that one of the pieces that we care about is people really showing up as themselves, right. And I would say that’s also a value that I hold in community, like I want to be connected to people with who they really are, and not some nice facade. And what came up for me around that is that I just had a hard time showing up as my whole self with this gender thing in the way. So it I see it actually as a consequence that I had that I had to come out in transition because of the community in the sociocracy context. So to me, they’re all They’re all really connected.
And And how was that for you too? I mean, obviously, I mean, I can only imagine that With 90 different people, not to mention, I know that you were living your your former partners also in your community and your kids, but I’m sure everybody has their own opinion and thought about that. Usually when people I think come out in any way, it’s, you know, maybe to their, to their immediate family, it’s not always to such an intimate community reality. So what was that like for you?
Yeah, I know, the irony of all is really that most people were very concerned about the kids. And the kids dealt better with this than any grown up. So I don’t know what that is about. I don’t know. But that says something about it. But there’s something interesting there. So my kids, I mean, they all had different reactions, you know, because they were different ages and different level of exposure with the topic, but most of them are like, okay, that makes sense. Okay, cool. Kind of like that. But for many it was in the community. Now, it was, first of all, for some, it was the first contact with somebody who transitions as a grown up. They had their own morning to do you know, of like, oh, this, you know, mother with five children. I was like, wait an hour. Now you’re telling me your man, like, how do I how do I reconcile that? So we actually do we did this thing that some people in this community do we have done it previously on a different thing is basically, they can Ask Me Anything session, like come to my house, ask me. So we did that there were maybe many people, they also. And I was just trying to explain what it feels like, how the path has been by I didn’t really see any other way than transitioning. And I remember one of the things that was said, for example, and that might help people are listening to kind of wrap their head around it, is that the most touching thing for me, I think was when somebody said, you know, I support you in whatever you do, I just want to also have some space to mourn because I have kind of, I hold you as a particular person, and now I need to let go of that. So that’s just gonna take me a while, you know, that’s, that’s a thing. And I remember somebody that a good friend of mine then had a beautiful response to that. And she said that it’s a little bit like when a child grows up, right? We wouldn’t tell her child and don’t grow up, you’re not allowed to because I want to keep you as a cute little child. Right. But we also have some feelings around, right? Like my my oldest child, just graduated. And honestly, I do get sad when I look at pictures of her as a seven year old because she was adorable. And seven. And yes, I am sad. Would I want to freeze her in time? Of course not. So this both admits right? Of like, Yeah, time, you know, things change. And that’s okay. I also have memories from the past. And that’s also okay. And it all somehow comes later. Now, I guess it all turns out, okay, in the end. So that was the yeah, there were of course, many, many different stories. But that I would say was the big flyover off of my experience was me.
Yeah. Did you feel supported? I mean, it sounds like this listening session was really helpful for people. I mean, it’s interesting, because I imagine I mean, I’m trying to imagine in any case, because this is very new, this I would say, probably for people like me who are operating in kind of more of the mainstream context, a lot of these ideas of transgender issues are very new. Not to say that being transgender is new. And I’m wondering, you know, not just did you feel supported, but did the community feel supported in in navigating, you know, how to be with you and how to be with the children and how to talk you know, like, obviously, you’re using he him pronouns, but I would imagine for your children to go from calling you mom to I don’t know, what they call you now. Might be difficult. You know, how did the community get support to to know how to navigate that in a good way?
Well, I made some clear requests. You know, he him pronouns, my new name, I don’t want to, I don’t want people to use my old name, even if it’s about things in the past. The way I describe that to people is that it would be like putting me back in like, just the name evokes the fear of being put back into the prison I was in pre transition. So that’s not a fun memory to me. It’s not kind of a matter of fact, kind of thing. The impact is actually quite significant to me. So the requests of just people please give it all you have to make the switch because when whenever somebody slips So part of me is like, okay, that will just happen you know, that just happens it just habit and part of me is just in absolute freakout mode about it, actually. So it’s really not an enjoyable thing. And I know people make mistakes. And and just I want to, I want both sides to be in the picture, right, the impact on me, and of course, the people. It’s not people’s fault, right. So my role was a lot educating people. So you ask, Was I supported and I would say, that might be, might be too big of a word, actually, there will be individuals that supported me inside and out of outside of the community, that community as a whole, I would say, was almost busy, like needed education and was busy with itself in a way in, in their own react in their own coming along with that, it wasn’t that it was particularly helpful, because I mean, you know, educating people and kind of explaining it again, and again, has something helpful about it, but near another piece is that I think the people who did maybe the most education work were my kids, actually. They, for example, explain to people that even if one talks about an instance that is 15 years ago, when just doesn’t switch pronouns, and it’s because it was still me who I am now, back, then it’s just that I had this at this persona that I was playing, that doesn’t justify using my old name for a past event. And my kids, for example, is super clear about that. And they explain it to everybody. Interestingly, I never explained it to them to them, that’s just so obvious that they actually a little, like, surprised how that cannot be obvious to other people. So they’re great about it, you know, they completely embody it. And they, they don’t hold back and explain it.
Wow, that is so that it’s so touching to me, and so beautiful that that, yeah, that your children were able to provide that level of support for you through this. That’s, that’s really amazing.
Yes, I continue to be very close with my children, they, when they talk about it, you know, like, is there anything different? They say, No, nothing is different, except it is happier now. And that’s good. And you know, and if pressed, they will say these wise things, people sometimes say, you’re like, wow, how old are you? 95 or 14, because they will say things like, you know, and of course, Ted also taught us, you know, how important it is to be who you are? And even if it’s hard to, to bring that. So, yeah, I guess in the long run, it certainly is. I would say it’s been good for them.
Beautiful. And you’ve done all of this with your former partner, and in the community as well, you know, and I could only imagine that, you know, just living in in community with someone that you were previously romantically involved with, and are no longer romantically involved with is probably a minefield. I mean, most people have a hard time just living in the same town as their exes. So yeah, I did, how I’m if you feel comfortable talking about it, you know, did your Did you feel like that? transition through partnership, you know, I’m just wondering what you learned, and what you would recommend for people that are out there who might be in community and uncoupling or going through transitions like that, but really want to stay in community because I feel like, you know, we come into community in partnership, my husband and I, actually, we started our last community together. And then during, at one point, we broke up for about six months. And it was pretty serious. It was kind of major, because we were co founders and we were both extremely invested in this thing that we had created and people weren’t invested in us as partners. Luckily, we after our time apart, we were able to find our way back together and and find some healing and now we’re married and have a daughter and a little more happily ever after, I guess. But that time of being separate and community was was so intense. And I’m wondering you know, what tips you might have or ideas about how folks can navigate that because that’s, that’s big.
So first of all, when my when my ex and I split up, we I think we were both deciding that we tried to best the best exists one can probably be so we continue to have very warm contact. The things that we were really good at we still do like we were excellent My parents, that’s so weird we do kind of managing things together. That’s what we still deal with the things that weren’t working so much previously, we don’t have to do anymore. So that’s all good. And he was a big support also in the transition. So there was no no hesitation, no issues, no pushback, no nothing. He actually said an interesting thing, I think when we split up, and then also that came up around transition, he said, well now makes perfect sense to me. Because in our time together, he said, I always had the sense that I only see half of you. That’s actually quite touching as a piece of feedback, from my point of view, because I think he was right. And maybe, I don’t know, had we ever talked about it, maybe it would have helped to have his feedback earlier. But one thing that’s interesting in terms of transitioning later in life and with with kids and all, kind of out there connected with the world, right, I didn’t have the luxury of moving. Is that when, for example? Let’s say we had the auto at my kids orthodontist. Okay. And I like they say, oh, we need to schedule with somebody in Sar. Sorry, that’s the other day and how they will be scheduled in that week, it’s going to be the other time for scheduling. And so for me, that’s fine. They know, but for my ex, that’s not necessarily. I mean, it’s fine. He kind of I think he just accepts it, but it does put him into a slightly awkward position. Because Because that’s not necessarily it’s making assumptions about his identity, that that are not correct. And there’s kind of no way out for him around that. So that’s, that’s funny, but he’s, you know, he’s accepting it. And I’ve really very much appreciate that. Because I think that’s a rare that I can imagine many more people that would try and wiggle their way out of those situations. And he just is.
Wow, that’s, that’s really, I had never really considered that aspect of, of this issue. You know, there’s no, like, you don’t really have a say, Yeah, you don’t have a say, in this perception of identity, which I guess, you know, is probably true for all of life, really, like, we think we’re in control of our identity. But in actuality, it’s 90% What someone else’s story is, but wow, that’s, that’s really fascinating. Yeah, so I mean, in terms of maintaining, you know, beneficial relations inside of the community, do you have, you know, coming back to that question of do you have advice for folks or ideas about good ways to do that?
Well, well, I have a few regrets, actually, that I want to share. That would be kind of if I had to do it again, here’s what I would do differently, I think it would. We were kind of planning and then not following through something like a ritual. I think that would have been good for the community and for myself as well. Because it is kind of interesting transitioning. And now, of course, I’m the same person. And then again, I’m not. Because of all the relationships, all of the relationships in my life really needed to be renegotiated. Outside of my kids, actually, my kids didn’t have to be renegotiated because I don’t know if there’s something more back there. That’s kind of not mediated by gender, my relationship to the kids. So that stayed in touch with everything else. Like, for example, again, now, if I have good friends that are women that I typically hung out with now, it’s somehow a little different, it’s, I can’t really fully put my finger on it. But you know, just the perception is different from the outside. I do think that it was holding back on male traits that I have before and now I’m not so much anymore. So now I kind of am more with that. So it does change things. So there’s a renegotiation that needs to happen. And I wish we had made that more explicit. Because since it was not explicit, it was on me to with each person, kind of either bring it up on on, let go of it and just kind of do my own internal V, whatever, recalibrating. So I just wish that would have happened more, but I didn’t make the request. I mean, of course, how would other people have known? So that would be my advice for people one who want to kind of stand on most my shoulders, that would be a place where one could improve it?
Yeah, I mean, I’m a huge advocate for the importance of ritual. And in our lives, it’s something that we’re I think, as a culture as a society were very much lacking, especially with the sort of, in a lot of arenas, and for a lot of people, the decline of religious life, and the ways that religious life provided certain, like marked rites of passage and things like that. And now that a lot of people don’t seem to really identify with that anymore. Yeah, there’s just really such a place for, for ritual, I’d be so curious to learn more about what types of rituals trans people do employ to help them and help their communities? It’s a pretty fascinating area of inquiry. Well, you know, part of why I’m excited to talk to you today is also about your, your take on sociocracy. And before we dive too far into that, I’m curious to know, did sociocracy play in any way into this sort of personal lived experience? Did it inform your community did the values or ethos of sociocracy support this personal journey of yours?
Well, there is a piece of showing up as a whole person, there is also a piece around. One thing that I love that we do in sociocracy, is holding more perspectives without necessarily assuming that they have to converge as much. So one of the values I like until circus is that we have to find enough convergence to make an extent, but we don’t have to convince each other of everything. And that’s something that I learned, both in life and in community and in sociocracy. And in transition, that sometimes things don’t perfectly align. Sometimes there is a little bit of incoherence or kind of lack of whatever full I don’t know what call it I guess, yeah, not everything neatly falls into place all the time. And yet, we can still act. That’s one of the strings of sociocracy of acting, without having to be on the same page 100% About everything. To me, that’s a plus. I know, some people might hear that and think like, what, why would we, you know, why would we not get 100% alignment on everything? Doesn’t that sound sweet? And honestly, to me, that sounds a little, I don’t know, claustrophobic from for me. So that’s just my perspective on No, I don’t think we need to be on the same page on everything. They can be room for us being different, and even being split and torn within ourselves and still moving forward. On some.
Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of a fairy tale, this idea that everyone is going to be completely aligned on all things all the time. And I think that’s one of the things that I really see as a strength of sociocracy, as you’re saying, is this idea that, you know, we’re actually better for not all being 100% on the same page, it helps us to see different perspectives and create better plans moving forward and also to exist in a space of curiosity and exploration. And, yeah, continual growth,
right? Because the learning comes from being different, right? That’s where the learning is, it’s at the edges, it’s where we’re different. So if we all always thought the same thing about everything, if that was even our goal, then we wouldn’t have as many opportunities to actually encounter something new or see a perspective we hadn’t seen. So it wouldn’t be like a monoculture that I wouldn’t that just is not healthy. It’s neither realistic, nor is it healthy, nor is it resilient. So there’s many reasons for me to hold that multitude of, of perspectives. Really, really.
So for people that don’t know it, sociocracy is can you give us just a brief intro?
Sure. So I’m going to give it from the point of view of a community, okay, you can just replace community with organization and then basically have other organizations as well. But for community. We often think that the people’s impulse is to make inclusive decisions, we just get everybody in one room and talk. And yet our experience is that that doesn’t typically work that way, right? If you let’s say in my community have seven people in one room, it’s not true that everybody will be heard quite the opposite. It will tend to happen that some voices dominate and not everybody will speak or we’ll just speak for a minute and then that would still be almost one and a half hours. Right. So one thing that sociocracy does is to give decision making power to smaller groups so that you have a group of five or six or seven people that take care of one particular aspect of the community. And not only do they do the work in that part of the community, but also they make the decisions in that, in that part of the community. For example, we have a circle that stewards the common house, they make the decisions about the common house. And that is policy decisions and decisions they need to make to just, you know, figure out who does what. So all of it, we have a circle, that sort of team of people that to look at the membership, and they make the policies of our membership. So that way in membership circle in those 567 people, they can have much deeper conversations and really understand an issue to make an informed decision, which is simply different than a group of 70. So one of the big pieces of sociocracy is the authority to small groups. And the advantage of having that depth and expertise and the connection in that circle. Another piece in sociocracy is decision making decision making by consent. So typically, the decisions that are made would be made by the circle that holds that artist vote, for example, if it’s a decision about the common House policy decision, that decision would be made in common house circle by the people who are on common house circle. And if there’s a proposal and one of the people of that circle, if they have an objection, that decision needs to be looked at more, because we can move forward. If one of those, let’s say six people on common house circle, as an objection says, whoa, hold on, this is not going to work because this isn’t that. And those two pieces with a few other bells and whistles, those two pieces, create a situation where we have clarity, because we know who’s to say to in deciding what but we also can change those things. For example, the area of decision making can change. And we have a system of how to change that so that we are always flexible and can respond to whatever happens and change our own system. So that we can respond to whatever is important to us right now. And when we input energy. So those are the I guess just to kind of check a few more boxes, we also decide who is, for example, leader or let’s say facilitator of a group by consent, so the group needs to give consent to its leader to its facilitator, and so on. And those are, for example, typically on a term, so nobody’s facilitator forever. But let’s say you get selected for nine months, and then you can revisit it again. So that overall also with policy decisions on a term, you get to a situation where you revisit all the things that you’re doing constantly. So they have that learning, and you have those conversations, again, in the review, to change and improve what we do.
So what do you do when you have, you know, if, for example, I’m on the common house circle, but there’s decisions that are being made in the membership circle that I don’t like, or I feel like, are bad for some reason, you know, is there a space or a place for other members of the community to kind of weigh in on some of these things? Or have a vote or have a say?
Yes, thank you for the question. So first of all, let me say that the, the, the responsibility and the authority that we give to small groups, comes with the expectation that they will get feedback. So for example, if they make a policy about renters and the community but you assume they check in with renters and with landlords, so that we have a situation where we don’t learn it, learn about new information when there’s an outcry in the community when something new came up. As there can also be more, more, I guess, intentional feedback also that affects the whole community. For example, before sociocracy was adopted 11 years ago, 11 years ago, we had those monthly general meetings that whole group consensus run communities do. And we still have those meetings, we now call them full circle meetings, but we had still have all member meetings, where a lot of people show and then for example, membership circle would say hey, we’re planning to change the policy give us input. So the trick, really the magic sauce from my point of view in sociocracy is that both and have feedback. And then decision making in small group feedback, large group, decision making small group because that way we can have those many many opinions and perspectives. And we have a small group of people that can digest all of that. So the information isn’t lost, it’s just fed into. So that’s one thing. And it so far, we’ve always been able to, either with feedback before a decision was made, or after a decision was made with feedback, we’ve so far been able to deal with everything that has happened in our kind of constitution and our governance agreement, there is an appeal process, that to my knowledge, has not been used yet. And I always joke that it’s a little bit like bringing an umbrella so that it doesn’t rain, okay, it’s like that we kind of have it in, in a community agreement, so that people are at ease. If a circle really does, you didn’t add a real thing, there is a way to appeal. And it would be super weird if somebody did use it. Because that would mean that our regular process of talking to each other and working things out didn’t work. And that would really shock me. So I would go at length in kind of mediation and talking and giving more feedback and more listening and so on, to make sure that doesn’t happen, because it would be a total power over movie mode that I wouldn’t want.
A lot of what I’m hearing that you’re sharing right now sounds like it’s successful, because you have a larger community. And I’m wondering, you know, we implemented sociocracy, at the Emerald village, and we had a much smaller community, we had, you know, 10 founders, and including kids, probably 25 folks total, at most, so maybe an additional anywhere from five to 10, or five to seven, I guess other adults on the property working together. And our experience was really that in some ways that we were wondering, are we too small to really implement this, because with the different circles that we needed to have, you know, everybody was on multiple circles? And yeah, I guess I’m just curious, I always thought, oh, it seems like this would be a lot better if we had, you know, 25 more people to kind of spread throughout the circles. How do you see this being able to work for smaller groups?
Yeah, I guess my the short answer, and I will elaborate a little bit is that of course it there is it is easier in a in a larger group. That’s true, I agree with you. And you can not get all the benefits as easily or it’s not so easy to see what the benefits are in this monitor. That said, there are in between sort of really like for smaller communities. So they’re even in a group of, let’s say, 10 people, it is typically the case that there are some of the issues that some are more about and know more about the others. So let me come from the other side, the idea that we’re working towards, and sociocracy is that in any given meeting, every person in the room cares about all the agenda items on the agenda. Right, that’s what we want a circle is made up of the people who work in that area, they should care about everything that goes into that circle. And that’s also what I see. So now in a group of 10, let’s say they make all the decisions together in one big circle, basically, that’s probably not the case that everybody cares about everything equally. So then we’re already in this little bit of like, oh, maybe there should be a circle on this or that yeah, now, because really, not everybody cares about it. But maybe not everything needs to be decentralized into circles, maybe some like more than in my community can stay in the kind of the big blob. And some things can already be be distributed out. So that’s kind of a mix that I do in a way, the circle in the middle that we call general circle is typically just made up of two people from kind of the main circles. And it’s easier to Google that and look up a visual to understand it. But the, the general circuit can also have more people. So they’re kind of mixed forms. And by the way, we did a webinar on sociocracy and farming communities that describes that transition of how they go from a group of eight to 10 to 15, when it’s a tipping point, where organizing like you did is one bigger group that decides many of the things together to a fully distributed community, where the tipping point is in what it would look like how one gets from A to B. So and I guess if one looks at it as a continuum with many of those little in between steps then with a group of 15 people for example, maybe you just stay at a certain point of the metamorphosis and that’s totally fine. As long as you have clarity about where you are and and shared reality with everybody else to me that
how long does it normally take a community to transition into sociocracy? Or how long did it take your community? I guess, I think you said that they were beginning to implement sociocracy when you joined, what was that? Like? How long does it take to actually do it get everybody trained? What can people expect for
that? Yeah, so as I arrived, my first meeting, so when I became a member, I had to attend one of the general meetings. And it happened to be that that general meeting was the meeting where sociocracy was adopted. So by consensus, the decision was made that now decisions will be made by consensus, or by consent and in circles. And leading up to that it’s been, I think, more than a year around here of work of an implementation, circle, learning sociocracy, using sociocracy, with each other, listen to people’s concerns about the transition, and just preparing it really, really well. And then I think it took maybe, I mean, then circles were happily working against, but there were a few bumps in the road that will really just learnings for everybody. So there was more that that came up. And I think some people that are not as involved, for example, they’re still on that learning curve. So it’s not, you know, it’s not that this kind of a before where you know, nothing and then it is after way, you know, everything, right, that’s not the case, it’s the kind of learn from different starting points. And then there is some critical mass you make the necessary changes in the infrastructure and who decides what, and then you get closer and closer to what you want to have over time. So I would say a year before, and then counting, probably another year to really settle there and really arrive where you are. And from then on, it’s just continuous improvement. It’s never done, it’s never complete, they will always tweak things, and learn things and see things from a new angle.
If this conversation with Ted Rao has piqued your interest around sociocracy, I would love to point you towards the five week course that he and fellow communitarian Jerry Cook Gonzalez, are going to be running through the foundation for intentional community. It starts on June 23, which is right around the corner. And it’s going to be a great way for you and your community to deep dive on the ins and outs of this amazing governance model, and find new ways to streamline your communities meetings. If you go to my show notes, you can find a discount code for 30% off this course and a link to the course through icy.org. The fic offers lots of workshops and free events on topics related to community. So check them out today. If you want to get some different perspectives on sociocracy, and start to figure out if this governance model could work for your organization. There are a lot of articles and communities magazine on this very subject. You can read perspectives from Diana leaf Christian, Tina meadows, a rear and John buck, Laird shalbe. And even today’s guest, Ted Rao. This publication of the global eco village network has an amazing online catalog of all of their past issues. And their digital subscription is only $20 a year. Learn more at Gen hyphen us.net/communities.
So how do you see sociocracy really supporting inclusivity? Like specifically, like what are the ways in which this governance model as opposed to other governance models make space for that make space for all the voices?
Yeah, in many, many different ways. So one that I’ve already mentioned is that it’s easier to talk in smaller groups and really listen to each other. So that’s, that’s an inclusivity thing. For example, a small group of six people, five people works much better for introverts. I’m not an introvert. But for people who, who are uncomfortable talking in a group of 50 or 60 people, for them, it’s much more inclusive to really have as a smaller group. So that’s the thing. The other piece is one thing that I haven’t mentioned that it’s kind of a standard thing in sociocracy is talking in rounds. That can also be found in other places. So it’s not unique to sociocracy. But it’s one of the four things in sociocracy that we talk in rounds. And by that I mean the practice of talking one by one by one. So let’s say we have five people in a room number one, like let’s say Person A speaks and then Person B, Person C, Person C, the person D, and then it’s same for Person A again, and that creates a culture where we’re not interrupting each other constantly. That creates a culture where people know they can speak without being interrupted, but also important. And ultimately, it just turns into more of a culture of listening to each other. Because often, I noticed that in myself, when I’m in a, in a situation where we’re talking in rounds, then I settle into a listening mode, because I know it’s not going to be my turn until it is. When I’m in this situation with this mod debate style conversation, I noticed myself going more into internally thinking how that person is wrong that speaking right now, and when I can interrupt them, to tell them that they’re wrong. That’s kind of the energy with which debates or conversations I have. So rounds as one of the ways of being inclusive. The other one is a decision making method, right depends on what you compare to, for example, compared to majority vote, where if you’re one of the 49%, you’re just in tough luck. In consent, you can’t be outnumbered. Just because you’re fewer people doesn’t mean you’re not going to be heard and your needs are not going to be met. If you come here to consensus, that’s kind of a deeper, deeper story. That’s why group size really comes in. And it depends a little bit on how consensus is practice. Because there’s not one way there’s a little bit of a more complex comparison that one has to really go into to distinguish how consensus and consent might differ from each other. It is very close in many different ways. I would say.
Do you think there’s any downsides to sociocracy are things people should be looking out for, if they’re going to consider implementing this as their governance model.
So surrogacy is really hard for people who are not willing to let go of being able to have a say on everything. That’s huge. So if I cannot possibly deal with the idea that a common house circa which I’m not a part of, will decide what color the basement of the common house with to be painted, then sociocracy is going to drive me insane. Because then you’re going to suffer all the time, right? I’ll be be that person that sends circles, angry emails, that’s not a fun position to be in. It’s also not a fun to be, it’s also not fun to be on the receiving end of it. So that that’s, that is a big obstacle for some communities because of the tradition of guess that’s why I’m going to share a little bit of my judgmental side, I think that many people join communities because they have this deep longing for kind of merging into this community experience where we’re all kind of understanding each other blindly. And we’re all kind of on the same page, as we talked about in the beginning weight. And that’s just not a thing, I think. But if we’re really deeply attached to talking to, we all think the same thing, or talking to everything that I have to say is going to be heard by everybody or by whoever the decision makers, that’s not going to work. So circusy is fairly pragmatic. And it’s fairly like, Okay, any input now, okay, great, then let’s go, just go do it, you know, until we find out, it wasn’t a good idea, and then we’ll change it. So it has this experimentation mode to it, which I appreciate. But for some people, it’s really scary, if they’ve been conditioned in kind of, let’s not make mistakes, we should control everything so that nothing goes wrong. You know, when I say that kind of with judgment, and I also know that for some people who are in that space, it’s connected with a lot of pain that comes from previous experiences, so I don’t want to dismiss it. But anyway, if there’s energy like that in the community, that’s something to watch out for. Because then I know many communities where, let’s say, in our two thirds of the people really, really, really want sociocracy because they’re done with a large group meetings. And some people on the other side have really holding on to the values of everybody should be heard on everything all the time.
Yeah, I think one of the places that our the Emerald village, we kind of struggled with sociocracy was around issues that crossed circles. So for example, an event was going to be put on and the events issue, or the event that might be proposed was something that was part of the events circle, but it also sort of crossed over into land because there would be these certain land needs that might need to be addressed or there might be a financing and budget accounting component. And so we’d have these issues that would then be brought to the general circle because they were affecting multiple, multiple circles. And then it would come time to do, for example, a proposal forming process around that. And there would be a lot of resistance to doing these proposal forming processes, because they seem to take up a lot of time, it seemed to take a lot of time to go around, and, you know, get all of the aspects of the problem, and then go around and get all of the possible solutions, and then go in tune it, you know, this process, while in my mind, it was very thorough, it actually helped us to create a better proposal that could really address a lot of the issues that we might run into up front. For folks who were kind of really just wanting things to like, Alright, let’s go come on, let’s just, let’s just figure it out, can’t we just do a different, different way of figuring this out? A different type of proposal forming process would get kind of frustrated by that. I’m wondering what your thoughts might be on that?
Well, with my consultant hat, when I hear those stories, a bunch of questions I have, and actually, instead of just talking about that particular experience, because I would hit need to hear a lot more about it, let me highlight a few of the things that I see in general. Here’s I, I often go back to this to this image of this metaphor, that any kind of organization is, is like a garden, right? So it’s a garden where you attend to all the different things and your garden, you know, how good your garden is doing depends on how well it’s watered, the water situation is the soil, the sun, everything. And some things are beyond our control sometimes are in our control, but stuffs complex as I guess what I want to say. And it’s the same thing in governance, right. So for example, if there is a lot of overlap between things in I’ve circled so and so can make a decision because circumstance also seems to be impacted, then, maybe the way the domains are set up is not is not really helpful, because it’s not fully clear. This should be the idea that we’re striving to have a set of domain sort of circles that are empowered in their decision making in areas that shouldn’t have as many interdependencies. So, another pieces, well, couldn’t have dealt with just feedback from one circle, and another circle takes care of it, those issues, from my point of view, shouldn’t even be in general circles, channel circle should just facilitate that it happens in a circle. So but all of these things that I’m saying there should have should have kind of stuff, to me at different leverage points that I see. And what really is humbling and exciting at the same time is that people’s readiness, for example, to let go of power, but also people’s skill level of making decisions fast, you know, how do you go through process fast people’s appreciation for process, clarity of our aims, and domains, all of those things. All of those things are both the leverage points and points where we might struggle. Just like a garden needs sun and soil and water. It’s the same thing here. And it’s not so much used to just look at one, right? So if now I say, oh, you know, whatever that could have been solved in in the structure or something like that. That’s always just one aspect. Because there’s always many aspects to everything. And the metaphor that I use then with groups is we want to be in an upward spiral, right? We want to be in an upward spiral, which means Okay, let’s look at this and see if we could divide up the the decision making areas better so that we don’t always get entangled. Okay, let’s look at how can we make this process faster? Or let’s look at how can we play more with feedback versus decision making here, like all of these things can help. So I always have a multitude of ideas of how we can address it. But it’s always going to be systemic, right? It’s not all just to that, and then it’s all fixed. It’s always going to be a bunch of things that contribute to an easier flow and governance, or that inhibit that. So it’s never just one thing.
I like that. I like that a lot. I it. It makes me think of, you know, when we implemented sociocracy, we were trained by Diana leave Christian. And here we are. My partner and I, my partners and I are now creating a new community. And we’re looking at our governance model. And we’ve still still are using a version of sociocracy as taught by Diana but we’ve recently been starting to explore s3 sociocracy 3.0 For those of you that haven’t heard about that, and starting to like look at the differences between those models and sort of the spectrum of this more Traditional socio kradic Circle method versus s3, which seems to be sort of based in more of the agile, sort of tech world tech business. And I’m wondering what your thoughts are about that spectrum?
Yeah. So the spectrum to me. Let me start differently. So in sociocracy, from my point of view, everybody who use the sociocracy, or learn sociocracy combines it with everything else they find. So for example, if your thing is agile, you’re going to combine it with that if your thing is non binding communication, your thing is that what you’re going to combine it with, of course, all the things that we’ve learned should, you know, governance is something so dear to our heart, and so around us all the time, because whenever we’re with groups, we’re dealing with governance. So all of those things will flow into that experience. So from my point of view, there’s sometimes in the perception, a little bit of a polarization of kind of, you know, Socratic Socratic method versus sociocracy. Remainder. And to from that, from what I see, the different styles are different enough within one of the groups, and there’s so much overlap, that to me, this polarization doesn’t quite hold water, actually. Because everybody combines things anyway. So that’s going to be a lot of variety already. So given that the differences are a thing, most of the most important differences, to me, besides a little bit of jargon, and a little bit of processes here and there are in whether we assume that people know what they need. So on one end, and that’s where, from my perspective, Diana, good question is, is a side that I have a lot of compassion for. And I completely agree. I also will agree with the other side says a spoiler here. And that is that sociocracy has a system you know, as this ecosystem has its garden, where ever you know, where soil and sun and water and all of it has to kind of dovetail and work together to create this beautiful garden. So to say, Pratik circle method, so kind of the basis of sociocracy was meant to be a set of tools that dovetail and work together in a mutually reinforcing way. So if you take one part out, that’s like, you know, not having seatbelts in the car or not having whatever a cooler and cooling system, it simply is not a good idea. You know, you of course, you can go and tweak it. But is it a good idea? Probably not. So that’s one side of the story. The other side of the story is that they’re hot, hardly any implementations that I’m aware of that are 100%. Because 100% all the time, that’s a tall order. That means being a perfect human being and nobody is right. We will not remember all the things all the time like, oh, I should have asked for around here. If like no, you will, it will always screw up something. And not each organization or each community is willing to do all the things. Sometimes I as consultant have judgment about that, for example, a community that kicks out everything that has to do with feedback, I don’t think is a wise idea. And yet, isn’t that choice to do that? Absolutely. So the other side of that of that spectrum, from my point of view is that everybody will adapt to things that they see some value in, and it might be that they pick and choose, pick and choose is always risky, because you might miss key ingredients where you didn’t see the usefulness of them, but you will fill the gaps maybe years down the road. But then maybe if they’re alert enough, they might tweak, notice that and tweak it and fill the gap. So the question is, how much do we trust that people know what they need to know to hold their own system. And I think one side is a little over optimistic. And one side is a little under optimistic, I trust people a little bit more that they would say, Oh, just do what you think makes sense. But I also sometimes worry when I see people kicking out the seatbelts, for example. That is like the whole feedback system. For example. I’m, I’m skeptical of that. So in sociocracy, for all we’re trying to be the big umbrella that is holding all of it today, if I teach I might sound more than dial in if Christian but we also have I also work together with people in our organization that teach s3 and all kinds of other stuff. And to me that there’s no contradiction to me, these are all manifestations of the different flavors and different contexts that we might encounter, where we need all of it. So to me, there is no competition we need at all all the time. And we need to be good at distinguishing when is consultant might say hey, I think you should adopt more pieces. Or we might say hey, I think you have a good handle on it. How would you go with what you have for now? And that’s like the Serenity Prayer right? Will I always make good choices about that? Oops, always make good choices about that. That’s the question. But we’re all just winging it all the time anyway.
I, you know, it’s interesting to hear you talk about people that leave out feedback. I don’t know if you are if this is a direct experience that you have with groups that are leaving out the feedback, because I personally feel like feedback is probably one of the most valuable contributions of sociocracy. I know, it’s not unique to sociocracy. But the idea of not only are we creating proposals, but we’re, as a piece of our proposal as a piece of the plan that we’re wanting to implement, we’ve actually included evaluation criteria that we’re going to come back to later and make sure that it’s working. And we’re going to have methods by which we ask the community is this working and get their opinion. And all of that, to me feels like such a key piece of the safety of saying yes to something, especially if you have a you know, beef with it, I guess for lack of a better word, you know, if if, assuming that everyone does not always agree 100% with the proposal, knowing that like, Okay, this is this is good enough, for now safe enough to try, we can actually kind of just move forward with it as is. And we know that we’re going to come back to it in three months, we’re going to come back to it again, in six months, we’re going to be revisited again in a year, to make sure that this is actually working. We’ve actually put dates on the calendar that we’re going to evaluate this thing. I think that that’s such a brilliant piece of advice for communities, regardless of whether or not they’re using sociocracy. It’s one of those those nuggets of wisdom that I think really make things work. So I’m curious, how do you even have people that? What’s the what, why wouldn’t somebody want to do that?
Oh, I can tell you, I can totally tell you what they say. And they also have good points. So let me let me play devil’s advocate here. Do we really have to evaluate that? Again, we spend so much time evaluating things I don’t like all this process. Yeah, oh, actually, then there’s then there’s inter personal feedback that you didn’t even touch just now. Like, I remember when I was saying, in my own community, something to the effect of I would want us to have a more feedback rich environment just with with each other’s people, you know, somebody said, Hold on, somebody said, butthead, if we’re talking, if we’re giving. If we’re talking more about each other. Why would you want that? It just means that people talk more about behind other people’s back. I was like, wait, no, that’s not what I said, you know, but that’s where that person was taking more feet or more, you know, more feedback means more gossiping, like, no, that’s not what I meant. But that’s, it shows you where people’s minds go to almost automatically, you know, if like, Oh, more feedback, that means I’m going to hear more uncomfortable thing. And I’m going to have to tell people uncomfortable things. sounds super scary. Let’s not do it. And then you can argue and it also takes so much time, and we should leave when you know, we should rather plan this event, you know, and then people say I explained the event, you know, that’s how it happens. And then and then we’re exactly in the moment that we talked about in that in that in that tension between our let’s just pick and choose versus no. sociocracy is one system do it as it was intended? Because now in that moment, what do I tell the client? What What should the what should the organization do? You know, they’d say, Forget about the client, let, what should the organization, the community think about itself? So now, which way do we go? To? Are we able to say, No, we don’t want feedback? Is that a good idea? Are we are we exercising our right to choose our own system? Or are we making a pretty stupid mistake? No, it’s really I find those things hard to answer.
I mean, I think I think it comes down to the values of the organization and the values of the community is does your community value growth and learning? Is that a goal? Is that something that you aspire to as, as a community, and I think, you know, in the communities that I’m a part of, whether that’s social circles, or, you know, actual intentional community or, or business organizations, growth and learning is, is such a core value of mine personally, that it’s hard for that not to be a part of any organization that I’m a part of. And so the fact for me is that while we You can talk about it or not talk about it. But either way, the issue is there, like someone might not want personal painful feedback about a way that they’re behaving, that’s not prosocial, that doesn’t work for the group. But us not talking about it doesn’t mean that that issue goes away. It just means we’re not talking about it. And kind of the same with with with proposals, like, you know, if we don’t talk about whether or not this is working, then it doesn’t mean it’s working. It just means we’re not talking about it. So I always feel like, are we trying to grow? Are we trying, you know, if you’re a business or an organization, are you trying to continue to provide a better product or better service? Are you trying to learn more and create deeper intimacy with the people that you’re in relationship with? And, to me, if the answer is yes to any of those questions, then you need feedback. Just period?
Of course. Of course, I absolutely. I mean, yes, I completely agree with you. And then I wonder what we do with the people who don’t want longer meetings and don’t want this? And they don’t want that. So yes, I agree with you. And it’s, I guess, one thing I want to bring here, though, is that it’s never an all or nothing, right? So even somebody like you and me, because we’re on the same level, I, you know, I’m where you are on that. We don’t evaluate everything all the time. So even in a way, putting a review date, let’s say nine months into the future, or let’s say 12 months, because like, we just talked about it, you know? So that is almost a compromise, because in theory, if we take it to an extreme, everything should be evaluated every day, right? That’s also not what we do. So when it’s not an all or nothing, it’s kind of like, well, how much? How many things do you engage in feedback? On? And how often do you do it and there will always be negotiation to do around what level you want to be at. I mean, of course, people who are kind of categorically saying feedback, I don’t do feedback. That’s of course, hard. But there’s always feedback around us, even if people don’t want to engage in it. Now, so where do we go with that? And actually, one thing that’s pretty key for me in sociocracy, is just the, the insight that circus is compatible with either, right? It’s super flexible, you can schedule a review every week, you can schedule a review every 15 years. sociocracy is just the pattern language that lets you define that. And the problem almost is that now in sociocracy, of choice, which means I want us to make a choice, like if I’m in a circle, we’re going to make a choice of what the review data is going to be. Which means we now have to engage in that question of how far is how fast do we want to go? How quick and dirty do when do things? Or how much do we want to spend on our process caretaking. And not everybody is ready to be intentional in that area of their life, they kind of are used to that somehow being preset by the system. But in this case, it’s not. So now whether you do so and I noticed that just so often that sociocracy gives you more choice and people are actually used to having and that is a little overwhelming for some.
Yeah, or even beyond more choice, you know, as you were saying you were used to society or the government, creating the metrics. And now we’re saying actually, we’re going to create the metrics. And to me that really speaks to, you know, if people have an aversion to creating metrics or creating criteria for evaluation, it’s like, well, what, what do you need to feel safe? You know, there’s definitely been times when I’ve gone in for personal feedback. And I’ve had to be really clear, you know what, today, I can’t receive critical feedback. Like the feedback I can get today, the feedback I’m open to receiving today really needs to be positive because my mental state actually can’t handle negative criticism right now. Not to say I can never handle it just today. I can’t handle it. And you know, maybe there’s there’s opportunities for folks inside of who might have an aversion to feedback to say, Okay, well, this is the type of feedback that I’m open to receiving today or this is the type of feedback that this project can can bear right now while we’re getting off the ground. But I just I love that there’s a possibility to design it, how we how we want it to be
and you examine It’s beautiful, I love it. And it’s beautiful because it shows both how it is manageable. to design it the way it’s to to fit with where you’re at, but it also shows at the same time The point that it was making about just the level of clarity and inner clarity that we need to have to make a request like that. I mean, most people just shut down and don’t talk at all or don’t come to the meeting, you know, I mean, that is where some people’s if they don’t even engage then with that, so having the clarity about what am I, what capacity do I have right now? What am I needs? What am I? How much learning Am I willing to do today? That’s, that’s, of course, that’s golden. You know, that’s great. And it’s sort of a tall order. So the point that it’s a tall order still stands? Yeah, and I think we can all learn it, it just requires being more in touch with ourselves having more more of a sense of what the tools are that we’re playing with being better at using those tools. So that’s where I go with all of that of like, oh, yeah, if we’re all clear about these choices, these are the feedback systems they are this is how we could do it this time, and good connection to ourselves, where am I at with this? Now? How do we make a choice together, that that meets where we are as a group, that’s the learning to me. And I do assume, actually, that in the next few years, we will all get better at that we just really have to do a lot of learning to get there.
Well, my final question for you really is kind of just to bring all of this full circle, you know, as you think about your journey, and and both personally and with sociocracy. And this value that I see of creating inclusive contexts for people to to thrive. What are the patterns that you’ve noticed in the communities that have been the most successful in creating these levels of inclusivity, either through their governance or through their personal, more interpersonal policies?
Well, I’m very, very fortunate and that this community has done a lot of work, because we’re such an old community right into has been established for a long time. So there has been a lot of learning that has happened. You know, many people got trained in nonviolent communication, and Byron, Katie, and whatnot, all kinds of stuff. And that just created, I think, most spaciousness to really receive each other. More often, in our net, nothing is ever fully perfect, but just creating more space so that people can be who they are. And I do hear from people, I wasn’t there. So I just hear from people who count their blessings that we don’t do those big decision making meetings that used to happen anymore, and how the loud voices were heard back then, and how that all calmed down so much. So I think both about inclusivity. And also about governance. That’s one thing, I guess that I keep going back to. And that is that good process, both around inclusion and good decision making good processes quiet. And it’s so sometimes we have people who were like, Oh, it’s so good a community can we can we come visit and witness you know, your governance system? Like we have these sociocracy tourists and I couldn’t see quite a bit? And my answer is always, you’re welcome to come. And just know that there’s basically nothing to see. Because what you see, what you see is the absence of drama, what you see is the absence of people who are upset because they don’t exclude it. What do you see is the absence of all of these things, you know, not again, not that everything is perfect, there might be people who said, you know, this, and that wasn’t great. And I would have liked to have been heard on this or that. But ultimately, it’s just rather quiet and almost boring. And that’s what I would want. Because then we can focus on the get together that’s that we want to do you know, then we can focus on things. And there are some big things that we’re dealing with right now. So it’s not even as quiet right now as it could be. But ultimately, that’s where I want to go right, just doing things together, and not having to work through so much drama. But I guess people sometimes it’s my sense, they expect something more grandiose and I just expect silence on that silence but quiet, you know, quiet and calm and focus on each other and the work that we do. That’s that’s what I want. So that will then also be inclusive.
Yeah, there are some other pieces that have really served us that we’ve already thought but plenty like the feedback things like for example, I recently learned from a neighbor that she disliked chickens that we do, not the way we do them, but she just dislikes them in general and that was such a good learning from you if like, wow, okay, we found a tweak that worked for her. So having that can do attitude of just speaking whatever you do, really sort of the Swaledale and how present it is consistently and cannot tell. So, all work in progress.
Beautiful. Well, Ted Rao, thank you so much for spending some time with us and sharing your story and your perspectives on sociocracy. It’s been a lovely conversation with you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode of the inside community podcast. Ted Rao has a couple of books available through the fic bookstore, I recommend checking out who decides who decides is the essential guide on how to form a group within three meetings and establish shared power and self management. His other book many voices one song is a manual on how to implement sociocracy and is CO written by Jerry Cook Gonzalez, with whom he’ll be teaching the sociocracy demystified course, that’s also offered through the fic. If you check out my show notes, I’m going to have links to all of that as well as discount codes for the class, and the books. And if you’re in an internet mood, I hope you’ll come and check out my website at ic.org/podcast for the show. And while you’re there, please consider making a donation to the show. I love creating this content, but I got bills to pay y’all. You making a contribution helps to keep this thing going. And I really, really appreciate it. You can also learn more about community and community life by finding me on Facebook and Instagram at inside community podcast. I would love to hear from you there. So please don’t hesitate to reach out. Of course reading and reviewing the show and sharing it with your friends is also a great support. So please pass this on to anyone you know who’s interested in community and collaborative culture. Thanks so much for sticking with me and I really look forward to seeing you next time. Take care
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About the Show
The Inside Community Podcast brings folks along for an inside look at all of the beautiful and messy realities of creating and sustaining a community. We provide useful and inspiring content to support people on their quest for resilience, sustainability, and connection.
Meet Your Host
Inside Community Podcast host Rebecca Mesritz is a community builder living in Williams, Oregon. In 2011, Rebecca co-founded the Emerald Village (EVO) in North County San Diego, California. During her ten years with EVO, she supported and led numerous programs and initiatives including implementation and training of the community in Sociocracy, establishment of the Animal Husbandry program, leadership of the Land Circle, hosting numerous internal and external community events, and participation in the Human Relations Circle which holds the relational, spiritual and emotional container for their work.
In June of 2021, with the blessing of EVO, Rebecca and 3 other co-founders relocated to begin a new, mission- driven community and learning center housed on 160 acres of forest and farmland. Rebecca is passionate about communal living and sees intentional community as a tool for both personal and cultural transformation. In addition to her work in this field, she also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from San Diego State University and creates functional, public, and interactive art in metal, wood, and pretty much any other material she can get her hands on. She is a mother, a wife, an educator, a nurturer of gardens, an epicurean lover of sustainable wholesome food, and a cultivator of compassion and beauty.
Support the Podcast
Your donation will directly support the production of the Inside Community Podcast, a co-production of host Rebecca Mesritz and the Foundation for Intentional Community (FIC).
Thank you for your support!
The Inside Community Podcast is sponsored by the Foundation for Intentional Community (FIC). Reach out if you are interested in sponsorship or advertisement opportunities on the podcast.