So I’ve been reading We The People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy which is a book recommended in The Culture Game by my good friend Dan Mezick. This book describes sociocracy which is a consent-based governance system that looks a whole lot like scalable self-organizing teams. Ok, sounds esoteric, right? I agree, the book has been on my bookshelf for at least 6 months and I’m not quite sure why I picked it up, but am really happy I did.
Ok, I just lied, I picked it up because I’m trying to start a new user group in NYC focused on the the human dynamics and culture of high performance teams and I want to create a great self-organizing leadership team. But I digress……
This morning in the subway, I read the following in a description of teams that practice sociocracy:
The requirement to resolve objections transforms decision making from a struggle for control into a process of puzzle solving.
That resonated for me. In my experience on the few “magic teams” throughout my career that had really achieved high performance, they made some really great decisions. And it wasn’t about power or the leader or anything else – it was really about the best decision. It also wasn’t because we wanted what’s best for the team (although we did), but our mindset was different; it was about solving the problem at hand. And when we had a breakthrough – no matter who suggested the original idea – there was a collective feeling of success. The mindset here was “decisions are all about problem-solving”.
I didn’t realize it until this morning, but decision-making techniques are a really good way to evaluate the ability of an organization to get things done. Those who can make good decisions repeatably will be much more effective. And, as the wisdom of crowds tells us, a diverse set of independent non-experts will make better decisions than experts every single time.
Again, looking back at my experiences, but this time with teams and organizations that are struggling, they had difficulty making good decisions. They could not leverage the expertise of the people they hired and payed good money. Decisions were often made by managers and those in power who were usually several levels removed from the problems at hand. This, unsurprisingly, led to low performance and mediocre results. In these cultures, decisions were tied to power. The mindset was “the important people make the decisions.”
Ok, so why am I blogging about this? Well, the idea of “self organizing teams” has always been an ill-defined part of the message of the agile community. How do they scale? (Scrum of scrums has never worked for me.) How do self-organizing teams work together? Can we get the same level of performance that we get in small teams?
This is a step along the way of answering these questions. Effective self-organizing teams make decisions with a mindset of “problem-solving” instead of “power”. Mindsets can scale. In fact, changing your mindset is often instantaneous. Also, this is a good diagnostic tool when looking at teams and organizations – how do they make decisions?