My guest this week is Ted Rau, operational leader of Sociocracy For All. If you’re not familiar with sociocracy, Ted does a great job of explaining it during our conversation, but I’ll just say briefly here that it’s a fantastic way that people can organise themselves to get things done in an inclusive and democratic way – whether that’s in intentional communities, for profit or non-profit organisations, neighbourhoods – or who knows, maybe one day, even governments.

Ted spends most of his time training and consulting in sociocracy and leading SoFA as an organisation. He is co-author of the sociocracy handbook Many Voices, One Song. When he’s not busy sociocratising, he writes articles, and teaches meeting facilitation, and also takes an active interest the co-housing movement, transgender rights, and non-violent communication. His background is in linguistics, which taught him to find patterns that work well for the human mind, and break things down so they can be easily understood.

One of the reasons I get excited about sociocracy is that research shows that something like 85% of employees are disengaged in the workplace, but that figure improves dramatically when people work for themselves, meaning they have more power of self-determination. And yet we often need to work with others in order to get stuff done. So sociocracy seems to be the best of both worlds – it gives us a way to collaborate in ways that create trust, respect, autonomy, and engagement.

We have another conversation on sociocracy coming up in three weeks, with John Buck and Monika Megyesi, when you’ll have a chance to find out more about these important ideas.

Patreons can enjoy this podcast from today. If you’re not yet a supporter on Patreon, do please consider signing up. Benefits for patrons include live zoom calls with me, and access to the video version of the conversation. Else you can enjoy this podcast from next week for free on the usual podcast platforms.

And our archive of conversations – with Charles Eisenstein, Tim Jackson, Jude Currivan, Bill McKibben and Sharon Blackie are available for free on Spotify, and now also on Apple Podcasts!

Favourite Quotes:

[Sociocracy is] very much peer oriented, in that teams make decisions by consent, so they only move forward on decisions if everybody on the team can say, yes, that’s something I can get behind.

You have a lot of coherence in the system, because people are connected and talking to each other and have that sense of alignment with each other.

Instead of having a boss that aligns us, because we’re all equals under this boss, instead we’re all there for that shared purpose.

Let’s say six people in the room speak one by one. And that sounds slow and tedious. But really, what happens is that it slows down to what I would call a human pace, so that you actually start to listen to each other. Instead of sitting at the edge of your seat, waiting to jump in with that cool idea that you have, you actually listen to what is being said. You’re not in the future in the past, you’re actually in the moment. So you listen to each other. And that’s where things can really happen.

Sometimes I just want to walk around and raise people’s expectations, to say that meetings can actually be connecting and productive and fun and all of that. You can have the expectation that you will be heard at the meeting.

Hierarchy is typically something that we know, hierarchy is something that we’ve seen in schools, that we’ve seen in university if we went there, that we’ve seen in our families and everywhere around us. Hierarchy is something that we are accustomed to. If we’re in the middle of a hierarchical chain, then basically, it’s fairly obvious what we need to do. Yet in a sociocratic system, everybody needs to understand how it works, because it’s decentralized.

What I like and also find tricky about sociocracy is that both sides have to learn. Those who are in power have to let go of power, and accept that other people are making decisions about things. But on the other side, people who like to defer to other people, and who don’t want to step up, or who don’t want to use systems, because they just want to be in a structure, they also need to change their behaviours, right. So really, both sides have to get to this middle place of balance. And that’s not trivial, it actually changes a lot about how people think about themselves. So there’s a lot of personal transformation that typically happens for people that comes along with us.

My belief is that if we teach people how to self organize, they’re going to be able to make a difference wherever they are. So it is teaching governance and self governance in particular. It’s a decentralized solution that can actually make a difference on a systemic level. That’s what excites me.

One of the strengths of decentralized systems is that they tend to be more resilient. So instead of this slightly rigid and somewhat slow system, you have a system where many different entities can make changes wherever they needed. So that’s pretty powerful. And it also helps in navigating uncertainty because you can make more small changes, closer to where the action is and respond faster.

Now people are noticing more and more the downsides of the systems we have, and how vulnerable we are, and these somewhat rigid structures. And that we simply can’t afford to continue. This current system is basically maxed out, we’re coming towards a place where structures simply break down, and we need new systems. And I know that that many people are aware of that, and they are looking for these decentralized systems and trying to make that work. So that’s literally what gets me out of bed.

[After first experience of sociocratic meeting] I heard myself say, Wow, I’m leaving this meeting feeling more connected, and more refreshed than when I came, and I thought, hmm, that’s not typically what happens in meetings! What was different here? And I noticed it was, for example, the rounds and the whole vibe of it, and the ease with which we flowed together. I was like, wow, this is cool.

It’s the transformative nature that I find really fascinating, of giving people the gift of being able to manage their own things, and having that level of autonomy for people, and ultimately creating spaces that are more inclusive for everybody, because in our current systems, so many people fall through the cracks. And it’s both not not fair, and it’s also not sustainable, right, because you can just ignore whole parts of the population and think that you’re going to get away with it forever. That’s just not going to happen. Plus, we don’t want it to happen. So it’s really the social change aspect that that got me to where I am.

Being German, of course, I reckoned with the legacy of Holocaust in my country. And as a teenager, I had a really profound insight. Obviously, the vast majority of people had colluded with the system. And I remember sitting there as a teenager and thinking, Hold on… If the vast majority of people colluded, I would have to. Because I’m not a better human being than 98% of the population. And I realised that we tell ourselves that we have a lot of choice, but really we’re so dependent on the system around us. And that’s a really humbling thought to realise, wow, I can really be in out of integrity if the system bends me out of shape every day. And that’s what people experience right? So one doesn’t even have to go to fascism to get there. It’s already in the current system that people have bent out of shape every day of their lives. That’s what systems do. So for me, it was it was Nazi Germany that got me to this realization of just how much power systems have – the ecosystem that we grow up in and that we operate in.


Featured image by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

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