UPDATED 10/19/23: Skip ahead to the updated chart.
In this post, we’re presenting an exciting update as we transition our co-op from idea to reality. We’ve signed an engagement letter with our lawyer, Alix Devendra of Aligned Law, to begin formal incorporation this week. That may not sound exciting, but it reflects how much we’ve grown and how “real” our vision is becoming!
Soon, we will be an incorporated cooperative corporation with a Board of Directors, as outlined in our Ownership Model Canvas. So it’s time to update our organizational structure: our governance, decision-making processes, and work organization.
Up until now, we have been a loose and merry band of 15 or more “Organizers” working cooperatively on the initial creation of our new co-op. There were no titles, roles, or hierarchies – simply a flat self-described “Round Table” of people, using the “teal” advice decision making process from Reinventing Organizations. Happily, we have worked together quite seamlessly this way for the past nine months. The folks who want to work on this are passionate, cooperative, generous, and kind.
Since we are entirely volunteer-managed until we can afford to hire staff, it was necessary to have a big group of people working together, more than our future 7-member Board of Directors affords us. In other words: we need more structure, even though we still reject the idea of a formal and traditional corporate hierarchy, which we believe can silence opinions and creativity.
Luckily, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create a working and workable non-hierarchical structure. It’s called sociocracy, also called dynamic governance. Sociocracy is a set of tools and principles that ensures shared power and helps us make inclusive, collaborative decisions by listening to everyone’s voices.
The sociocracy concept was introduced to us early-on by community members on our Discord, going as far back as fall of 2022. Many who were passionate about platform co-ops and economic justice are also passionate about this governance concept. When looking at our current group and work, this structure made the most sense and represents an easy and incremental transition from our round table of organizers.
The nonprofit organization Sociocracy for All provides the best explanation and tools for this concept. Their mission is to help organizations, communities, workplaces and collectives to learn how to organize in a decentralized way and make their decisions with equity, efficiency, empowerment, trust and transparency.
A good starting place to learn about this structure is this 20-min introduction video:
Sociocracy organizes all the work of an organization into an interconnected group of committees, which are visually represented as overlapping circles (sometimes also referred to as bubbles). Each circle is an autonomous decision-making body, which decides by consent (not consensus).
The cellular circle structure is fluid, like bee honeycomb, and can be changed easily as the organization changes, and as we add paid staff. Circles can be added or archived as the work changes.
Where the circles overlap are at least two members in common, who make sure that information is shared throughout the organization and that no circle decides over another one. Within each circle, there is a structured set of tools and roles to make sure the committee works professionally and cooperatively, with notetaking, leaders, discussion structure, and more.
Our first sociocracy chart currently looked like this:
UPDATE OCTOBER 2023:
After creating our first sociocracy chart, our team was fortunate to have a conversation about our chart with Sassy Facilitation. Kate “Sassy” Sassoon advised us to update our chart often — but not too often, every 6-18 months or so. After 6 months of use and a major change in our organization from one building a marketplace to one operating a marketplace, we updated our chart.
Sassy also advised us to simplify our chart: a sociocracy chart is not an org chart for organizing work, it is a decision-making chart. It should identify who is empowered to make what decisions, not who is on the team and what each person is doing. Our October 2023 sociocracy reflects this advice, with a simplification to “one ring” rather than tiered rings, and folds important empowered committees inside their respective teams. The committees are denoted by squares instead of circles.
Meeples represent the decision-makers and communicators within the organization. We aim to have a central committee of team leads who meet weekly, two team leads per circle, and no one person leading more than two teams. Committees take overall direction from team leads but manage the decisions for their own work within that team independently.
As Sassy advised us, these circles make intuitive sense to us as Homo sapiens. Circles are the original, ancient organizational structure, just like cooperation, predating militaries/corporate hierarchies. But we all have to de-program from our careers and schools to think collaboratively rather than hierarchically. Everyone on our team is going through the same journey, learning to work together in a new, better way. Our decision-making is reflected in the “teal” strategy of Reinventing Organizations, and that takes some getting used to, but overall it is empowering, heart-warming and our cooperative future.
There’s a lot of work to be done: join us in creating a better handmarketplace!
What do you think about sociocracy? Share your thoughts, questions, and concerns with us in the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Artisans Cooperative
We are growing an online handmade marketplace for an inclusive network of creatives: a co-op alternative to Etsy.
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