Sociocratic organizing at an organization for child care

2011 – This organization for childcare before or after school times and in holidays (Het Buitenschoolse Net) is located in Oss in the Netherlands. It has a real bottom-up organizational structure with an appropriate form of employee participation: the Sociocratic Circle Organization Method (Sociocratische Kringorganisatiemethode).
‘Het Buitenschoolse Net’ is born out of a collaboration between a school organization and an organization for child care. Apart from childcare around school times the organization provides care mediation, child minding and courses and activities for school children. The organization has grown significantly over the past decade and now has nearly 100 employees and 180 volunteers and has a management team, board of directors, a board of trustees and a form of employee participation that is embedded in the teams.

Why this is workplace innovation
The childcare organization is a real bottom- up organization and wants to involve its employees also in decision-making. Eventually it was chosen for the Sociocratic Circle Organization Method. This is a method that can be applied in any kind of organization, and starts from the idea that people are unequal and unique individuals, but equivalent in the decision-making. With the introduction of this method, there were formed ‘policy circles’ and ‘self-organizing and developing teams’. A group of employees is jointly responsible for the development and establishment of policies and services. In this way employees have much responsibility and control, creating a high degree of employee involvement in the organization.

Goal

Because of the rapid growth the organization had to install a Works Council that is mandatory for organizations with 50 or more employees according to the Law. Monique Wösten, director of Het Buitenschoolse Net, indicates that they were looking for a form of participation in which all employees are involved.

Approach

Directors, managers and staff choose for the ‘Sociocratic Circle Organization Method’. At the heart of this method stands the ‘consent principle’. This means that there is just talk until no one of the group members has an objection to the decision to be taken. Note that ‘consent’ is not the same as ‘consensus’ or veto, someone need not fully agree and yet give his or her consent and in case there is an objection there will be looked at the argument for it.
In 2008, the organization contacted the Sociocratic Centre Netherlands, in Rotterdam. There was made a plan for the implementation and early 2009, the various teams (circles) were formed. After this, information meetings were organized and they started the implementation of the sociocratic way of working in May.
The consultation structures are fixed now and the teams meet once every four to six weeks. Of each circle/team one delegate participates in the meeting of a circle one layer higher in the hierarchy and vice versa a supervisor participates in the meeting of an underlying circle. This double clutch provides great commitment of the teams and responsibility for their own teams. It requires good communication skills of the participants. The chair of the meeting is chosen by an election based on open argumentation. There are two training experts working in the organization who train the employees in this form of participation.

Results
It was not dissatisfaction among employees that was the reason to start this process of decision making, says Monique Wösten. With the introduction of this approach a project group is installed which monitors the implementation and measures the satisfaction of employees. In 2010 a baseline study was done showing highly satisfied employees. The response was 94%. On the statement: ‘I can feel co-responsibility for the companies’ policy’ 89% answered  ‘agree/strongly agree’. ‘Job satisfaction’ scored 93 % and the statement ‘I can explain to colleagues what we are doing’ scored 91% agreement. The plan is to do a follow up measurement in 2011 to examine the experiences of staff as they have worked for a longer period of  time with this method and had the opportunity to get used it.

Tips

Monique Wösten indicates that you should take into account that the introduction of the Sociocratic Circle Organization Method will require an investment and you should not choose for it when you want to save time. When you ensure that employees feel jointly responsible for achieving team goals and that they collaborate purposefully then the involvement with the own team and with the entire organization will grow.

Reference
More information about the Sociocratic method: www.sociocratie.nl and about the organization for childcare:  www.buitenschoolsenet.nl