Dynamic Governance and 21st-Century Organizational Relevance
The 21st century is witnessing hundreds of millions of people caught up in cascading systemic transformation. Global society has crossed a threshold. We’ve entered the time of the Great Transition—a time when we hospice outworn ways of living that no longer serve us and the Earth, and give birth to an emergent, more compassionate, and resilient future.
Successful navigation of the uncharted climate change and sociopolitical territory before us requires that we: embrace uncertainty; unlearn much of what we think we already know about our world; and embody the understanding of non-dual reality.
We all make meaning and find purpose using whatever tools and information are available. Global society is on an ecologically self-sabotaging course because the meaning we’ve made of the world is distorted by the illusion of disconnection. Our beliefs, behaviors, and the choices we’ve made proceed from the lenses of separation through which we’ve been trained to see for generations.
Western society, in particular, is built on the flawed cognitive foundation of duality. We’re educated to focus on analysis of atomized parts to the exclusion of their interdependence with all other parts of the larger system. This is the worldview in which hierarchical dominance, power-and-control dynamics, competition, hyper-individualism, compartmentalized approaches, and lack of communication prevails in organizations and isolates individuals.
The organizations that we generate inherently reflect the quality of our own consciousness in the moment. Organizations that want to be relevant vehicles for our work in social change during these kaleidoscopic times need to “unlearn” linear, disconnected, and static approaches to governance. They must commit to ongoing transformation in sync with incessant societal shifts. Therefore, we—AND the organizations that serve us—are poised by existential necessity to deliberately take the next evolutionary step in consciousness. We stand at the proverbial evolve or die precipice.
Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
He pushed them… and they flew.
We have the capacity to leave the familiar nest of predict-and-control, top down organizational structures—and fly. Among a new generation of governance processes grounded in evolutionary culture-building, ‘dynamic governance’ (also known as sociocracy or governance by the socios: i.e., those who associate together) creates safe space for innovative self-expression, emergence of the unexpected, and universally equivalent agency. These are the hallmarks of 21st-century organizational relevance.
Conventional hierarchical organizational structures are not designed to deal with our current complex, multifaceted, existential challenges. The top-down structure is an inherited carry-over from a simpler more static industrial-age environment. Organizations now are pointlessly scrambling to adapt rigid hierarchical structures to rapidly shifting circumstances and unpredictable disruptions. Out of step with the speed of incessant change in today’s world, they lurch from crisis to crisis. We are witnessing, firsthand, the crumbling of old organizing principles that no longer meet society’s needs.
Organizations that strategically plan in static frameworks in these increasingly uncertain times perpetuate lumbering structures that are maladapted to emergent, dynamic, creative tensions. They avoid conflict that inevitably emerges and ignore most feedback-dissonance that contradicts “the established plan” in which they feel invested. Such organizations are then compelled to repeatedly and disruptively reorganize when it’s realized that the prevailing lines of force can change in a nanosecond.
The Rise of Implicit Governance
When hierarchically-controlled organizations “message” egalitarianism and go through the motions of collaboration without explicit feedback and accountability mechanisms in place, an implicit power structure emerges. Culturally “understood” social norms that protect centered power behind the scenes develop. An implicit system centers power in one person or a small set of persons. Although “invisible,” the implicit power brokerage is keenly felt, highly political, and resists change.
Organizations that are up to 21st-century challenges mimic complex adaptive living systems and decentralize authority. Their interconnected constituent elements self-organize and change relationships among themselves fluidly in order to easily adapt to environmental changes. Participants don’t execute decisions made by superiors in a hierarchical chain of command. They tap into their own creativity, adapt, and make adjustments that further the organization’s purpose.
Dynamic governance is a social technology for governing and operating organizations and networks. It distributes policymaking throughout all levels of the organization and establishes equivalence among its members within their domain of responsibility. It maximizes:
- Equivalence through egalitarian distribution of authority and the universal power to influence.
- Transparency through flow of information and collective values.
- Efficacy through continuous evolution and adaptation to changing contexts.
- Productivity by making tensions explicit and establishing processes that use them as fuel for innovation and evolutionary change.
- Commitment and buy-in by affirming and applying the collective genius that proceeds from a confluence of varied vantage points.
- Harmony through unity.
Dynamic governance incorporates the principles of: Quaker process; whole systems and applied complexity theories; nature systems dynamics (biomimicry); and evolutionary culture-design. Nonhierarchical egalitarianism that mirrors the interconnectedness of nature organically guides organizations toward maximizing their potential.
Dynamic governance outcomes:
- Provide sustainable, accountable, and adaptable governance that is effective regardless of the financial state of an organization or network.
- Address and diffuses multiple “ism” inequities and power imbalances.
- Thrive in complex, uncertain, and unstable times.
Dynamic governance anticipates and accommodates complex, multilayered, and interconnected 21st-century challenges and ever-emerging, ever-shortening timeframes. The governance process increases capacity to effectively handle accelerated uncertainty.
Organizations that have implemented dynamic governance become adaptive organisms that foster innovation. Tensions that emerge are viewed as valued, important sensors of the human consciousness which are harnessed for creative change and evolution. Channels are established to process insights as they emerge.
Dynamic governance distributes authority among all constituents through a process and explicit organizational agreements which cultivate the whole. Authority shifts from “veterans,” personality-cults, or “resourced” leadership to egalitarian organizational processes. The circle configuration and decision-making process ensures and safeguards everyone’s agency.
Decision-making principles revolve around:
- Consent: policy decisions are made with the consent of those who are most directly affected. Consent is defined as “no objections,” “good enough for now,” and “safe enough to try,” which creates space for change. Policies facilitate day-to-day tasks and resolve issues to achieve organizational aims.
- Circles: policy decisions are delegated to circles composed of all members of a decision-making body. In meetings, all members function as equals and elect their own officers: a convener, a facilitator, a delegate (an elected representative), and a recording secretary. Day-to-day operational decisions are made by the convener and/or facilitator within the policies established by the circle and the larger organization. Conveners, facilitators, and delegates are equal members of the circle.
- Double Linking: the convener and a delegate participate in other issue-related circles. Circles are arranged according to scope of decision-making. The General Discernment Circle, for example, is composed of linked representatives of circles dealing with more specific aims and issues. Double links create overlapping participation in decision-making by members of various circles. This establishes communications and feedback loops.
Following are common dynamic governance practices:
- Nominations and elections are conducted exclusively by consent after discussion (not a majority-vote election). All circle members participate in assigning roles and responsibilities.
- Rounds invite each person to speak in turn and are used to maintain equivalence in a meeting. They balance the discussion giving each person the opportunity to speak and to ensure that everyone participates in decisions.
- Evaluations are conducted as each policy decision is reviewed periodically. Evaluations include feedback on member work and emergent role needs.
- Transparency is essential when all members are expected to exercise agency in their own development and that of their circle. Information must flow continually and be readily available for effective and informed decision-making.
What Is Possible?
Dynamic governance offers an opportunity to translate the unlearning of antiquated worldviews directly into governance of organizations that serve social transformation. We start by fully accepting that the old system no longer serves us in these tumultuous times.
We can resist the temptation to look at, and work on, local, national, and global problems in isolation. We can withstand the siren song of the old paradigm, calling us to reflexively try and find “the right part to fix.” We can cease trying to strategically tinker with our organizations or reshuffle their elements expecting a result beyond mediocrity. We can accept the reality that comprehensive, holistic transformation that creates space for evolution will lead to efficacy and sustain relevance.
Culture-building that accompanies an organization’s adoption of dynamic governance expects participants to enthusiastically do the introspective work that shifts their worldview toward serving the aims of the whole. By embracing dynamic governance, we willingly step into increased autonomy, personal responsibility, and opportunities to grow. We contribute to authentically collaborative workplaces and community relationships. Dynamic governance provides a pathway for those whose organizations and networks are ready to stand in the epicenter of social transformation and offers an evolutionary response to society’s multitiered, existential challenges.