Integrity in the Organization

We often talk about — or hear about — companies and leaders and integrity.  Integrity is frequently defined as “acting in accord with high moral values” or the like.  I prefer a completely different definition which often has the same effect.  I prefer to speak of integrity as wholeness.

In this article, I will focus on wholeness of communities — particularly work communities, particularly businesses.  I have written elsewhere on the DecisionLab blog ( about personal integrity, and can also recommend the work of my mentors Drs. Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks ( on the subject.
Organisational integrity is, as I said, all about wholeness.  We can borrow a definition from physics — the definition of coherence — to define wholeness in a living system.  Wholeness is the property of non-destructive interference between elements of the system and between the system and its environment.
Let’s unpack those words with examples.  Interference, in a business context, is simply interaction — talking, trading, directing.  The popular and business media are full of examples of destructive interference — from oil spills to failed mergers to management-labour disputes.  Non-destructive interference means collaboration, where teams, businesses, communities and ecosystems produce more value for each than they would be able to produce on their own.  Integrity does not come from “leaving well enough alone”; you must connect in order to be whole.
Cybernetics looks at the relations between parts of a system as feedback loops — flows of information, also known as influence, from one part of the system to another. The wholeness of a system, the non-destructive interference between all its parts and its environment, can be seen as a web of feedback loops that ensure information (value, influence) from any part of the system can easily and quickly reach any other part of the system.
In practice, these feedback loops are often blocked, distorted, incomplete.  One part of the organisation fails to talk to another.  Instructions are incomplete; feedback is ignored.  Changes in the environment (customers, regulators, suppliers, ecology) aren’t acknowledged in the Boardroom or the shop floor.  Promises made in one place aren’t kept in another.  Parts of the system are disconnected.  Or destructive interference emerges, drama escalates, and political factions go to war with one another.
To maintain the smooth flow of information, creativity and power throughout the organisation, we need to develop four key ways of organising our selves:
We must learn to give appreciative awareness to changing and challenging circumstances, in order to stay in touch with what is new.
We must learn to speak honestly and listen for others’ truth, to resonate with our environment and thus integrate our perspectives.
We must learn to invent new ways of creating what we want (rather than blaming ourselves or our environment for what hasn’t worked, and escalating the drama).
We must learn to complete what we promise, either by getting it done efficiently or by changing our agreements so they match what we want and what works.
These shared skills are essential, and they enable the core processes of organisational integrity.  To ensure the wholeness of our living community, we must also look at structure and relationships as well as process (as Fritjof Capra suggested in his definition of living systems).
Three organising principles suffice to ensure structural integrity of the organisation:
1) the organisation is made up of “circles”, teams which each organise themselves to accomplish a shared aim of delivering value to their environment in exchange for what they need;
2) each circle makes the rules (“policy”) by which it will operate through “sociocratic consent”, a particular participatory decision-making method, and then follows those rules (whatever they may be) to accomplish their work.  Each policy is a scientific experiment, with a particular theory about the expected successful outcome, and a time at which to review results and make another experiment (with new policy) as appropriate;
3) each circle is linked to the other circles of the organisation via a double-link, one a manager delegated down from above and the other a representative elected up from below; the representative is always elected by consent during a circle meeting.
The participation of both up- and down-links in the consent-based circle meetings ensures that the entire organisation is woven together in a web of feedback loops, and that people cannot ignore the influence carried by these loops.  Links to the environment are integrated in the system both through measuring connections to the environment through things like sales, and by bringing some representatives of the organisation’s environment onto the Board (the top circle).
Lastly, the pattern of relationships in an organisation is key to the maintenance of wholeness.  Living systems are “autopoietic networks”, which means that each part of the network makes another part, and thus they form (and reproduce) themselves.  Human communities throughout history have raised, trained, and initiated their members.  This process breaks down when members are not supported by their colleagues to develop in skill and wisdom, when there aren’t “mentoring tracks”, when the organisation cannot launch entrepreneurial ventures internally and instead can only buy them in.  Each circle must be able to support the development of its members, and the organisation as a whole must be able to easily launch circles with entrepreneurial aims, and support them to mature engagement with the enterprise as a whole.
When organisations have integrity, the people in them prosper, and the organisations themselves become rich in well-being, rich in material wealth, physically secure, agile in responding to opportunities and resilient in the face of harm.  Every code of morals describes what person or an organisation with integrity does in certain circumstances.  Morals are a visible product of integrity, not its source.  When we are smoothly integrated with one another and with our environment, creatively and dynamically engaged, what Buddhists call “right action” emerges without struggle as the most expedient path to our goal.

Developing an Effective Sociocratic Organisation

A Two-Day Introduction to Sociocracy for Practitioners

Click HERE to register

Course Summary
Healthy organisations rely on a strong shared purpose and great relationships, where trust makes space for innovation and where passionately engaged workers can take the lead in their areas of expertise. Sociocracy is a proven way of running (and re-designing) an organisation, with forty years of accumulated practical knowledge and a clear, simple, whole-system design. In two days of experiential learning, play, and hands-on consulting sessions for the real organisations of the people who attend, we will cover the basics you need in order to apply Sociocracy to create a healthy, effective, and long-lasting organisation.

Who this course is for
If you are a founder, a leader, a director, a consultant or a passionate organiser, this course is for you. The course is designed for people who run their own businesses or charities, and want a robust system of governance and management to make growth easier, succession drama-free, and team-mates fully engaged.

When and Where
This course will take place on the 11th and 12th of April from 9.30am to 5pm.
The course will be held at Jury’s Inn Brighton, 101 Stroudley Street, Brighton, BN1 4DJ. Jury’s Inn is situated right behind Brighton Station, click HERE for map.

There will be an informal evening event on the 11th, most likely involving eating out at one of Brighton’s many restaurants, while we discuss and build on our day’s learning, and get to know one another.

How to Register
Please complete our registration form by clicking HERE. Please pay by bank transfer or cheque: payment details are on the registration form.


Early bird prices until 28th February: Price includes course manuals with permission to reprint for internal use in your organisation, as well as coffee and tea throughout. Dinner on Saturday night not included.
Discount price for ACMAC and Aptivate members; also Early Bird price, please book before the end of February: £180
Second (third, etc.) person attending from the same organisation, paying at same time please: £120

Regular prices from 1st March: Price includes course manuals with permission to reprint for internal use in your organisation, as well as coffee and tea throughout. Dinner on Saturday night not included.
Full Price: £210
Discount price for ACMAC and Aptivate members£180
Second (third, etc.) person attending from the same organisation, paying at same time please: £150

Content will include, according to participant needs:
Overview: history, use and benefits of Sociocracy
Learn and opportunities to practice or observe the 4 fundamental ingredients: decision making by consent, elections by consent, double linking and organising via self-managing circles.
The Vision Mission and Aims statement
Required roles
Circle meeting format
Separation of Policy and Operations
Use of measuring and feedback in operations
Have the meetings you need — and only those

Sample Course Schedule
9.30am Start with Coffee & Tea and informal chat
10:00am Welcome
10:15am Why are you here? [fill out intentions portion of feedback forms]
10:30am Marshmallow game
11:30am Break
11:45am Overview of Sociocracy – web of consent, rapid affordable experiments
12:15pm Consent decision-making intro
1:00pm Lunch
2:00pm Elections (choosing a restaurant)
2:15pm Structure (double-links, standard structure)
3:00pm Break
3:15pm Circles (Aims & workflow)
3:45pm Facilitation & decision-making practice: design an organization that can play the marshmallow game; elect people to roles
4:45pm Q&A, Closing
5:00pm Go to dinner

9:30am Coffee & Tea; informal chat
10:00am Discovery – what have we learned so far?
10:30am Marshmallow game
11:30am Break
11:45am Fishbowl consultancy using the long form decision-making process
1:00pm Lunch
2:00pm In small groups, list the Aims for a single circle one member actually participates in. Describe the workflow used to deliver one of those Aims.
3:00pm Break
3:15pm Small group work on applying Sociocracy to your organization – using the long-form, design an experiment for the organization of one participant in your group.
4:15pm Paired discussions on what people have actually learned, what people will actually do.
4:30pm Feed back to the group as a whole
4:45pm Fill in feedback forms
4:55pm Closing circle

The group will be kept small, to ensure all attendees get their needs met. Please register before Feb 28th to benefit from the early bird rate, and to secure your place. RegisterHERE.

What is Sociocracy?
Sociocracy is an effective way for groups to self-organise and cooperate to accomplish shared objectives. Sociocracy has been used in hundreds of organisations world-wide over the past 40 years, and provides a reliable way to increase productivity, safety, happiness, and engagement in organisations of any size.

Sociocracy is a whole-systems approach to management and governance with full array of core practices and systems needed for running most types of organisation, from cohousing communities to manufacturing firms to schools to small businesses. At its core are four principles: Consent, Circles, Feedback, and Election by Consent.

The Principle of Consent dictates that each policy decision (in which we make or change the rules by which we play) is made by Consent. Consent is not consensus — it does not mean that everyone agrees. It means that nobody is aware of a risk that we cannot afford to take. We know we have made a decision by Consent when somebody (usually the Facilitator) asks “Can you see any risks we cannot afford to take in adopting this proposal?” If each participant in the meeting indicates they do not see any risks we cannot afford to take, we have made a decision by consent to try out the experiment described in that proposal. If policies are the rules of the game, then operations are “playing the game”. While we only make policy decisions by consent, we can make operational decisions however the rules tell us to. Most often, this means very clear delegation of budgets and decisions to specific roles, and assigning people to those roles.

The Principle of Circles tells us that a sociocratic organization is made up of Circles – semi-autonomous, self-organizing teams that each make their own membership decisions, decide on their own working methods, and manage their own budgets. Each Circle defines its policy (and some policies which apply to other circles reporting to it) by Consent, and uses other decision-making methods as appropriate to its operational work. The key to the Principle of Circles is that each Circle is organized around delivering a specific type of value to a specific client (inside or outside the organization). A Circle for an orchard would include growers, truckers, sales people, and accountants — or at least the people managing sub-Circles devoted to those areas of work. Each specific type of value is known as an Aim.

The Principle of Feedback requires us to use feedback processes everywhere in our work, and especially in the power structure of the organization. While most companies have a top-down organizational structure, with managers providing links from one level of the organization down to the one below, those “single links” are often chokepoints for key information that people on the front lines know and the “top management” do not. Sociocratic organizations use “double links” to connect each Circle with the one above it. The Operational Leader role provides guidance and prioritization from the higher circle to one below it, especially during normal operations. The Representative role provides feedback and guidance from the lower circle to the one it reports to. While the Representatives may not have any operational responsibilities in the higher of their two circles, they (along with the Operational Leader) are full members of both circles for the purpose of any consent decision-making.

The Principle of Election by Consent provides an important counter-balance. While we can delegate almost any decision to operational roles or processes, using a policy decision made with Consent, the one sort of decision we cannot delegate is the election of an important role — particularly the Representative. Representatives must be chosen by Consent of the Circle which they represent. This ensures that the organization is woven together by a web of consent, and that power flows in circles through the entire organization.

You can watch videos about Sociocracy featuring several people, including Nate, HERE.

Nate’s love affair with in Sociocracy started in 1998, while organizing the Ecovillage Network of the Americas, but he didn’t create a sociocratic company until 2010, when he launched the UK’s first such company. Nate co-founded SociocracyUK; has provided numerous training events on Sociocracy; has worked with various companies to implement Sociocracy; and become the first Certified Sociocratic Expert in Britain(certified by international standards body for Sociocracy, The Sociocracy Group), serving on the global executive team of The Sociocracy Group (see

For more information on Sociocracy visit or