B Calm and B Corp
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B Calm and B Corp

Horizontal leadership: a pragmatic utopia

Written by Francesco Mondora and Irene Brambilla, translated by Alison Ruffoni

Introductory note: this article is an English translation of an article published in the Italian magazine 01magazine.

Who has never dreamed of working for an organization where everybody’s opinion is heard and decisions are the result of the collective will? Where there is no “boss” but leadership is distributed among several people? Where cooperation is valued over competition?

It can seem like a utopia, but a system of this kind does exist and it is called Sociocracy. Born in the Netherlands in the ’70s, in an electromechanical company made up of 600 people, in time it has been adopted by various organizations, both for-profit and non-profit.

In Italy, the software house mondora, made up of 70 employees, distributes its governance using this technique and others derived from agile methodologies: one could say sociocratic work-management systems.

These practices define mondora’s structure and facilitate the way in which it works.

The workers form circles or groups, made up of people who share the same field of responsibility, for example, marketing, administration, or products.

Within the circle, the decision-making power is distributed among all the members. In order to guarantee efficiency and structure, there are 4 roles with different duties: the operational leader, meaning the person that defines the group’s priorities; the delegate, the person who reports the circle’s activities to the next higher circle; the secretary, who keeps track of the activities and finally the facilitator, who assists in the decision-making process.

In this type of organization, meetings are held if necessary and are prepared, as is good practice, beforehand, maintaining an actual company backlog which is then re-elaborated over time by the circles.

During the meetings, anyone can present a suggestion regarding the activities of the circle. The other members can ask for clarification, express their reactions and make decisions, suggesting potential future integrations.

Should any objections arise, these are then taken into consideration: the suggestion is modified in order to reach a decision that is acceptable and supported by everyone. In order to make sure that everybody’s opinion is heard, there is a facilitator who assists the group through this process.

Sociocracy could seem like a governance method justified by the desire to guarantee a harmonious social environment. This is true, but only in part. In fact, as the CEO and founder, Francesco Mondora explains, “Sociocracy answers to organizational needs. It arrived in mondora with this name through subsequent iterations, after much research on management and decision-making methods, matured over the course of 20 years of experience in the field of distributed governance.”

In fact, mondora, ever since its foundation in 2002, has rejected the traditional hierarchical organizational model, instead of adopting a flat organizational structure and agile methodologies, such as Scrum.

“As they are based on the teams’ self-governance, these systems are very human-centered.” Francesco observes, who, however, recognizes two critical points: the weak circulation of information and the poor distribution of the decision-making capacity.

“Information, in fact, is forwarded uni-directionally to the team by the client who commissions the product, and not the other way around. Even the decision-making process, using Scrum, remains focused on just a few people.”

This is a system that is not resilient, as software teaches us.

“Social systems work like computers, where each action produces a feedback loop: in order to be functional, information needs to circulate efficiently and responsibility needs to be distributed among several elements”.

In this organizational model, Francesco sees a more efficient organizational tool. In fact, “this method, like Scrum, gives the workgroup ownership of what it does, while also adding a decision-making system that involves all the members and a process that favors the bidirectional exchange of information with the circle’s delegate.”

“We can compare mondora’s organizational structure to a lymphatic system which, circulating, nourishes each of its parts.” explains Francesco, “A type of organization which is not made to obtain a result and then die out, but to live, expands and renew itself”. An autopoietic system, which looks towards sustainability, as well as performance.

Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method in mondora

If it is in fact true that sustainability is increasingly becoming a cardinal value for many companies, it begs the question if sociocracy is not also an innovation with the potential to transform, in time, into the new approach to corporate governance.

mondora has always been a company that is able to move with the times. A B Corp since 2015, one of the promoters of the Benefit Corporation movement and avant-garde in the field of smart working, mondora has always promoted practices that are considered innovative, which later became mainstream.

mondora Best for the World for the Governance area in 2021

At the base of this ability to predict future developments, there is a clear vision of the world and of the role companies play in it. “We live in a historical moment in which an increasing number of organizations are choosing to add purpose to their way of doing things and are focusing their attention towards the environment and society, considering the production of positive impact within their business model”, says Francesco, “but creating real change requires a more radical approach. One can not expect to promote certain values if the organization itself does not reflect those same values.”

For this reason, it’s possible that organizational models that favor feedback may be one of the alternatives to dysfunctional systems and will become predominant in the near future, opening the doors to an era of greater sustainability and cooperation.

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Irene Brambilla

Irene Brambilla

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