Circle Domain(s) and Accountabilities

We have a small team looking to define our circles for the first time. The circles and aims have come together fairly well, but we are less clear on defining domains and accountabilities for each circle. We realise that different things work for different groups, but we would like to learn from the experience of the forum members if you are willing to share.

First, we see in different places that some organisations have multiple domains, and some have a single domain statement. We rely on many of the materials provided by SoFA and others to understand domains as

(area of responsibility) This is the area of responsibility of the circle—distinct from the domains of other circles. The circles have the responsibility for making, and the authority to make decisions about the policies, operations, and budget of their domain. Circles define their domains with affirmation and coordination by their parent circle. Both will agree on the domains in order to adequately address gaps, areas of overlap, and needs for coordination. Circles carry out tasks and enact policies within the limits of authority and responsibilities of their domain. Circles are responsible for gathering data and feedback as needed to inform decisions that need wider input. The domains will start with a noun since the domains are ’things’ over which the circle has authority.

Are there best practices in terms of having a general domain and then specific domains under that, or are specific domains better understood as accountabilities?

We understand accountabilities as:

Accountabilities are a way to operationalize expectations. Specifically, when your circle has an accountability it means two things: 1) you’re expected to proactively energise it, and 2) others can expect you to take on work based on it. Each accountability should be actionable and measurable.

We see less information about accountabilities in sociocracy resources, but consider a more granular level critical to identifying governance gaps and preventing overlap. We express them as bulleted points under each domain, which is fine if there is more than one domain, but slightly cumbersome if there is only one.

The way we have organically constructed this is to focus on multiple domains and detail accountabilities under each one. We could also develop an overall general domain, which would basically be the object of the aim.

Any experiences to share with the structure of domains and accountabilities in circles?

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Hello @teka-teki,

Implementing sociocracy in a team, community or organization is a continuous (re)designing process to adapt the structure by sharing the decision-making power and responsibilities (accountability) through circles and domains.

It seems you already studied something about sociocracy and now you are willing to find a practical way to implement it in your “small team”. I would be interested to find more about what you are doing in your group. How many people are already in the team and how many do you expect to be in the future?

I recommend these official SoFA articles:

  1. Circles in sociocracy: an effective organizational structure

  2. How to design a new circle structure (for an existing organization)

  3. Sociocracy in Small Groups

Here you can find more articles related to sociocracy.

In case you like reading, please visit our books page.

You can also participate in some intro presentations or full classes available here: events page.

Here you can find the SoFA circle structure and how SoFA defined its domains.

I hope you will find some inspiration using the links provided above. Your feedback would be much appreciated, as implementing sociocracy always has an empirical component on the way. You started a wonderful journey and I’m sure that with dedication and perseverance you will get the results you are looking for. Keep in touch.

Hi @adrian.zarif and thanks for your response,

While we haven’t taken all the courses, we have read most of the other materials you mention, which in a way is what prompts the question- we just don’t see the answers to the questions we ask, which is why we turn to this group. I am happy to be proven wrong if you can point to a specific resource that would answer the questions we have and we are otherwise, as in the original post, interested in the experience of groups who have gone through this.

In answer to your question, we are a small consulting company with 15 staff.

To make our questions more clear:

  1. What is the relationship between Circle and Role Accountabilities? It seems that circle accountabilities could be a sum of role accountabilities, or in another way of looking at it, all of the circle accountabilities will be included in a role accountability. We are thinking like this as accountabilities are task , which are things that people do in roles, so otherwise we are not clear on how a circle and role accountabilities would differ.

  2. On further reading, although some resources talk about multiple domains, it seems that SoFa generally recommends a primary domain for a circle with optional secondary domains. Is it accurate to understand secondary circle domains as role domains?

Hey there
I’m not fully sure what level to answer to, the conceptual or concrete level. What you’re saying sounds accurate.

I think I’m not fully sure I understand the difference despite reading your post:

Or could you bring an example where the question manifests?
In general, describe the domains to the level you need. You know it’s working if it’s clear and there are no overlaps because it’s clear.


Hi @teka-teki,

I am following this conversation with interest because each question gives us the opportunity to seek a good enough answer and move forward on the way.


I’m glad Ted stepped in to provide more information, and indeed the best answer could be given when the person answering can identify what the person asking already knows.

This is probably why everyone’s learning journey is like a spiral where we always go through the same situations, but we can see things on a different level and find answers/solutions that are good enough for the level we are at that moment.

Coming back to your concern, I would like to share with you something from my own learning experience, not pretending to answer your question, but hopefully provide some guidance or at least inspiration.

When dealing with a complex situation, sometimes it’s a good idea to break it down into several pieces:

  1. I understand that you are already 15 people who have a common goal. To structure your work, you need a VMA (Vision, Mission and Objectives) formulation. This is a very important reference because in the future, when seeking consent, any objection should be reasoned according to this VMA statement.

  1. So, you already do something together and you want to organize yourselves in a sociocratic way? Excellent! Do you already know why sociocracy would be a good fit for your team / organization? I guess this is important, because the WHY has the power to keep you on this journey when you don’t have enough answers or when some difficulties may appear.

  1. Sociocracy works well when the team is not too large. To transform this immeasurable “too large” into something measurable, let’s say that in order to be efficient, a team (circle) is ideally formed by 5-8 people. This is just a reference, because, depending on the specific circumstances, the circle can have 3 members, 10 members and sometimes even more. Why is the number of members in a circle important? One answer is that sociocracy fosters the equivalence of voices (each voice matters). When there are many people in a circle, it becomes difficult to manage all these voices in the available meeting time. Speaking last will become unappealing, as ideas start to repeat and so on.

  1. People often start by forming a circle and be willing to work together and decide together. Yes, sociocracy is not only about deciding together. The work should be done by those who make the decisions. This makes a beneficial difference in the cohesion of the grup on a long term. To work sociocratic we need to repeatedly do the same basic things: prepare the agenda, check-in, ADMIN, consent the agenda, Report, Explore, Decide check-out, update the backlog, consent the minutes etc.

  1. When the work inside the circle becomes overwhelming, the natural course to take is to form one or more “child circles” meaning more focused / specific circles/domains. When forming a new circle, there is a transfer of decision-making power and responsibilities to a well defined sub-domain. The initial circle will then become a “parent circle”. The activity of any new domain is semi autonomous aligned with the activity of the parent circle. A sociocratic structure is formed by nesting circles which are not completely independent but semi-autonomous.

  1. Double linking (leader/coordinator and delegate) is very important in forming a sociocratic structure. The leader is the voice of the “parent circle” in the “child circle” and the delegate is the voice representing the “child circle” in the “parent circle”. The two links have full membership and decision-making rights in both, the “parent circle” and the “child circle”, fostering a balance of power between the two circles. Sociocracy uses “power with” instead of “power over”.

  1. The structure of a sociocracy organization is dynamic, enabling the adaptation to different circumstances and environments. Over time, the sociocratic structure can be reshaped, taking in consideration aims as well as resources and priorities. New circles can be formed while other circles could go through a dismantling process.

  1. Training and practice help organizations to refine their VMAs and their structure in this working and governance journey.

These are a few reflections I felt like sharing. For more specific approaches I guess SoFA trainers and consultants could give you more support.

You might find pleasing to read some of my posts:

  1. What needs could be met by sociocracy?

  2. When and why to choose sociocracy?

  3. How might a community/organization change its system of governance to sociocracy?

  4. How can people, communities and organizations be successful using sociocracy?

  5. Can we compare the experience in a sociocratic community / organization to sailing on a ship under construction?

  6. What are the psychological benefits of consent-based decision-making in sociocracy?

  7. How to introduce sociocracy in a world dominated by vertical hierarchies?

  8. Practicing Skills vs. Using Skills

  9. How might we unlearn hierarchical “power over” and exercise “power with” in sociocracy?

  10. How could people avoid failure in sociocracy?

HI @adrian.zarif and @TedRau … thanks again for your feedback.

What we are trying to do is flesh out our circles conceptually by providing clarity. The sticky parts for us and in distinctions between domains and accountabilities, which I think we are sorting out, and then what that means for roles. The way we are understanding it is that if a circle has a primary domain, that is fine, but we find ourselves wanting to be more specific by elaborating secondary domains to which accountabilities are more closely related. We then imagine, but are not finished the process, that these sub-domains will actually become the domains of roles, along with the accountabilities that relate to them. One idea that is a bit freeing for us is that there are no accountabilities in a circle that are not assumed by a role. Similarly the more finite and specific secondary domains we are conceptualising are actually role domains such that secondary domains and accountabilities of a circle are actually a sum of role domains and accountabilities.

We are basically trying to understand the relationships between the variables that comprise circles and roles so that they fit together logically. The illustration below is an attempt to capture this thought. The how and why is just our way of logically understanding the relationships. eg. Why do we have this accountability? To ensure the domain is done. Why do we want the domain done? To achieve our Aim, and the other way, how do we achieve our aim? By ensuring the domains are done, and how do we do that? By fulfilling accountabilities. The bit I am asking about here is about our assumptions relating to the circle and role domains and accountabilities.

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That makes sense!

That also makes sense. The clarity can be super liberating so this is great.

There are two things to keep in mind here.

  • If you’re strict about it, you might create a culture where people say “that’s not in my role” if you ask them to do something extra. That CAN be a dynamic to worry about, or not. But I’ve seen it happen sometimes. Having the expectation that you have can become bureaucratic if people only do what’s in a role, making the system slower and more heavy. So leave a little slack or add “and whatever else might come up” to all roles if you do worry about it.
  • Always watch out for things not yet assigned. There’s always something that falls through the cracks. If you just catch it and someone does it, great. If no one catches it, make sure the leader does.

There are different ways of seeing it. And yours might be totally valid.

In my world, circles have domains, roles don’t. Domains as areas of authority/responsibility can’t be “done”, just held.
As for aims, aims are a set of activities with a shared purpose.
What we do via decision-making in circles is to set the scaffolding (via policy, workflows, role descriptions and other artifacts) so activities can be carried out by role holders/circle members. Those are all POLICY decisions.
The decisions made by people in roles in doing their work are OPERATIONAL decisions, e.g. on-off decisions for the context and guided by the policies.
I’m aware of the gaps in that way of seeing it (e.g. it is true that a role holder can set themselves a rule/practice/workshop which is basically like policy but not approved by the circle), but I find it still the most logical and coherent.

I think if we say activities in my words and accountabilities in your words, we’re very close, maybe even consistent. But since you’re operating without the distinction of policy vs. operational decisions, it’s hard for me to tell.

I’m really trying to help, not confuse, but this is a place where not many think to this level and I find it hard to get to common ground on words and mental models.


Amazingly helpful @TedRau . Thank you. Yes, we will have to think over policy and operations, which will be a useful distinction to sort this mess out in our minds!

It is also helpful to understand nested domains as responsibilities that could be taken by roles, but that roles themselves might not have domains.

I think your response provides us with enough to think about to devise what will work for us and sets us off in a good direction. Thanks so much!

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Policy and operations (doubled info but maybe useful to hear it 2x in different ways):


Coming back to this issue as our team has had a think on it.

What we have come down to is:

  • One way or another, roles have activities (we use accountabilities above, which is borrowed from holacracy and therefore a bit confusing here, sorry).
  • We find it useful to think about those activities in clusters and to define them in what are areas of responsibility, so that is role domains.
  • We find it useful to be able to see all the role domains together in the circle to understand which areas of responsibility are being addressed and which are not. These effectively become the sub-domains of the circle.
  • We are not too concerned at the moment about whether subdomains of a circle are the sum of role domains or role domains are allocated to roles from a list of sub-domains in the circle. We will need to pick a lane on that for our database, but for the purposes of establishing the circles, it has been useful to list all of the subdomains from the circle that will be incorporated into roles. Since a circle creates a role, it makes sense that the role could defined with domains, which will then be used in roles to organise activities.