CM: Can a person "just" leave a circle?

Circle membership is an agreement based on consent. One becomes a circle member when there’s a proposal and all current circle members consent.
Ideally, for leaving a circle, the same applies. The person (or someone else) would make a proposal to leave the circle, and it would require consent. Why? Imagine a situation where Person A was hired because of their special skills. Let’s say the organization makes a bet that with this person, a certain project will be feasible. But now Person A gets excited about a different project and leaves the circle. Then other circle members - holding the care for the circle and its aim - could object and say “hey, no, you cannot leave, this circle needs you and your skills can’t be replaced here, and that will harm the circle’s aim in a big way.”
Ideally, this would now become a constructive discussion; it’s the regular way of integrating an objection.

  • How could we modify the proposal (“Person A leaves the circle”) so that it works? For example, the circle could still be coached by Person A on that very skill they hold. Or money could be freed up to pay someone with those special skills. Or whatever else works.
  • Could we shorten the term (e.g. Person A takes a break but comes back)?
  • Could we measure the concern? (We might just do without them and once there’s a certain level of “damage” they’d need to required to come back maybe?)

So that was the ideal level. YET, that’s of course not always the case. Sometimes people just drop everything and leave. We all know that’s not ideal. The way I think about that is that it can include the termination of the social contract we have. They leave the circle but also leave the agreements of sociocracy at the same time. While it’s easy to deal with a person shifting their circle focus – within the agreements of how that works – it’s much harder if someone leaves the social contract of consent. Leaving a circle without a process is a unilateral decision. Unilateral decisions are always prone to being power moves. Granted, their source can come from pain, but it’s still the case that power is held and played unilaterally, ignoring the interdependence we all share.

It’s a lot like the difference between an amicable divorce and an ugly divorce. In the first, one plays by the rules of decency and cooperation but still gets divorced. In the latter, all agreements are ignored and there’s no common ground anymore.

I question this. I think we can agree on a policy that when people need to leave they give as much advance notice as possible so a healthy leaving plan can be created, but when the decision ultimately concerns how a person spends their time and energy, they are the only person who needs to consent, not the circle. I also observe that the inability to leave is historically what causes the most harm: the partner who cannot leave an abusive relationship because their safety is threatened … the employee who cannot leave an abusive manager because they’re worried about money, etc. Having a policy that anyone can leave but with as much advanced notice as they can give respects interdependence without infringing on self-determination.

It might be a unilateral decision for all the right reasons! And people do what they need to do.
What I appreciate in sociocracy is the balance between people’s needs and the organization’s needs. What I did in my post was holding up the organization’s needs. There’s damage to the aim if people leave without consideration and intentional process.
I guess we agree that having a process (which could include the policy you’re describing) would be ideal. This is why I wrote, “Leaving a circle without a process is unilateral”.

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Interesting topic. We are just in the middle of a similar situation: Recently circle A hired a person with skills that benefitted circle A’s purpose. A few months after hiring (and learning about sociocracy), this person has become more interested in using his energy and skills in another circle B, and has communicated his wishes to move from circle A to circle B (btw. both are sub-circles to our general circle).
Members of circle A are currently upset that their newest member wants to leave and that they will be left with a ‘hole’ in being able to fulfill their responsibilities. They want to prohibit their newest member from leaving, or have the right to hire a second new person.

Members of circle B are very happy and want to welcome their newest member.

One of our core principles is that no one can be coerced or forced to do anything for anyone. But this principle results in a paradox: The new hire can not be forced to work in circle A, but his desire to leave ‘forces’ a problem on circle A’s ability to fulfill their objective/purpose.

From an organisational point of view, some might argue that circle B ‘steals’ resources from circle A.

Currently the situation is dealt with by facilitating dialogue, both in circle A (understanding needs, assessing consequences and damage-control alternatives) and circle B (How do we avoid jeopardizing our relations to circle A). The new hire, who wants to move, is also being coached how to navigate this tricky situation, which is not trivial, being new to the organisation. Basically we try to settle it by open and honest dialogue all around. This means handling a tension in circle A about the new hires desire to leave, understanding his arguments and openly discussing the consequences and possible ways to handle it.

It looks though that the issue/tension will be escalated to the general circle, as the new hires desire to shift actually means a re-prioritization of our whole organisations purpose: Will the move harm our overall purpose more than the advantages gained by circle B and the new hire? It has to be added that it was circle A that originally had argued for the case of hiring an extra person by escalating this desire to the general circle, as circle A did not have the budget. As a result, the general circle made the decision to give extra funds for a new hire to circle A, hence the new hire.

Possible outcomes?

a) The escalation to the general circle results in a decision to approve the move, in essence saying that the funds for hiring an extra person in circle A are retracted and given to circle B instead: New hire happy, Circle B happy, Circle A not so much.

b) The general circle maintains that circle A needs the extra budget. Circle A happy and circle B + new hire need to find other ways of fulfilling their desires.

ad b) This situation might lead to the new hire feeling ‘forced’ to keep working for circle A and he might leave the organisation alltogether. It could also lead to a situation where circle B tries to find a way of financing a second new hire and if succesfull, could start negotiating with circle A to exchange the new hire with the newly found budget, that then can be used by circle A to hire a second new person…

Personally I hope that the current dialogue (tension and objection handling in circle A), creates so much understanding that a transition period can be agreed upon, f.ex. that the new hire starts 1 day a week in circle B, while continuing to work in circle A, so we can test and verify all the assumptions, expectations and worries currently in play. This might also surface new insights and with a little luck uncover new possibilities…

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@egon.loke my friend this is a stellar example and I’m glad you wrote it down.

It’s also a good example of the limits that money as a finite resource puts on the system - because it reduces choice. In a world without money (because money is not a thing, or UBI, or because it’s a volunteer org), Circle A would just fill the gap with a new person. So money and, by extension, capacity is centralized (because we’re sharing one pot) while decision-making about that shared pot is decentralized. That’s a tricky dynamic that only conversation and transparency can bridge.

Good luck - would love to hear an update on this!

Really interesting discussion. Thank you for that. This is a situation I had not yet thought might develop. I just wonder whether an agreement as to the minimum duration of employment could solve the problem before it arises. For instance, you hire someone to fulfill your circle’s obligation to the community (setting up a website, organizing a campaign, finishing a build) and the hire commits to fulfilling that project. Once that is done, the person can move to wherever they prefer. For longer term situations, might it help if the circle has an agreement in place saying that people with special skills train at least one other circle member in the basics of their specialization?

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Hey there Hélène,
I see what you mean… the question still arises of what happens if someone simply doesn’t stick to that agreement and wants to leave.
It’s a bit like getting married and insisting on staying married, you know? Can one force to stay together if things change over time?

Hi Ted and thank you for your message.

I tend to defer to the individual, probably because I really don’t like being told what I can and cannot do myself. :wink: Also, if a person does not feel moved to see something through, they are unlikely to do a good job of it anyhow. However, I am only starting to learn about sociocracy and my practical experience is nil, so speaking up might mean I reveal how little I know at the same time as it helps me learn.

What I wrote was more in the vein of prevention. I haven’t started my project yet and thought the post interesting because it raised an issue I hadn’t considered and for which I would like to be prepared when the time comes. Accordingly, my response was about: 1. trying to avoid the situation through making clear commitments from the start (coupled with hiring or having people join who are likely to stick to them); and 2. having a plan B to deal with potential difficulties by having a second circle member eventually able to cover at least the basics. Whenever possible, I think it is a good idea to have more than one person in a circle able to cover important tasks.

For the actual situation expressed in the original post, I rather like Egon’s solutions.


What I’ve done in the past …

  • If the person is leaving the organisation - then I’ve no choice. They are not a prisoner. Clarify if it is a benevolent parting or not, and if benevolent work on a mutually optimising transition plan. If malevolent then the fastest legal parting!
  • If only leaving the circle - well, actually the same.

Behind this for me is taking consent really seriously.

However, the money side … I recommend attaching money to roles rather than people. So in this case the person may well change income as well, e.g. if this reduces their contribution, or shifts their contribution to a less well remunerated role.

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So, playing devil’s advocate here, individuals have more power than circles because they can just unilaterally withdraw.

Interesting point about attaching salary to role and not the person! That would certainly be a big disruption of the labour-mechanics over here in Denmark! But I can see your point and it makes sense! I have to mull on that one…

@TedRau - hmm, I am not sure: circles can do the same as individuals: give up on its purpose (dissolve), or move on to another (mother-)circle if the new circle accepts them (purpose fit), This last situation just happened here, where a circle changed their purpose, found a (more fitting) new home for their purpose and ‘attached’ to this new circle with the purpose they actually wanted to support. I could find no reason why this could not happen, but an interesting event for the ‘fundamentalists’ among us: normally I would say circle-structure is dictated by the purpose hierarchy, but here a kind of bottom-up circle building is done. I like it…:wink:

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Here are some thoughts on that

It’s a really tricky dynamic. We actually introduced a “bridge” concept in SoFA right now, a “role at large” where we basically say “you have so many roles we don’t want to approve every bit of work you take on, just do it”. It’s currently for people who work in more than 2-3 circles but aren’t employed.

Interesting. You’re right.
In my community, we had circles that sprung up get adopted retroactively; so there’s certainly top-down and bottom-up at once, and sometimes a bit chaotic until it settles.