Governance Agreements, By-laws, and Standard Operating procedures Oh My!

We are in the process now of building our Governance Agreement and revising our existing Standard Operating Procedures as we develop our new governance structure.

It has me thinking about how these documents interact with one another and who is responsible for them. If there is anyone with experience with this, please respond, but here is what we are thinking:

  • the Governance Agreement is policy about how we make policy.
  • the Standard Operating Procedures are policies about operations that guide day-to-day functions
  • the By-Laws are policies about a specific kind of governance that only applies to the owners. For now we are keeping this outside of the Governance Agreement since it is a different thing and we are studying the links provided by SoFA for how to align By-laws with the Governance Agreement.

What this means in effect is that decisions about the SOP are made through the processes set out in the Governance Agreement. The SOP becomes the written form of the result of those decisions.

This seems so far clear.

Where it gets a bit murkier is which circles look after what policy.

  • The by-laws are clearly the privy of the Mission Circle.
  • The Governance Agreement is probably the privy of the General Circle
  • The Standard Operating Procedure is a bit confusing. One option is to allocate sections of the SOP as the domains of relevant circles eg. the Finance, HR, and Sales protocols could be taken on by different circles. There could be some risks there in terms of synchronisation, so we probably want the General circle involved somehow either just through the delegate or through some sort of additional consent layer. The other option is to say the SOP is the domain of the General Circle and the department circles make recommendations. This solved the synchronisation problem, but also diminishes the power of the circle as recommenders of policy rather than makers of policy.

I don’t have the same instinct about a circle having purview over a type of governing document that you do. I am an attorney and member of an intentional community. I am not sure what type of organization you are with, but that matters. The By Laws and Governance Agreement are not, in my opinion, the purview or jurisdiction of any particular circle- they are the overarching documents governing all. The question to ask is not what circle handes the Governance Agreement or SOPs, but rather how changes are made to the Bylaws and Governance Agreement (where those changes start and what process you go through to change them). So for instance, a change in the By-Laws might begin in general conversation around the community, end up in the Process Circle to picture form and generate proposals, and then under your Governance Agreement you might require the Bylaws to be changed by consent of the General Circle (but that could not be the case as well). I don’t think it makes sense to call the By-Laws or Governance Agreement a policy, although they have similarities. I personally would focus on how one makes changes to to either of those governing documents, and the SOPs are policies. In fact, in cohousing, we tend to not have SOPs but instead a Decision Log of policies, and some of those policies include the process by which that thing is to happen. Ie: the resale policy might contain a standard process or operating proceedure for how to sell a unit (make it available to the community first, then to the waitlist, etc). I could tell you how some intentional communiteis handle a change to that process contained in taht policy (SOP), but I think your orgainzation is not an intentional community- yes? It sounds like you are possibly a nonprofit or business. In that case, again the issue with, let’s say, cash flow accounting, is how to change the way you are doing it. Again, you start with the Finance Circle that generated a proposal for a policy change, or its possible someone brought it to the agenda of the General Circle and you did several rounds of picture forming to solve a cash flow policy issue, and then the General Circle gives it to the Finance Circle to develop a policy and bring it to General for consent. It all depends on what the Governance documents say and how much delegation or authority you do in order to change cash flow or other financial accounting processes. A circle isn’t in charge of a Governance Agreement, it operates under the Agreement and is bound to follow its edicts unless a change is made the Governance Agreement. An SOP merely describes how something is to happen, and if you want to change that, the most common place is in a circle whose subject matter is about that topic to be changed- not a circle who has jurisdiction over all SOPs. I may well have missed a more sophistiocated understanding that you have and I missed, but that’s my take…

Thanks so much for your thoughtful response.

So, yes, this is a company and we are transitioning from a conventional governance structure to a sociocracy, so this shows in some of our concepts. It is very helpful to think about the SOP as a log book really. In that sense, circles would be responsible for bits of it and the General Circle would only ensure consistency and address gaps.

I also agree that the Governance Agreement is for everyone, and only mean to say that the General Circle would maintain it.

As we have in our draft, the General Circle will Set Organisational Policies: establishing high-level policies and guidelines that govern the overall operation of the organisation and are outside the domain of any department circle, co-ordinating the policies made by department circles to ensure internal fidelity. These policies provide a framework for decision-making and help maintain consistency and coherence across different parts of the organisation.

Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts.