Archive for August 15th, 2002


Thursday, August 15th, 2002

This the second our series from Chaordic Commons describing a their process for creating synergic organizations. I recommend using their process with ORTEGRITY for maximum leverage.
Also see: 1) Purpose.

The Chaordic Design Process


Definition: Principles are clear, commonly understood statements of how the Participants will conduct themselves. Individually and collectively, they are the parameters against which all subsequent decisions, organizational structures and practices will be judged.

Principles – In Context: Once the Purpose has been clearly stated, the next step in the chaordic design process is to define, with the same clarity, conviction and common understanding, the Principles by which those involved will be guided in pursuit of that Purpose.

If the Purpose defines a field for the organization’s pursuit, Principles guide organizational behavior and individual practice and foster success in that field. They serve as the “organizational DNA” that supports continuous learning, innovation and emergence.

Principles typically have high ethical and moral content. Developing them requires engaging the whole person, not just the intellect. The best will be descriptive, not prescriptive, so that there will be many different ways that Participants in the organization can embody or practice the Principles.

Taken as a whole, together with the Purpose, the Principles constitute the body of belief that will bind the community together and against which all decisions and acts will be judged. They must always be considered as a set, rather than taken in isolation. Each Principle will illuminate the others. The creative tension among them is a characteristic feature of chaordic organization.

This phase of the process will result in a set of 10-15 clear, unambiguous statements of Principle applicable to all activities within the organization or community. These Principles, along with the Purpose, will be written into the Constitution for the organization. They serve as binding agreements for all Participants in conducting the organization’s activities, and directors (or trustees) of the organization will have a fiduciary responsibility to serve them.

The Principles are crucial for subsequent work on Organizational Concept, as they provide clear guidelines against which potential approaches to organizational structure and governance can be tested.

Processes and Approaches

In developing a set of core Principles, participants will often find it useful to distinguish principles of organization from principles of practice. For example, the fundamental Principles of the Terra Civitas Chaordic Commons include five principles of organization and five principles of practice.

Principles of organization have to do with the group’s basic beliefs about participation, self-organization, decentralization, decision-making and related issues. The five principles of organization for Terra Civitas have been articulated, in slightly different words, by virtually every organization and group that has worked with The Chaordic Alliance.

Principles of practice concern the group’s beliefs about leadership, conflict resolution, organizational culture, social or ecological responsibility, and specific issues of particular concern to their organization or community. The third, fourth and fifth principles of practice for Terra Civitas are also common to many groups, which then add others that are unique to their circumstances.

We have used the following approaches to help groups identify potential Principles:

  • Examine the Principles of other organizations. Increasingly, groups find starting with the Terra Civitas Principles a good way to begin their own creative process. Occasionally they also find it helpful – especially when trying to write a Principle about a specific issue – to see how other groups have approached the same issue.

  • Explore basic beliefs about fundamental organizational issues such as power, fairness and equity, decision-making, diversity, participation, leadership and accountability. Dissatisfaction with the way these issues are addressed (or not addressed) in existing organizations often attract participants to chaordic approaches.

  • Reflect on what Principles are needed to clarify aspects of the Purpose. For example, the statement of Purpose for Terra Civitas includes the phrase “more equitable sharing of power and wealth”. The first principle of practice then states, “Work to ensure that all people, by right of birth, have Ö an equitable share of wealth and resources”. The fourth principle of organization states, “Vest authority, perform functions, and use resources in the smallest or most local part that includes all relevant and affected parties.” Both of these Principles amplify the Purpose statement. This exercise helps participants understand the integral relationship between Purpose and Principles. In the prior work on Purpose participants will often have begun identifying Principles essential to its realization.

  • Identify critical issues in the organization, field or community. Fishermen, environmentalists and others working to create the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance were concerned with the use of technologies that damaged the marine ecosystem. Governmental and private sector participants forming the GeoData Alliance knew that data privacy and public access to geospatial data were critical issues in their field. People participating in the United Religions Initiative recognized that proselytizing within the organization would doom it. Consequently all of these groups developed Principles speaking to these issues. When this exercise is first undertaken, participants will often create a long list of critical issues. As they proceed to draft potential Principles, they see that some are more fundamental than others – or that one is a subset of another – and end up with a smaller set.

  • Identify principles of organizational behavior and individual practice required in order for Participants to achieve the Purpose. When narrowing the set of Principles down to a manageable number, it is sometimes possible to imagine the system spinning out of control, or concentrating power or activity too narrowly, thus limiting how much can ultimately be achieved. This may indicate that a key Principle is missing – perhaps something implicit in one that was discarded.

To the extent time allows, invite participants to expand the set of potential Principles. The process can stand an explosion of possible Principles if participants understand that the aim is ultimately to develop a small set.

As participants begin to understand what a Principle is – and what it isn’t – they can begin to reduce the list to a set of necessary and sufficient Principles. Make a disciplined effort to distill a smaller set of powerful core Principles. There are always additional principles that could be added, but this should be resisted if they are not essential.

Writing Principles involves the same careful attention to language and to meaning that writing a statement of Purpose does. Again, carefully probe the meanings, connotations and assumptions associated with each word and phrase. Invite participants to state a given Principle in different ways to see if deeper or richer meanings can be articulated.

(The principles of organization for Terra Civitas have been carefully honed through years of work with a wide range of organizations. We encourage participants to approach them critically and develop their own formulation, but increasingly groups find them useful.)

Process Notes

Several challenges can arise during the work on Principles. As with Purpose, a group’s first attempt to articulate Principles may result in platitudes. Potential statements of Principle may be vague or overly complex. Organizational goal statements may be confused with Principles.

Such initial efforts are essential but incomplete. Every effort should be made to help the group clarify its basic beliefs and develop clear, specific statements that can serve as unambiguous guidelines for decision-making and practice.

Principles of Transition

In some cases, participants may need or want to develop a special set of principles for the transition from one type of organizational system or structure to another. This is more likely to happen when working with existing institutions that already have well-defined or ill-defined relationships, or within a single organization that will be adopting a new structure or governance system.

During the transition from the pre-existing Bank of America licensing structure to the formation of Visa, for example, Dee Hock and his colleagues were consciously guided by several principles concerning the position of banks then involved in the system:

  • Duplicate levels of management should not be created but that for greater efficiency and economy, the new organization should combine all existing structures.

  • Every bank heavily and directly involved should be entitled to voting membership.

  • Assessments should not exceed the present royalties.

  • No bank should be financially damaged or otherwise left in a lesser position, as a result of the reorganization.

  • The plan must offer enough advantages to gain voluntary acceptance from a majority of the licensees.

  • All existing contractual obligations must be honored for any bank that might decide not to accept the plan.

  • The unique position of the Bank of America in the system must be recognized, properly compensated, and its ability to provide sustaining assistance during any transitional period should be utilized.

The search for core Principles can be challenging in other ways as well. Sometimes participants will observe that a given Principle will be difficult to implement because of perceived “current realities” in a particular organization, industry or field. Acknowledge the potential legitimacy of such observations but do not let them interfere with articulating Principles that carry real conviction. Encourage participants to relax their concerns with current practice, legal frameworks or political correctness and to explore their basic personal values and beliefs about the issue under discussion. The Principles that participants develop will reveal how bold they are willing to be in committing themselves and their organization to what they really believe.

Sometimes the key to success is often listening carefully for what participants are trying to say but have not quite yet articulated. Sometimes the key is noticing that two seemingly different Principles can be combined in a single statement, or that overly complex statements in fact represent two distinct Principles.

True Principles are descriptive, not prescriptive. They identify what is to be done but not how it is to be accomplished. In fact, there are likely to be many different ways of observing the Principles. Over time, a rich ecology of practice should develop within the organization, with proven practices proliferating while still allowing ample room for innovation and experimentation.

How many Principles are enough – and when do you have too many? We sometimes use a rule of thumb that says, “Create only as many Principles as you can easily keep in mind”. Participants will continually be working with the entire set, so the total number should be manageable.

Finally, always remember that the Principles constitute an indivisible set. The creative tension among apparently contradictory Principles supports a living dynamic of inquiry and innovative practice.

What You Need For Work on Principles

  • Clarity about fundamental beliefs and values. Principles are, with Purpose, the touchstone for the organization and those who participate in it.

  • Knowledge about critical issues in the organization, industry or field.

  • A willingness to take a stand. Principles are what Participants refuse to violate in pursuit of the Purpose.

  • Rigor in articulating clear and meaningful statements. Effective Principles are not platitudes. Take care to articulate them carefully enough that they can serve as a basis for interpretation, for inference, for practical guidance and, when necessary, for assessment and judgment.

  • A capacity for transforming conflict. Participants often discover that they have very different values and beliefs concerning some of the central issues of concern. Working through these differences toward higher common ground enables Participants to create a truly unique context for pursuit of the Purpose.

Terra Civitas Chaordic Commons

In pursuit of the Purpose, each and every part of the Chaordic Commons will abide by the following Principles in conducting Chaordic Commons activities:

Principles of Practice

1. Work to ensure that all people, by right of birth, have adequate necessities of life, including clean air, water, food and shelter; an equitable share of wealth and resources; and opportunity to develop their full physical, mental and spiritual potential.

2. Work to ensure that human capacities, technologies and organizations sustain and support, not systemically alter, degrade or destroy, the Earth, its diversity of life or life support systems.

3. Work to ensure interdependent health and diversity of individuals, communities, institutions, cultures and other life forms.

4. Resolve conflict creatively and cooperatively without physical, economic, psychological, social, or ecological violence.

5. Freely and fully exchange information relevant to the Purpose and Principles unless doing so violates confidentiality or materially diminishes competitive position.

Principles of Organization

1. Be open to participation by any Individual or Institution subscribing to the Purpose and Principles in conducting activities of the Terra Civitas Charter Commons.

2. Have the right to self-organize at any time, on any scale, in any form, for any activity consistent with the Purpose and Principles.

3. Conduct deliberations and make decisions by bodies and methods that reasonably represent all relevant and affected parties and are dominated by none.

4. Vest authority, perform functions, and use resources in the smallest or most local part that includes all relevant and affected parties.

5. Enduce not compel behavior, to the maximum degree possible.

Selected Principles From Other
Chaordic Organizational Initiatives

Organizations involved in a chaordic design process typically develop both principles of organization and principles of practice. The principles of organization are commonly modeled on those of Terra Civitas and the Chaordic Commons. In addition, each organization develops additional principles unique to its constituency or concerns. The following are examples of the latter. Reflect on them to sharpen your own judgment of what makes a principle more or less effective and compelling.

GeoData Alliance (2000)

  • Deliberations and decisions of the GeoData Alliance shall use knowledge and information derived from scientific method, practical experience and intuition.

  • Geographic information has inherent value and the creators of that value should be equitably compensated.

  • Public inspection of data used for governance is a fundamental right and access to these data should be provided.

  • Each and every part of the GeoData Alliance shall protect the privacy and confidentiality of personal information and sensitive geographic information.

Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (1999)

  • Encourage marine uses and practices that ensure the long-term productivity and diversity of the Marine System.

  • Accept responsibility for the stewardship of the Marine System to ensure that succeeding generations will have an equal or better opportunity to benefit from its resources.

  • Recognize that the Marine System is a public resource and that access to this resource is a privilege, not a right.

  • Encourage practices, behaviors, and uses of technology that are consistent with the Purpose and Principles and control practices, behaviors, and uses of technology that are inconsistent with the Purpose and Principles.

United Religions Initiative (1999)

  • We respect the sacred wisdom of each religion, spiritual expression and indigenous tradition.

  • We respect the differences among religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions.

  • We have the responsibility to develop financial and other resources to meet the needs of our part, and to share financial and other resources to help meet the needs of other parts.

  • Members of the URI shall not be coerced to participate in any ritual or be proselytized.

Community Alliances for Interdependent AgriCulture (1999)

  • Conceive of, evaluate and implement wholly new forms of ownership, financial systems and measurements that do not attempt to monetize all values or lead to gross maldistribution of wealth and power or degradation of people.

  • Understand, evaluate and account for the true and complete cost of everything removed from and returned to the Earth and the biosphere.

  • Understand, evaluate and account for intangible things such as learning, intellectual capital, life experiences, community, beliefs and principles.

  • Ensure that substances produced in human society are not systematically increased in the biosphere.

Society for Organizational Learning (1997)

  • Drive to Learn – All human beings are born with innate, lifelong desire and ability to learn, which should be enhanced by all organizations.

  • Learning is Social – People learn best from and with one another, and participation in learning communities is vital to their effectiveness, well-being and happiness in any work setting.

  • Learning Communities – The capacities and accomplishments of organizations are inseparable from and dependent on the capacities of the learning communities that they foster.

  • Core Learning Capabilities – Organizations must develop individual and collective capabilities to understand complex, interdependent issues; engage in reflective, generative conversation; and nurture personal and shared aspirations.

  • Cross-Organizational Collaboration – Learning communities that connect multiple organizations can significantly enhance the capacity for profound individual and organizational change.

© 2001, Chaordic Commons, All rights reserved