About Organisational Democracy

NGOs depend on donors and volunteers to fulfill their mission; businesses need feedback from motivated employees and engaged customers; and for colleges and universities reputation trumps all else.

Yet all too often, the very people that make your organisation great, who know the most about it and are devoted to its goals, are ignored.
Instead, organisations tend to make assumptions: about what students want, why donors give, and what employees and customers think about a product.

The problem with assumptions is that they are often wrong.

Big Data isn’t just something that exists in spreadsheets and analysts’ reports. Big Data is first and foremost in the minds and hearts of your frontline volunteers, your sales force, your voters. Nothing can replace listening to the people who work for your cause, and showing your appreciation for them by taking their feedback on board.

Organisational democracy uses digital tools to facilitate quick and easy decision-making on an unprecedented scale. Using simple and scalable technology, members participate in the decisions that matter to them, the organisation grows its information base, and problem-solving becomes more agile. Instead of battling unwanted bottlenecks, processes become fluid and efficient, allowing you – and your stakeholders – to put your energy where it’s needed most.  

BenefitsBenefits of
Organisational Democracy

 

1. Motivated Stakeholders

Too often industry uses the word ‘stakeholder’ without thinking about what it really means. Being a stakeholder means having skin in the game. Your employees have an interest in hitting their targets, your voters have a stake in making their town a great place to live, and your students need to get the most out of their education. But they are often frustrated at the slow pace of change or what can seem to them to be sudden, autocratic decisions. They’re affected by those decisions, but unable to have any impact on them. It’s a dispiriting place to be. Involving your stakeholders in decisions finally gives them a real share in your organisation – one that goes beyond the next pay cheque or the temporary feeling of making a donation. When people know that they can have a real impact, they try harder, they give their best, and they don’t move to the competition.

2. Unlocking Potential

You might think you have a choice between A and B, but don’t put it past your stakeholders to surprise you by coming up with an even better C. Organisational democracy encourages participants to understand each other’s needs and come up with even better solutions.
Traditional hierarchical organisation tends to credit (or blame) those at the top with making the right decisions, but everyone knows that whether you are in politics or business, the best leaders are those that keep their ear to the ground. 

3. Legitimising Tough Decisions

We have all been in situations where limited resources meant we had to make a tough decision between many good options. However well-intentioned such a decision may be, if it is taken without transparency and stakeholder involvement, it can be a quick path to being labelled ‘out of touch’ or uncaring by those who hoped for a different outcome. 
Involving stakeholders directly in these difficult decisions can be a powerful aid in helping everyone to accept the existence of external constraints, as well as competing internal interests. This can go a long way to heading off a situation where everyone feels unhappy after a tough decision, and keeps you from being labelled as an evil boss!

4. Real-time Feedback

Customers complaining about a new product? Distribution problem? Student service functioning badly? Don’t wait a month to find out about it. Find out now, fix it now.

5. Fostering Respect in the Workplace

Everyone likes a courteous working environment where their contribution is visible and valued by their peers. Involving stakeholders in decision-making shows that you respect and appreciate their work and it encourages employees to respect and appreciate the work of other contributors as well.

6. Improving Communication Across Lines of Business

In large, multinational organisations – and sometimes in smaller ones – it can be hard for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing.
With organisational democracy, staff gain the opportunity to learn what is important to colleagues whom they may not normally have much contact with, eg. due to distance or vertical silos.
Not only can this uncover opportunities for process optimisation, it means your employees are in touch with their counterparts in other lines of business and dealing with small conflicts of interest before they escalate into a crisis.

7. Saving Time

Our digital tools are intended to deepen the web of communication, allowing contact between parties that distance or scale previously precluded from participation. But they can also help to save precious time for smaller decision-making bodies.
In grant-making bodies or at upper-levels of management, for example, face-to-face meeting is both feasible and desirable. It’s also often frequently tiring, with decision-makers battling jet-lag in marathon sessions that tend to start from square one. Unforeseen issues can make long days even longer. As the clock ticks on, participants become increasingly willing to accept any decision, instead of insisting on the best decision.
In these scenarios, our tools can be used to allow a robust level of pre-discussion and pre-decision among participants, which means you arrive at your meeting having already identified any sticking points between yourself and your colleagues. You know where you are willing to compromise and where you aren’t. You know who agrees with you and who doesn’t. You know why they agree with you, or why they see things differently, and everyone else does, too.
That means that during your face-to-face, you can quickly deal with points where there is already consensus, and focus purely on the difficult issues, cutting down on meeting time and improving the quality of the time that is spent in those meetings.

8. Cutting Down Barriers for Physically Challenged or Isolated Groups

Especially in public works and the charitable sector, face-to-face participation can be a challenge for some people, whether it be for reasons of reduced mobility, inaccessibility in remote locations or simply long working hours that make face-to-face meetings difficult.
Organisational democracy is a perfect way to stay involved when challenges prevent face-to-face meetings and to make sure anyone who cannot attend in person is not left out of the loop.
Some of our tools are also compatible with low-vision software and hardware to facilitate participation by the visually impaired.

9. Outreach to the Wider Community

Guess what? You can also use organisational democracy outside your organisation! Want to involve your clients in your company’s charitable efforts or product design? It’s no problem. Some of our tools can also interact with social media to allow participants to tell others about their vote, casting your net even wider.

 

circleFAQs

 
 

By relinquishing control am I not inviting chaos into my organisation? What is to prevent my employees deciding to book themselves a three-week 'corporate retreat' to the Bahamas?

Tempting as the prospect of a thinly-disguised Caribbean vacation is, when people are given decision-making power, they tend to act more – not less – responsibly. However, what you choose to open up for debate is up to you. Depending on the tool you use, you can also set parameters for a decision, eg. by setting budgetary limitations.

It sounds interesting, but I'm not sure how organisational democracy can apply to my situation.

If you are curious about organisational democracy, but aren’t sure yet how it fits in with your organisation, we suggest you book one of our workshops, so that we can walk you and your staff through the history of organisational democracy, the technologies that facilitate it, and how it can improve decision-making and motivation in your sector.

How much am I committing to if I decide to use organisational democracy?

That’s up to you. Some situations might call for a one-time decision, and we are happy to facilitate that. Others might be better served by a longer-term commitment or a more continual decision-making process. Either way, when, where and how you use organisational democracy is up to you.

What if people misuse organisational democracy to vent abuse at others or sabotage decisions?

Opening up decision-making does not mean abandoning basic ground-rules of respect or allowing a few rogue members to sabotage your processes. Many of our tools allow control for just these situations. The key to a successful organisational democracy is to use that power transparently and responsibly, and this is where our training comes in.

What is the difference between organisational democracy and simple surveys or polls?

Surveys and polls are great, but we know their limitations. All too often, survey results gather dust on the bottom shelf while ‘higher’ priorities take precedence. Even when a survey is acted on, the participants rarely find out about it.

Organisational democracy differentiates itself in three important ways:

  1. Organisational democracy is transparent. That means it creates a huge impetus to act on the results. Yes, it’s pressure, but isn’t a bit of pressure sometimes necessary to get the right things done?
  2. Organisational democracy is complex. Surveys ask simple questions. They rarely allow for a co-relation of data or let participants place their answers in context. Organisational democracy captures feedback that takes multiple angles into consideration. Surveys are like textbooks, organisational democracy is real life.
  3. Surveys are directional. They don’t always ask the right questions or deal with the topics your stakeholders care most about. That means that you miss out on valuable information. Organisational democracy can allow for bottom-up communication, allowing your stakeholders to address issues proactively and to bring things to your attention that may have been missed.

What if it just doesn't make sense to involve everyone in every decision?

With organisational democracy, you determine who should be involved in which decisions. It might be appropriate for some decisions to stay within a certain line of business or be limited to a specific geographic area. That’s fine. Organisational democracy can be scaled up or down depending on your needs.