In the second of two blogs our Non Executive Director Julia Beart shares some reflections on a tough winter and the green shoots of spring as Shared Assets undergoes a double transition; moving from a think-and-do tank to infrastructure for an emerging land movement, and towards a more distributed leadership that models the power dynamics we want to see in a more just and sustainable future.

“We are realising that we must become the system we need”

  • adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy

In March, we published reflections from part 1 of our recent enquiry on bridging between systems as we nurture the green shoots of a just transition. In this first blog, we shared how we are making the shift from think and do tank to infrastructure organisation for an emerging land justice movement. This blog - part 2 - rounds up our learning from the reflective enquiry that has been ongoing alongside the shifts in our strategic thinking. We share how we seek to shape the organisation in a way that embodies the collective power and shared leadership that the movement needs from us.

Shared Assets has been co-led since its early days and has always sought to work in ways that promote shared decision making (using sociocracy) and self-managing teams. We described this in a blog last year about our intentions to test innovations in governance that would embed distributed power across the organisation.

With one Co-Founder (Kate) having transitioned to a non-exec role, and the other Co-Founder (Mark) planning his own transition out of the organisation in the next 12-18 months, we have been thinking about the type of organisational structure that we want to build that reflects our values and mirrors the healthy power dynamics that we hope to nurture across the wider movement.

Over the past months, we’ve navigated a series of reflective sessions. We began with internal discussions around the possibilities opened up by transition and transformation before moving into conversations with our partners to explore and better understand our position and our value in the wider ecosystem. Finally, we re-focussed internally, challenging ourselves to get into the practicalities of a future structure that truly represented our values as an organisation.

Through this process, we surfaced discomfort in any kind of structure that consolidated power with a small group of people. It was always going to be about some form of shared leadership, but how might we go further?

With the team small in size, but with new people beginning to join us, we knew we needed to start with the current team whilst creating space for everyone to step into a ‘leaderful’ culture where roles and responsibilities are shared and possibly rotated. Using sociocratic principles as a structure for considering our options, the executive staff team collectively consented to the following which felt ‘good enough for now and safe enough to try’:

  • Three members of the staff team will begin to coordinate ‘circles’ based around finance & fundraising, strategy & business planning, and people & culture.The coordinators of these circles will also be members of the Board as executive directors. This will bridge the gap between the ‘executive’ and ‘non-executive’ team, share power more evenly across the organisation, and ensure that the right people are around the table when key decision making is needed.
  • Circles will be responsible for the deep work related to their functional area, and where there are significant new projects or workstreams requiring discussion and decision making, these will be brought to the wider team via a proposal. The team will ask questions, help refine the proposal or simply consent to it, before it goes back to the circle to be taken forward.
  • Circle coordinators will hold these responsibilities rotating on a 2-year cycle. Rotation is by design a mechanism to avoid power becoming permanently entrenched with a small number of people, and to ensure that everyone in the organisation feels a sense of ownership of the organisation, and a responsibility towards its long-term health.
  • Before embedding this structure permanently, we’ll trial it for 6-months before inviting other (new) team members to consent to it, or help refine it.
Our organisational circles for distributing leadership

There are other conversations that we’ll be taking forward at the same time which aren’t fully defined yet. We will take advice on how to embed employee ownership in the organisation from a constitutional point of view (so that it is embedded in our DNA). This isn't necessarily about a change in legal structure - we’re a CIC - but about ensuring that we commit ourselves to ways of working that collectivise power and share responsibilities across the team in the long-term. We're also actively working on how to create a form of pay equity across the organisation, learning from others who have done similar work on this in recent years.

We’re committed to working transparently as we continue to develop our thinking - learning out loud is one way that we can not only share learning and knowledge but also demonstrate our commitment to working in community with others.

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