Self-governing organisations must be able to delegate

Udo Herrmannstorfer

The danger of splitting apart into personal ambition should be prevented just as much as the tendency to subject all actions to communal approval. To make possible the coordination between the community and its members, the two “selves” must not be treated as opposites. Rather they should be seen as poles, the tension between which is increased through a rhythmic process, creating energy for initiatives. Every initiative, from its inception through its development, passes through the sphere of interest of the community, invokes creative potential in all the individuals involved, then integrates itself back into the community. The rhythmic connection between the two poles means that both objectives simultaneously interpenetrate one another. I describe the individual steps of this basic process as “dynamic delegation”. 

Phase 1: Becoming aware of a task

To start with, there has to be a need. Without a question, no answer. This pre-phase to an initiative demands sensitivity with regard to the need for action. Once it is recognised or felt that internal or external circumstances signal a need for action, it is time for the community to look at the issue in greater detail. In obtaining a basic picture of the situation, the question also arises to what extent the community is affected. The answer can either be a rejection or the decision to look further into the matter. The further engagement of the community brings not only more detailed understanding but also creates fertile soil for the future solutions.

Phase 2: The problem of getting to the bottom of an issue

The picture alone is not enough. It has to be made to talk. The problems, all viewed together, have to be interpreted as symptoms which point towards deeper causes. A first step towards getting to the bottom of a problem is to look at its context, its environment. A second step is to contemplate the problem’s genesis. How did the problem develop? A third step can be to look at the spiritual forces involved and on their effect.

This phase is also focused on the community. Those involved identify themselves increasingly with the pending task. They bundle their knowledge and experience. That creates the spiritual basis for later actions and decisions.

Phase 3: Finding individual answers for common problems

Although in the first two phases the community was vital, it is now reaching its limits. If it is not to be smothered by all the things that need to be done or become superficial in hectic activity, it has to have a basic interest in allotting different tasks to individuals or small groups. This transition is normally called “delegation”. The allocation of the tasks can either be structurally regulated for a certain amount of time or it can be done on a case by case basis. The tendency to try and predefine the subsequent actions as closely as possible reflects the lack of will to let go and the fear of activating the creative potential of people. The community takes power disguised as delegation. The forces of initiative are crippled if responsibility is not properly delegated and everything is subsequently discussed and decided upon once again by the community. In process terms, action is socialised in the first two steps. In doing so, criteria can be found that those who have been delegated tasks are given to take with them.

Phase 4: Reaching a decision

At its core, this means that those who have been delegated to carry out a task should also reach or make all of the decisions connected with it, as long as  there is not an important reason why the entire community should be involved in the decision-making process. That during this process other existing expertise must be considered and factored into the development of the solution, goes without saying. Divergence requires agreement beforehand. Those not directly involved in the decision making learn also to support the decisions of others with responsibility. They can do this because they their advice was included in the two preparatory steps.

Phase 5: Implementing the decision

If nothing else is stipulated, then those who made the decision should also be responsible for its implementation.

In doing so, they can count on the help of all the others. Of course, this point is also a suitable time for a caesura and for responsibility to change hands, especially if the decision has been made in a large group. But implementation alone does not mean the end of it. The issue now has to be taken back to the community.

Phase 6: Review – rendering account

While the effects of the action reach into the social life, the moral question remains whether full justice was done to the situation in real life. Therefore a review phase follows: seeing what has been achieved. In this process the entire community can again take part and contribute its perceptions. This allows everybody to connect again with the previous actions. The timing of the review phase should be chosen such that it takes place only after the intended effects can be seen.

Throughout their cooperation, the people responsible for the process have also had their own experiences which they have had on behalf of all the others. Giving account means drawing on these experiences. In the review individual people allow others to participate in the experience and knowledge that they have acquired.

A lack of time is often used to justify skipping the review phase. However, doing so means squandering important spiritual and soul substance that is urgently necessary for the development of the community.

Phase 7: Taking responsibility – discharge

We started with the problems and questions facing the community. After the basic work in the community, the initiative is then passed on for an individual or a small group to tackle. As a result the community is freed of this issue but only because individuals have taken the onus upon themselves. As soon as they have shown their results to the community, it is then time for the community to take responsibility back from them and on to its own shoulders. Now the community has to take the consequences of such delegation upon itself. This re-burdening of the community with the consequences of what those individuals have done for it and in its place can be called “discharge”. Taking responsibility, not just for the initiative but also its consequences, makes the community real.

About the author: Udo Herrmannstorfer works as a management consultant; he supports initiatives that seek new forms – with a background in the idea of the threefold social organism. He lectures and runs seminars internationally, and is the head of the Institut für zeitgemäße Wirtschafts- und Sozialgestaltung in Dornach.