Organisational Structure

  • Zero West is composed of working groups, and new working groups may be formed wherever there is an area of need or function to be fulfilled, by the steering group or any other working group
  • Working groups:
    • Independently undertake the work required to fulfil their function
    • May form subgroups as needed, which report back to the working group
  • If working groups have nothing to report and are not facing any particular problems, time does not need to be given to them at steering group meetings
  • If ideas or work are submitted for approval to the steering group, the steering group will undertake to ensure that any issues may be raised, as soon as possible, and generally at the next regular meeting. If comments or objections are not returned, this may be taken as working approval. 
  • The steering group is a special group, that:
    • Meets once a month
    • Has at least one member of each working group present (a spoke)
    • Provides an organisational strategy, and a guiding plan as to what areas of work are a priority
    • Is more than a coordination group, in that it provides high level input to other working groups
    • Is a coordination group in that other working groups report back to it
    • Makes decisions by consensus, where possible
    • Determines budgets for other groups, and may set up a dedicated finance group as required
  • The steering group is open to new members, either by application to join, or nomination of a new members. New members are appointed by consensus.
  • The directors are a subgroup of the steering group, and have the following special functions:
    • Responsibility for the financial and legal obligations of the organisation
    • The ability to prevent a course of action by any working group (including the steering group) which they regard as detrimental to Zero West
    • Make a decision when consensus decision making fails, but only after every effort has been made to reach consensus

Background to these ideas

These principles come from important contemporary work efforts to re-imagine organisations as ‘holarchies’, rather than traditional hierarchies. There is extensive literature on this, and a few key references follow:

  • Conscious Collaboration
  • Reinventing Organisations (Frederic Laloux) From the website: Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations is considered by many to be the most influential management book of this decade. It has inspired hundreds, probably thousands, of organizations throughout the world to take a radical leap and adopt a whole different set of management principles and practices.
  • Holacracy (Brian J Robertson) This website and accompanying book (2015) is a highly formalised system of non-hierarchy. Organisations adopt a detailed and complex constitution to implement it, as well as various secondary elements to implement basic business procedures on its basis. Major companies such as Twitter have experimented with it. It has had a mixed reception.
  • Sociocracy (James Priest) This is a more fluid exploration of the same idea, and the website provides a series of patterns that organisations can adopt, to tailor a system that is suitable for their needs.

The ideas in the above are quite profound: Holacracy advocates that an organisation is an entity composed of roles needed for the functioning of that organisation. These can be filled by individuals, or by groups, and groups can be nested, so that sub-groups arise where there is a need for a function. Importantly, the organization is composed of roles rather than people. 

Beyond this, the ideas seek to establish organisations that are not held together by a top down hierarchy, or ultimately, even the energy of a founder, but rather are sustained by the empowerment afforded by groups or individuals fulfilling a function. These ideas do not necessarily preclude hierarchical elements, like directors, boards or shareholders.

Interestingly, the question then perhaps becomes not ‘how do we work together’ but ‘what is stopping us working together’. That is to say, groups and individuals are empowered to work to an agreed remit, and can do so in so far as they are fulfilling this, and are not inhibited from doing so. Discussion is therefore valuable for establishing aims and plans, and addressing issues and problems, but insofar as the aims are clear, and issues absent, no discussion is necessarily needed for any group or individual to fulfill their function.

Coordination occurs via ‘spokes’ or ‘leads’ – spokes from groups could form a coordination group, whose role is to facilitate the working of the groups (i.e. what they need for each from each other), but not replace or override their function.