Agile learning organisations with Sociocracy 3.0

An interview with Susanne Pulverer, Leader of the Sustainability Agenda in IKEA India Retail, and of the Development of the Delhi Market.

"In the traditional hierarchy, in that structure, there’s a smaller group who’s in the driver’s seat. We become a bottleneck for development. We need to find new ways to lead, organise and make decisions – ways that enable everyone to contribute with their full capacity.”

During her 20+ years in the IKEA Group, Susanne Pulverer has accumulated a wealth of experience of leading change in ways that create joy and meaning at work. Her specialty is leadership, a role she considers to be so important that she describes it as a profession in its own right. Susanne currently holds several leading roles in IKEA's Retail Organization in India; Sustainability, Development of the Delhi Market, and contributing to the leadership development in the region.

Just about a year ago, Susanne, a few of her IKEA colleagues and myself, participated in a training, learning about Sociocracy 3.0. We left the workshop very energized, with a toolbox filled to the rim. Now, a year later, I'm curious to know how it affected their ways of leading, organising and learning. I contacted Susanne, and a couple of weeks ago we met virtually.

New ways to lead and organise

Susanne, I believe that you have a solid curiosity in new ways to lead and organise. What do you experience in your daily leadership that inspires that curiosity?

“That's correct. I have been searching for better ways to organise and lead for quite some time. As I see it, it’s primarily a humanistic issue. We all want to be able to contribute with our full capacity. In our organisation, we have so much potential; well-educated, committed people who want to contribute, influence and take responsibility. When you get to do that, it’s a joy to go to work. And it’s our role as leaders to make that possible.”

Susanne describes other driving forces for why we need to change our leadership.

“Today’s reality is more complex, there are many dimensions in all issues and many interdependencies, and things happen at great speed."

She gives digitisation as an example.

“We must dare to make decisions based on what we know and what we beleive. We cannot work in isolation, a holistic perspective is necessary. We need to gather different perspectives and bring them into our decision making. It’s challenging to lead complex tasks, we need to see ourselves more as facilitators, or enablers. And building trust is crucial to success. When trust is not there, you start to control.”

Susanne has a steady gaze and she expresses her thoughts emphatically; there is no doubt that she’s firmly grounded in what she says.

“So for me, the driving forces are clear, and it’s also in our IKEA values; to give and take responsibility, to involve and delegate. But the HOW remains. We need good tools, working methods that enable collective decision making, meaningful involvement and more self-management. There are many new thoughts out there that can help us create organisations where it’s meaningful and fun to come to work, where we all experience that we contribute, where we have good relationships – organisations that at the same time are effective, efficient, agile and smart.”

What can we ”download” from Sociocracy 3.0? 

As I recall, you and your colleagues, like myself, left the course with great enthusiasm and a dose of healthy confusion. We shared our lists of tools that we would experiment with in our everyday reality. So, a year down the line, how useful were they? And was it challenging to test and learn?

“The workshop with James and Lili gave us a great toolbox. I have used several of them and found that they open up for wiser and more efficient decision making, better use of time, increased clarity and a more open and safe work environment. They are not difficult to use, but you have to be courageous. It's not easy to change old habits.”

Can you describe some of the tools you have taken a liking to?

“What immediately comes to my mind is "Consent Decision Making", decision-making based on consent, which should not be confused with consensus. Making decisions based on many perspectives is an art form, and this process helps us to do that. You learn to see objections as gifts, a possibility to improve a proposal or avoid harm. And you reduce the risk of making decisions based on the smallest common denominator. "Good enough for now - safe enough to try" is a great way to clarify the bar for our decisions. It creates a sense of safety. We have also used "Proposal-forming", a process that helps us see a complex issue from many perspectives before we propose solutions and decide on our next step.”

“We always have a timer visible at all our meetings, and all agenda items have a certain amount of time allotted. We say that we "Time-box our agenda". A very easy way to enable everyone to take responsibility for how we use our precious meeting time. "Visualizing work", in the form of "Backlogs" on meetings helps us keep focus and experience the satisfaction of progressing with our tasks.”

Do you have tools in your toolbox that you believe can be useful, but that you’ve not yet tried out?

“There are many tools that I’ve not used yet. "Peer review", a collegial follow-up / feedback, for example, and "Role Selection" - where the team chooses a person for a certain role. Both of these are sensitive processes, which means that they are often handled by managers and leaders in closed rooms. But by following a solid, well-thought-out process, we can make good use of everyone’s resources and skills, while at the same time handle the issues with care.”

Sociocracy 3.0 - is it for everyone?

To find Sociocracy 3.0 useful, do you need to be super interested in leadership, such as yourself, or do you think there’s something in it for everyone?

Susanne is silent, her eyes focus somewhere beyond me; it looks like she's zooming out to get a perspective on the question. She then answers:

“If the hierarchy worked well we probably wouldn’t experience an equally strong need to do anything different. Everyone's attention turn to the management team, but it's so complex and everything goes so fast, we simply don’t manage. I think we are only at the beginning of profound changes in our ways of leading and organising - an exciting and challenging journey. So the answer is yes. I believe that anyone who has a leadership role, anyone who leads and facilitates meetings, can benefit greatly from getting access to Sociocracy 3.0’s toolbox.”

Find the interview in Swedish

What is Sociocracy 3.0 (S3)? Effective collaboration at any scale – A practical guide for agile and responsive organisations. Flexible, principle-based and free. S3 offers 74 patterns, i e behavioral processes, that help us navigate complexity.

Rask Utveckling and Associates recently organised a course in Sociocracy 3.0 in Malmö, Sweden. You find all available S3 courses in the world at You can also find articles I’ve written about S3 on this Learning Portal for Excitement & Growth, in Swedish and in English.

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19 Nov 2018