Mandates in more detail (and how to write them)

Why mandates?

We are based on autonomy and decentralisation. Mandates are the building blocks by which we decentralise and mitigate any concentration of power.

We divide all the different types of decision we have to make into mandates, and then we distribute these mandates to the people best able to carry them out. We trust them to do just that, and we hold them accountable if they don't.

So the mandate for a circle or role defines which decisions it can make.

Taking care of our mandates -- recording them, communicating them, updating them -- is critical to how we manage ourselves without managers.

What's in a mandate?

A mandate has three parts:

  • a purpose -- the result we want to bring about (e.g. for XR UK the purpose might be 'Achievement of the three demands');
  • some clear accountabilities -- the activities we will do to bring about the result;
  • some domains, if they’re needed -- the resources (e.g. PA system) or spaces (e.g. website, social media presence) to which we need to regulate access.

What makes a good mandate?

  • Short -- rebels need to be able to scan mandates quickly to find the right team, so try to make this easy.
  • Clear -- use plain does-what-it-says-on-the-tin terms that rebels don't need training to understand.
  • Specific -- each circle or role has a purpose which is part of, or contributes to, the wider circle or which it is part. So focus on what your part of that wider purpose is, and avoid overlapping with areas that other circles might think are part of their mandate.

Notes:

  • None of this means that your team cannot create richly described visions of the world you would like to bring into being, or the strategy by which you might do this. If that helps you achieve your mandate, do it. But it is separate from your mandate, and serves a different function.
  • If circles do feel that their mandates are overlapping unhelpfully, then we count this as a tension and one or both circles may work on a proposal to resolve it. This is part of the wider Self-Organising System.

Tips for writing mandates

Purpose

Everything starts with the purpose. This is the outcome that your team exists to bring about.

Try answering one or more of these questions:

  • What would it look like if your team were wildly successful?
  • If I fulfilled my purpose, there would be… [what?]
  • We imagine a world where… [what? but keep it specific: remember this is what you and your team are creating, not the whole movement]

You should be able to use your answer as a purpose statement.

You can do whatever it takes to achieve your purpose.

Accountabilities

Accountabilities are the things that a circle or role does day-to-day, the most commong activities to achieve the purpose.

Try completing the sentence, "I was watching the team (or role) for a while and I saw them…"

  • contacting…, communicating…, coordinating…
  • creating…, producing…, designing…, making…
  • identifying…, analysing…, evaluating…
  • supporting…, assisting…, caring for…
  • planning…, deciding…

Try to avoid words like 'ensuring' because they usually imply controlling someone else's work.

Think about all the work your circle/role needs to do to fulfil its purpose.

Again, try to keep each accountability to a single concise sentence, so that all rebels can grasp them quickly.

The holder of a mandate has the authority to do whatever it needs to get its accountabilities done, unless it impacts someone else's domain.

(Still want more? Check out this blog post from HolacracyOne for some further guidance on writing accountabilities.)

Domains

Domains are things that a role has exclusive control over. These could be physical things (like a PA system or greenhouses) or more abstract things (like payment processes, or event lists).

Only add a domain to a mandate if there is a clear reason for it. Most mandates don't have domains.

What harm would be caused by having no exclusivity? If a role wants the PA system for an event, but finds it has been taken to another event, the former role experiences harm. If lots of people can add, edit or delete events from a list, there could be harm (e.g. from mistaken deletions), but there may not be. Is it safe enough to try?

Scope - important

A circle cannot delegate a mandate that has a wider scope than its own mandate:

  • it can't give a role or subcircle a purpose that is not a part of achieving its own purpose;
  • it cannot make someone accountable for doing something that it is not itself accountable for;
  • it can't add a domain to mandate unless it already controls that domain.

Example mandate

Let's say our circle has been giving a mandate to organise a fundraising party.

We decide we need a role for finding the venue, which we’ll call Venue Finder. Now we need to give the role a mandate so that someone has the authority to find the venue.

Purpose: The party is held in a location with space for dancing and awesome acoustics.

Accountabilities

  • Contacting, and maintaining a list of, potential venues
  • Evaluating the potential venues in terms of access, cost other criteria agreed with relevant roles
  • Booking a venue for the date of the party

Should the Venue Finder role might have ‘Food and drinks tables’ as a domain? If they did, the Catering role would have to get permission from the Venue Finder if they wanted to move the tables or buy more tables. It is for the circle to decide, when creating the mandate, whether this is necessary or would prevent the Catering role from fulfilling its own purpose and accountabilities.