I don’t work, I practice

The more I work and live my life, the more I have the strong feeling that everything I’m doing with others – clients, friends or family – is a way to practice my humanity and deepen my relationship with all of these people and the world.

What do I mean by practice? Practice for me it refers to what Plato said about the term – it is about acting concretely both in a technical and ethical dimension. In this sense, I see practice as acting to develop myself as a human being at every moment of my life. It means not treating work or an activity as something fundamentally external. It is internal. And so, not a burden but a blessing, an opportunity to grow.

Practicing humanity and deepening my relationships requires good conversations. And a good conversation is a space where I can truly be myself; where I can express who I am, how I feel (good or not). It’s a space where I may speak my mind, without judgment; a space where creativity is valued; where decisions are taken together; where we are all responsible for the well being of the group and a good production.

Practice in (and out of) action

I remember a meeting with some people in my city, two years ago. We were there, volunteers to organize a large citizen consultation about democracy. I really tried to catch up with the way the conversation was held. A young guy, very excited by the purpose, was leading us at such a rhythm, it was almost impossible to understand everything. I called for something slower, allowing everybody to be able to express their view and take common decisions. I proposed a talking piece. Nobody complained. After maybe 10 minutes (no more) the young guy decided that it wasn’t efficient for the group. I never came back and the consultation was never launched.

A very opposite experience, in 2011, I was with a group of 10 people (coming from Turkey, Germany, Belgium, France…) for a workshop with Iida Shigemi, a Buto dancer and old Japanese body techniques practitioner. We all were waiting for Iida’s leadership, instruction and learning. Every day, he lead us to the river bank, and that’s all! He was there, lying on the sand, letting us do whatever we wanted to. We spent these 6 days, together, slowly, “doing nothing”, mostly silently. Eventually, still silently, we co-created a sculpture with wood and stones found there; or rather a sculpture emerged. The energy emerging with the creation woke up Iida, and he joined us. We spent 6 days weaving bonds, allowing us to do something together. The art of living together doesn’t always need to end with a co-creation, but time is key. Rather, the aim is to be able to make progress having not so easy conversations; to go on anyway, with an open heart, trusting in our collective capacity to find suitable solutions. To grow up together, to be wiser together. A practice, indeed!

This is mainly what I try to transmit in my work. Almost by definition, working places are intentional meeting spaces where, unfortunately too often, people try to build small private territories to protect themselves from others. They hope to find a comfort they don’t have with their colleagues.

Many people are in this extreme paradox: the need to cohabit in offices without any desire to do so, eight hours a day! Do they find happiness trying to isolate themselves? I don’t think so. But they don’t know how to get out of this trap. They ask or are asked to join the other team, the other office, hoping for something better and reproducing, again and again, the same pattern…
Employees in companies are in the same situation. The purpose of their daily work disappears because they don’t have a global vision that has been built together. They work in a department sometimes without even knowing what their colleagues are doing.

I have been an employee, in various structures, from a large company to a small NGO… I remember how difficult it was to maintain the purpose of my daily work. How rarely I was involved to build a shared vision, to understand why I was there. How I tried to escape, as much as possible, what a burden it was…Impossible for me to imagine creating my own company!
Then, I was an independent for almost 15 years with the burden of loneliness…

Discovering new practices

So, how did I came to create Percolab in France? First, I explored collaboration with Samantha Slade (co-founder of Percolab in Québec), then I discovered the Commons Movement which gave me a larger purpose than my own sustainability; then the Art of Hosting community helped me to deeply believe in collective intelligence. I dove into this Art like a fish discovering all of a sudden that there is an ocean – not only a bowl – to swim my life in. Last but not least, I enjoyed the happiness and responsibility of self-organization within the Percolab team.
Today, the combination of these 3 sets of practices (Commoning, Art of Hosting and self-organisation) functions like 3 pillars on which I rely to work and live. And this is what I give to my clients.

I’m called in to “change the management for more innovation”, to “get out of silos and work more transversely”, “to build a common vision” or “an action plan”, to “help take collective decisions”, to “transform our organizational model”.
In other words, to renew the art to be, work and live together.
Interestingly, it’s often named “a new way of working”. Is it new, really? Our humanity is built on collaboration, we just forgot!
I notice that it’s more and more frequently called ‘to work better together’ and ‘(re)discover the power of co-creation’.

What would be possible if work was a place of daily practice? During a writing retreat I attended last summer, a question was raised: “What trace do you want to leave in the world?” My answer could be this: give to others the inner feeling and strength to transform the way they work as a practice for life.

Curious? Interested by this approach?
Why not join us to experiment during our next Going Horizontal training in France in October? Contact me! nadine (at) percolab dot com

Methodologies and tools: self-management

The fulfillment of basic human needs in self-managed organizations

#sociocracy #self-management #motivation #futureofwork #systemchange

When I started to learn and use sociocracy in 2010, I looked things up in the academic literature; being a college teacher and having done research before, it’s a place I go regularly to find things out. Just to say, I found next to nothing. So, there is a lot of work to do to bridge the gap between self-management models and organizational science. But, there was an obvious link that stood out of my teachings of human motivation and this is what I want to share with you.

My objective is to outline a mindset that we should nurture to make our organizations and people thrive. It is a mindset about why self-management is the future of work and of social organization. Self-management is not another fad for improving efficiency, it is about a human-centered future.

I want to build a bridge between self-management and Self-Determination Theory in psychology. After a brief overview of the theory, my goal is to show how specific self-management practices are key in nurturing people’s fundamental psychological needs. I hope this understanding will help us focus on the important organizational factors to engage people and foster their performance, creativity, and well-being.

Self-determination theory

Self-determination theory is a major theory of human motivation. It has been developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, and refined by numerous scholars over the last 40 years. Last year, Deci and Ryan published a book summarizing the theory and its numerous applications in education, parenting, healthcare, sport, work, etc. You also find lots of information on the self-determination website.

SDT has its roots in humanistic psychology and many of its ideas are similar to previous theories. What distinguishes SDT is its strong empirical base so that its principles are well documented by numerous scientific studies. We are way ahead from Maslow’s hierarchy or pyramid of needs.

This humanistic foundation means that SDT is “centrally concerned with the social conditions that facilitate or hinder human flourishing” which is based on “inherent human capacities for psychological growth, engagement and wellness”. And those capacities are based on the satisfaction of feelings of competence, autonomy and relatedness.

As humans and other organisms have certain biological needs, we also have psychological needs. We need to feel we’re good at something, we need to feel in control of our lives, and we need to feel we belong. SDT’s approach differs from other theories about psychological needs, because it posits a core set of basic universal needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness.

Similarly to biological needs, humans share a core set of universal psychological needs.

Like biological needs will be fulfilled by environmental resources such as water and food, basic psychological needs are fulfilled by a nurturing social environment that allows people to grow and actualize their potentials. SDT is as much a theory of human intrinsic needs than a theory of the social context nurturing those needs.

The relationship between the person and the environment is reciprocal and dynamic.

Both are constantly transforming each other, either toward synthesis or toward greater person-environment conflict. This dynamic between a person’s needs and its environment applies to many life’s domains including work; work can be a place of of great satisfaction when it is nurturing our needs but it can also be a misery when we are controlled, watched and isolated.

Before looking into how specific work patterns interact with the basic psychological needs, let’s identify the general social conditions nurturing the needs.

  1. Feelings of autonomy are produced by opportunities for self-direction, listening to one’s perspective, and psychological safety. Rather than control, ignorance, and power over.
  2. Feelings of competence are generated by tackling optimal challenges, neither too easy, nor too hard, by receiving constructive feedback, and by the acceptance of errors.
  3. Third, feelings of relatedness are produced by social interactions and a culture that put people at least at the same level as tasks or organizational needs.

Therefore, various features of the social environment will fulfill psychological needs resulting in many personal outcomes such engagement, growth, health and wellbeing. It is important to remember that  engagement is an outcome and it is a mistake trying to improve engagement in itself. What engages people are sustainable nurturing environments.

Self-management models have multiple ingredients to build an organizational culture that will fulfill the three core psychological needs.

Nurturing practices

What are those ingredients in the form of patterns, practices and behaviors? For this exercise, I created a table including the three basic needs and three levels of practices: individual, team and organizational. The goal here is not to create a precise and exhaustive classification of all practices but to give us some clarity on which patterns are the most important for nurturing the basic psychological needs. I could have used different self-management models for this exercise: Laloux’s synthesis, Holacracy®, Slade’s Going Horizontal or Dignan’s OS canvas. I used the Sociocracy 3.0 (S3) guide because I feel that James, Bernhard and Lily have done a great job in creating a clear set of well circumscribed and accessible patterns.


Individual Level
(S3 patterns)
Team Level
(S3 patterns)

Organization Level
(S3 principles)





Proposal forming





Peer feedback

Development plan




Continuous improvement


Relatedness Agree on values

Those Affected Decide

Double linking



Role selection




Let’s take a look now at some specific patterns.

Individual level

At the individual level, roles give autonomy to people. Not to mention that they have consented to hold roles. Objection is also a pattern in which individual perspectives are taken into account and brought into collective intelligence.

The structure offered by peer feedback and a development plan is completely aligned with SDT theory about the need for competence. Colleagues can provide clear goals, communicate constructive feedback and a space for errors.

At the individual level, many patterns could be placed for the relatedness need. Agreeing on values makes you align your individual values with those of the organization. Although sociocracy allows circles to make decisions for the whole organization in their respective domain, various means should be taken to include those affected by the decision or evaluation. Lastly, double-linking allows deep cooperation with another team that yours.

Team level

Let’s turn to the team level. Of course, consent decision-making being rational, invitational, and accepting, it is a central force in nurturing autonomy. Proposal forming is about inviting into the diversity of perspectives brought by each one in a team. And domains make it clear what you are responsible for.

On the competence side, I believe that agreements (or proposals) and evaluations are a major force in growing a sense of collective efficacy, a belief in your team’s capacity to deliver.

What are the team patterns nurturing the relatedness need? Let’s put the circle with its capacity to create cohesion and safety among the members. Rounds are powerful in establishing equivalence and belonging to the team. And being unanimously selected by your peers for a role is a strong social validation.

Organizational level

We can look through the organizational level with the seven principles put forward by Sociocracy 3.0. Accountability and consent are about the individual’s responsibility to take ownership of the course of the organization, an autonomy-supportive environment. Empiricism, continuous improvement and effectiveness are about getting better at what we do individually and collectively, a competence-supportive environment. And equivalence and transparency are about being fully involved in the organization. You are not being left out in any way by power and secrecy, a relatedness-supportive environment.

Finally, tensions and drivers are crucial patterns to attend to needs at all levels. These are patterns to become aware of our need thwarting.

Self-determination theory as an organizational mindset

My take-home message is to use SDT theory as a mindset that people should develop to make their organizations and its people thrive whatever model you are applying. This mindset is simple: autonomy, competence and relatedness. This mindset should help you remember or create practices that fulfill the needs of people and yours.

Let’s finished by quoting Deci and Ryan.

“The concept of basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness provides the framework for understanding the implications of SDT for the workplace. Every policy and practice implemented within a work organization is likely to either support or thwart the basic psychological needs. Anyone interested in improving the work context within an organization and thus the performance and wellness of its employees could evaluate any policy or practice being considered in terms of whether it is likely to (a) allow the employees to gain competencies and/or feel confident, (b) experience the freedom to experiment and initiate their own behaviors and not feel pressured and coerced to behave as directed, and (c) feel respect and belonging in relation to both supervisors and peers.”

This article was the content of a presentation given at the International Sociocracy Online Conference, 1st May 2018.



Self-determination theory in work organizations: The state of a science
Edward L. Deci, Anja H. Olafsen, Richard M. Ryan
Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior 2017 4:1, 19-43

Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness
Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci
Guilford Publishing. 2017.

Understanding motivation and emotion (7th ed.)
Johnmarshall Reeve
Wiley 2018



Methodologies and tools: self-management
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