Friday, 27 February 2015


“But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?
And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?
Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.
So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17, 7-10 KJV)
In January Friend's House made a press release on the resolution of the problem of Zero Hours contracts in the Friends House Hospitality company which states
“BYM is a Living Wage Employer, and is recognised for the strict 1:4 ratio between lowest and highest paid staff.  Our lowest wage band starts at 19% above the London Living Wage.  All staff receive generous benefits, including 8% employer pension contribution, subsidised meals, permanent health insurance, childcare vouchers, a cycle-to-work scheme and access to a free confidential employee assistance programme.”
These must be amongst the best terms for employees anywhere, and the zero hours contracts have gone, yet there was still a serious problem and Friend's House is still being picketed.
There is a world of difference between being nice to people and treating them equally, and at the end of the day Friends House Hospitality are merely 'unprofitable servants' doing their duty by by law and good practice.
In a slave economy you can give your slaves good food and accommodation, decent and safe working conditions, health care and so on, but they are still slaves: they are still not equal to you. We are told that all the directors of Friends House Hospitality are Quakers, yet if the company is ran as a conventional managerial hierarchy, some people are more equal than others, and calling them Quakers, who are no doubt nice people, changes nothing.
In 'The Friend' of 19 Feb 2015 Ian Beeson in 'Arguing for equality'  reflects on the problems at Friends House and says:
"If we don’t make such an effort [to establish additional regular practices], we face the danger of stagnation, or of accepting forms of practice and conduct, and of models of organisation, economy and society, from our surrounding culture, adding only a Quaker flavour or topping instead of proposing a radical alternative."
The thing is radical alternatives do exist, and are being practised around the world, and were first developed by Quakers “Kees” Boeke and his wife, Beatrice “Betty” Cadbury, as 'Sociocracy' or 'Dynamic Governance', so why aren't we using them?
Perhaps the problems in Friends House Hospitlaity are in part due to a radical observation made by Ricardo Semler, a Brazilian business owner who adopted Sociocracy in his large company way back on the 1980s:
No one can expect the spirit of involvement and partnership to flourish without an abundance of information available even to the most humble employee. I know all the arguments against a policy of full disclosure. … But the advantages of openness and truthfulness far outweigh the disadvantages. And a company that doesn’t share information when times are good loses the right to request solidarity and concessions when they aren’t.
It seems that 'solidarity' is certainly lacking at Friends House if disaffected former employees are picketing the entrance.
The Quaker philosopher John Macmurray had a radical vision of equality and freedom in community, and Quaker Home Service way back in 1979 at Friends House published a pamphlet containing a short piece by him written in 1929, 'Ye Are My Friends' in which he writes that Christianity is not about duty and service, but about friendship. Perhaps it is time to get this phamphlet out of the library, knock the dust off it and read it carefully.
 The title is taken from the words of Jesus as recorded by John 15:15, where he talks about servants and lords, but it equally applies to employees and directors:
“Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”
We know how to have ministry without a priest, to all be equal before God, and we could know how to have management without managers, everyone working together in equal partnership to do good work in the world.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Wot? No managers?

There is an overriding assumption in modern organisations that a management hierarchy is essential. This assumption is taken up in many Quaker organisations, both those ran by Quakers and Quaker organisations themselves, such as at Friends House and many large meeting houses that employ staff to run a lettings business.
Yet no one seems to be asking the question, how is that we do without hierarchy in our meetings for worship for business, yet seem to require it in our other business activities?

We Quakers should be disquieted by a commonly accepted theory of the origins of modern management. Before the industrial revolution, most work was carried out in homes or small forges and mills, with size limited by restricted and localised access to power and transport. At the same time the state was administered by courtiers working directly for the monarch.
The development of steam power and railways led to the rise of large factories employing hundreds and then thousands of workers. At the same time the state grew ever more sophisticated. Factory owners looking for efficiency and thus profits, and government officials burdened by ever more administration, looked around for methods of organising such enterprises, and only one presented itself: the army. Generals commanded armies of thousands with the organisation successfully evolving over centuries, and literally tested to destruction on the battlefield.

Factory and government hierarchies mimicked those of the armed forces, even down to sharing the same language. And the rise of competition led to military metaphors being used to describe processes and tactics. Yet Quakers, despite our testimony against war, happily followed along in their business activities.

At first hierarchical management was about execution – getting things done as efficiently as possible, but with the rise of ever more sophisticated technology, management turned to be about implementing expertise, which required specialist knowledge that could only be obtained from outside the community or organisation. And still Quakers followed along, despite our testimony to the truth within.

Today, many forward thinking entrepreneurs realise that hierarchies are inherently rigid and incapable of responding effectively to change, especially in the fast moving field of information technology. This problem is well known in the field of war, through the commonly known saying “Generals are always preparing to fight the last war that they won”, and in this period of marking the anniversary of the First World War, we should be painfully aware of the terrible consequences of this failure. Yet still Quakers persist in using hierarchical command and control methods to run their business activities despite such bad press, whilst, ironically, some forwarding thinking entrepreneurs have discovered from Quakers ways of organising without hierarchy.

In the middle of the last century Quakers Kees Boeke and Betty Cadbury developed 'sociocracy' in the Netherlands as a means of making effective decisions in an organisation based on “deep democracy”:
“...sociocracy is a collaborative governance method emphasizing self-organizing groups, distributed authority, and inclusive consent decision-making. Its values are equality, transparency, and effective action.”
Towards the end of the century the method was developed for use in business, in particular in the Netherlands and Brazil. In this century the method has been further developed as 'Holocracy' in the United States by IT entrepreneur Brian Robertson, in particular to enable business to be much more responsive to change:
“Management Without Managers: Holacracy places the seat of organizational power in an explicit process, one which organizes around an explicit purpose. This allows emergent behaviour of the whole system, without being controlled by either a single heroic leader or even the collective group.” 
In the 1640s, when many people experienced ”the world turn'd upside down”, George Fox saw that among “those esteemed the most experienced people...... there was none ... that could speak to my condition" he realised that not only did we not need priests telling us what to do, but that they were the source of the problem. There were no 'mangers' or 'experts' back then – the priests and preachers filled those roles:
“... the Lord opened unto me that being bred at Oxford or Cambridge was not enough to fit and qualify men to be ministers of Christ; and I wondered at it, because it was the common belief of people.”
And so it was that people looked at Quaker meetings and exclaimed:
“Wot! No Priests?”

Thursday, 5 February 2015


“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.20).
'In my name' means 'in the manner which I have shown you', i.e. we need to come together and submit to one another in love, as free and equal persons. It is there that the creativity that is the dynamic of persons in relations is found, and our full potential is realised – i.e. 'that of god in us' is answered and released –  'there am I in the midst of them'. The implication of this is that 'god' is in the relationships, and not a distant patriarchal man in the clouds barking commands, nor the distant mystical 'ground of our being' or 'ultimate reality'.  The ground of our being is actually fully realised personal relationships, and ultimate reality is living a common life.

But if we come together protecting our own individuality, fearful of being truly free, or come together under some external corporate command rather than as equals, then we are lost.

For me 'individual' and 'corporate' are badly loaded words to express this dynamic.
'Individual' implies some attempt to retain our own ego, to seek our own truth, to believe that we can somehow become whole without relationships with other persons, and worse, possibly trying to conjure up some mystical other being to relate to, which being a figment of our imagination, will allow us to retain our ego. The test of our individual leadings is in action in the world, especially in relationships with other persons. The leading points to truth and light to the extent that our relationships improve, and points to darkness to the extent that our relationships deteriorate. This is the locus of individual discernment, not weighing ideas in our heads, but experimentally through action in a world that contains other persons.
'Corporate' implies some form of external control that we submit to. To 'submit to one another in love' is to enter freely into a relationship which treats the other as fully equal, in faith and trust that this will be reciprocated and no constraint will be imposed on us. So we do not submit to dogmas and creeds and teachings of others, not even what is in Quaker Faith and Practice. But neither do we ignore those who have gone before. We are both rooted in the past and growing towards the future, and to ignore the past and the way it has shaped our language and traditions is to cut ourselves adrift and become anything to anyone. Isaac Penington was profoundly right then to insist that each of us is 'not to take things for truths because others see them to be truths, but to wait till the spirit makes them manifest.' (The works of the long-mournful and sorely-distressed Isaac Penington, 1761) for this is the nature of free and equal relationships with those from the past.

In 'What Can We Say?', on Transition Quaker, Craig Barnett, whom I thank for the Penington quote, asks:
“Is corporate Quaker testimony important in your life? How do you see the balance between individual leadings and collective discernment in your meeting, and in the wider Quaker community?”
In 'What Can We Say Today?', in The Friends Quarterly, v41-3, August 2014, Simon Best and Stuart Masters ask:
'Are we a support group for individuals each engaged on their own personal and private spiritual journey or are we a faith community with a corporate life?'
The answer to the question of individual versus corporate is 'both and neither'. The paradox arises, as is usually the case, because the question is incorrectly framed: it is not about 'individual' and 'corporate' but about relationships. To be gathered together as free and equal persons is to be both fully 'individual' and fully 'corporate', but also to let go of self-identity and to let go of the corporate identity, and find our identity in community with one another. It is other people that call us 'Quakers', we call each other 'friends'. A community of free and equal friends sharing a common life discover that authority resides in their relationships with one another, i.e. know 'experimentally' that 'there am I in the midst of them'.

(NB For Christians, and those brought up in western culture who can still retrieve what is good in the message of Jesus past the patriarchal hierarchical homophobic church, the 'I' is 'Christ', but the 'I' can be any understanding of a personal, relational other that we discover in community.)