Returning to a Renewed Community Life in Our Schools – Lisa Mahar

Returning to a Renewed Community Life in Our Schools: 

Four Keys to help regain Vibrance 


Lisa Mahar is a co-director of the Art of Administration summer training program of Leading with Spirit., offering  week-long administrative training  focused on the foundations of Waldorf education, explorations in school governance, school communication, meeting facilitation, roles and responsibilities, community building, leadership development, collaboration, and more.


As Longer, warmer days and the tentative emergence of buds and blossoms let us know that spring is underway and we are happily anticipating our return to community celebrations and festival life after many months of limited contact, modified events, and sustained precautions,  many school leaders are facing the reality that large portions of their student bodies and their parent bodies have yet to experience the full rhythm and richness of our Waldorf community celebrations, festivals, special events, and school traditions.  


While reintroducing a renewal of community life promises the special kind of refreshment, nourishment, and sustenance we long for, we are presented with a unique opportunity and challenge to pause and ask

How do we best renew our community activities?  

What new opportunities present themselves for a full refreshment of community life?  

How might we adopt and incorporate our ongoing and meaningful work aimed at broadening circles of inclusion and welcome?  

Which traditions still pulse with life, and which are ready to become meaningful memories of a past time?  

What new events and celebrations are peeking over the cradle’s rim ready to be taken up?


Each school community will answer these questions in its own way.  What follows are some reflections and insights from the work of Jorgen Smit on elements that make up a healthy, vibrant, balanced community life.  Schools might find these insights useful as they plan for a full return to community life.


Jorgen Smit, a long time Waldorf teacher and anthroposophist,  studied human community and observed human relationships. He developed his observations and experiences into a picture of the healthy human social organism, based on four dynamics of community life: Warmth, Initiative, Form, and Continuity.  When each of these four  dynamics is present and lively and when these dynamics are actively and consciously balanced and rebalanced, a living and vibrant sense of community carries us all. (See a brief introduction to Jorgen Smit below)


Consider these four elements and your own school community.



Community warmth creates an atmosphere of welcome, of extension toward the other, of striving for connection. Warmth is interest, curiosity. Warmth flows through and breaks down any separation between the long-time members of the community and the brand-new ones.  Warmth brings a sense of welcome, comfort, acceptance, enthusiasm.  Diversity, and its essential companion, inclusion, thrive in a community permeated by human warmth. In such a community, even challenges are welcomed because they often generate “heat” in our human connections.   Warmth is a necessary condition for growth, raying out and engaging those it touches.



Proposing, exploring, and manifesting new approaches demonstrate a commitment to our healthy future. Initiative asks questions, is willing to experiment and takes risks. Balanced with warmth, form, and continuity, it’s the fuel that moves a community forward.   Vibrant wholeness and energy characterize communities friendly to initiative. A school community that works to sense the future welcomes initiative from all quarters, including from new teachers, new staff members, and new parents, and from the students themselves.  After all, our new and our young community companions bring us the gift of fresh eyes. When balanced with warmth, form, and continuity we find initiative to be an inspiring energizer keeping us fresh and engaged.



Form is the structure of the community and its policies, procedures, protocols. Form reflects our living values, what is important to us. It holds us up and holds us together.  If we are committed to professional development for teachers, our budget should support it. If we are committed to financial accessibility for all, our tuition policies should make that possible. If we are committed to diversity and inclusion, our curriculum, staffing, enrollment, festivals, and celebrations reflect these commitments. We experience form in a framework: our values lead to principles; principles lead to policies; policies lead to practices. Form has a sturdiness and durability to it. We can count on it. Form is, of course, open to transform, yet it is, at best, the set of firm yet supple golden threads that weave our school community together.



Continuity embraces and continually refreshes what is valuable, inspiring, what works.  It lives in community rhythms, predictability, tradition, and the honoring of history. Continuity is carrying forward what is lively and true.  Continuity gives new ideas time and space to work.  Continuity is sensing and celebrating what we can rightly rely on: it was, it is, it will be. This is a gift for our children, a source of strength, trust, and security. Dynamic continuity calls us to be attentive, perceptive, and especially awake, avoiding doing a thing because “we’ve always done it”.


Warmth,  initiative, form, continuity, these four elements are guiding lights illuminating the path of community health and well-being. We can ask ourselves: Are all of these elements present in our school community? Which element are we especially good at? Does one or another need to be strengthened? How does each manifest in the life of the school?  Are these elements well-balanced with one another? Are there groups or individuals especially gifted in holding one or more of these elements?  Where do we see opportunities for further growth and development of warmth, initiative, continuity, and form?


In this new moment we are offered a unique opportunity: returning to fuller expression of a vibrant community life.  With a nod to the thoughtful work of Jorgen Smit, we look forward to making the most of the compelling possibilities that lay ahead.  Kind thoughts to all as you examine, strengthen, and renew your community relationships and deepen your school culture now and for our future.  Happy Spring!


Jorgen Smit (1916 – 1991) was a Waldorf Educator—a class teacher, trainer of teachers, international pedagogical leader, and one of the founders of the anthroposophical center in Jarna, Sweden, which now includes a teacher education seminar, a cultural center, hospital, school, biodynamic farm, dairy, and the international Youth Initiative Program (YIP). Jorgen Smit was a warm–hearted, compassionate human being, deeply interested in others.  He inspired many young people to pursue careers of service in Waldorf Education and other anthroposophically based initiatives. Stories abound of his interest in others, his humor, curiosity, and encouraging guidance.


To learn more about Leading with Spirit and our July 2022 summer course offerings in the Art of Administration, please visit Leading with Spirit or reach out to Lisa Mahar at


Exploring Accountability: An Introduction

This newsletter focuses on accountability. It is a topic of conversation and a concern, not only in every Waldorf School, but also in every organization today. Most of the books, articles and essays connect accountability to improving performance and outline processes to help individuals or groups become more accountable by setting clear goals, having clear roles and responsibilities, having systems to evaluate employee performance, giving people incentives, and creating clear consequences when individuals fall short of goals. All of these suggestions can be useful in certain situations, but they fall short of being helpful to those of us working in highly collaborative horizontal organizations.

The dynamics of accountability in horizontal organizations are different. Individuals have many more meaningful relationships and are expected to carry more responsibility for the whole organization and to be responsive to collegial feedback. The typical measure of accountability -- that of improving performance -- needs to be balanced with the concern for developing the capacities of individuals. In our endeavors, it is a central purpose of our work. This difference is fundamental. Ultimately, in healthy horizontal organizations, individuals become more and more capable of guiding their own development and incentives, and consequences are more intrinsic.

The collection of articles in this newsletter explores what accountability means in a collaborative organization: what is required of us as individuals; how do we need to organize and manage our organizations to support and encourage accountability; how do we find ways to assure that our organization is accountable to those it serves.

This is an ongoing exploration that hopefully can lead to individuals gaining new insights into ways to understand accountability and bring health to our organizations.

The following articles explore the realm of personal and organizational accountability.

The One World Trust report on accountability in international NGO’s offers some insightful aspects of what makes an organization accountable to its stakeholders. While its audience is organizations working in the international arena, its principles are helpful in thinking about how we as a school engage and inform those whom we serve – families and the community at large. The article is an excerpt of the full report, “Pathways to Accountability – The GAP Framework.” The full report and the excerpt are both available in our resource collection.

In an excerpt from his important book, Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux describes how organizations pioneering new horizontal forms deal with performance evaluations for groups and for individuals. It is an interesting exploration of how previous practices of control are transformed in new organizations.

 “Managing Horizontal Accountability” is an article by Darrel Ray ad David Elder that shares insights about how performance-focused horizontal teams and groups achieve their goals through four basic working principles. It is a quick read and while it was written for different settings than schools, it provides some useful tips for all of us.



Six Principles for Building Accountability and Agreements in an Organization, Michael Soule

In the history of Waldorf education and of organizational development in general, communities and organizations move through phases of development from the unconscious, implicit and intuitive to the more conscious, explicit and objective. In all the phases of development, the way in which people form and renew agreements is key to accountability throughout the organization.

Members of a small school just getting started, for example, do not usually have the inclination or the time to define everything in detail. In a pioneer initiative, where many things are done together and the group is finding its way, agreements are often unconscious or in response to emerging situations.

In a more mature, complex organization, the community develops a more formalized system of agreements, both about the whole and between the individuals and groups. Over time, a community grows in its understanding and attention both to agreements of all kinds and to the practice of what to do when agreements aren’t upheld.

In a young organization, the challenge is to make agreements conscious. In an established organization, the challenge is to find time to review and renew agreements, so that they are living in the consciousness of everyone involved and can be adjusted to the realities of the current situation.

How agreements are arrived at also makes a difference. For example, if individuals (as appropriate to the nature of the agreement) are involved in creating agreements, then they already feel invested and accountable to the outcome. Understanding this can help organizations build a culture where accountability is not something imposed from the outside, but is living within a group as a matter of organizational integrity.

Here are six areas where clear and shared agreements can strengthen accountability in the organization:

Common objectives, expectations

Make sure that the mission, goals and strategic plan are clear and shared and that people feel connected to it. Keep the focus on the goals more than on personal approaches.

Expectations and individual roles

Make sure that each individual knows what is expected and what their role is and that these are reviewed updated and shared annually. Really strive to live the motto of the social ethic: That every individual feels the whole and that the strengths of each person are acknowledged.

The environment of feedback

Make feedback and evaluation an everyday practice that doesn’t evoke anxiety.

Create time on every agenda and during every week that feedback can happen. Have active peer meetings and observations. Provide training to everyone in giving and receiving feedback (see articles in the resource section).

Agree on support mechanisms

Small peer groups that meet regularly are better than large ones for supporting one another, giving feedback, having meaningful dialog and stimulating creativity. Deal with problems when they arise. Welcome conflict as a path to resolution, create and utilize processes for dealing with conflicts that are safe and accessible to everyone. Put into place mechanisms for keeping track of things that are in process, even if you can’t deal with them immediately.

Reflect and share learning

Be sure to make reflection a regular part of meetings and the school year so that together you can share observations, insights and possible improvements. Make sure you record these, especially for annual events, as they can easily be forgotten over the year.


It is important to recognize and celebrate the things, big or small, that you accomplish. This overcomes the tendency to focus only on the things that aren’t getting done. Appreciation creates an environment that allows for people to feel recognized and connected to one another and to the whole.

Michael Soule


Managing Horizontal Accountability, Ray and Elder, IPC

To understand horizontal accountability (HA), it is easier to begin with its absence. When there is little or no horizontal accountability in an organization, people tend to engage in blame, finger pointing, passing the buck and conflict avoidance. To the degree that these are present in an organization, horizontal accountability doesn’t exist.

Most organizations have strong vertical accountability. That is, accountability to management and the chain of command, but that tends to ensure compliance rather than commitment and goal focus. It also does little to address the flow of communication and interaction between those who do the work.

Horizontal accountability can be defined as the degree to which people communicate across the organization, problem solve with all employees and teams, and build accountability for superior outcomes. Horizontal accountability creates trust between employees and management.

When people trust one another, have confidence in the leadership and have a clear goal, they can be highly productive. When people feel they have to watch their back, are unclear about the goals or see management as untrustworthy, productivity suffers.

Horizontal accountability facilitates efficient problem solving, goal achievement and less conflict and lower turnover. People feel loyalty to management, to each other and to the goals of the group. Passion, drive and high energy often characterize groups with strong horizontal accountability. Lethargy, blaming, finger pointing and conflict avoidance characterize groups low in HA.

The Problem of Under-Accountability.

Under-accountability exists in organizations where trust is low. Under-accountability is often disguised in the form of other problems. Have you heard some of these statements in your organization?

“I never see my boss so I do what I think is best and cover my rear with documentation.”

“I have been burnt by their department many times so now I cc every email I send to them and blind cc my boss.”

“We have one member who holds the rest of us back but there is nothing we can do about it so we just do their work when we have to and get along.”

“IT doesn’t listen to us. We agree to a project and scope and end up with a costly monster that doesn’t meet our needs.”

“I can’t get my project done because they can’t make a decision.”

“We have email wars between our department and marketing. They can’t get their act together but they always blame us.”

Under-accountability is most apparent in the blame game that individuals and groups play. Finger pointing and blame are the currency of accountability avoidance. Observing this, leaders may jump to the conclusion, “People just don’t want to take responsibility” but this is not necessarily true.

Under performance is costly, wastes huge amounts of resources, and is often hidden from view.   Evidence of underperformance is often hidden until an emergency hits. When half of a client’s building burned, destroying a huge portion of the company’s assets, management had to rely on employees to organize themselves and get production back on line while management focused on insurance issues and retaining customers. Organized into task teams, the organization made a remarkable recovery, losing only a week’s production with continued higher productivity long after. The President of the company soon realized that the productivity of the affected groups was much higher when management was preoccupied with other issues. We interviewed the President a year later. He told us, “Until the fire, I had no idea how much our management systems were hindering performance.” The fire response demonstrated the need to organize for more horizontal accountability and less management focus.

Another client had an unexpected labor strike that lasted six weeks. Rapidly organizing management and about 25-

50% of workers who crossed the picket line, productivity jumped to levels far higher than before the strike. After the strike, the leadership looked at both management skills and horizontal accountability to maintain higher levels of productivity. While no one was laid off, many positions were not filled in the subsequent months when people retired or resigned. The strike revealed areas of significant underperformance. Implementing Horizontal Accountability allowed the organization to capitalize on this discovery. It required some changes in management behavior as well as additional training of employees, but the return in lower labor costs more than made up for the investment.

It doesn’t take an emergency to deal with underperformance. Creating Horizontal Accountability shines a spotlight on areas of underperformance. Employees know where underperformance exists. With proper training in Horizontal Accountability they will root out underperformance and create huge performance improvements.

Horizontal Accountability

Horizontal accountability (HA) is an approach that teaches team members to take high levels of responsibility for goals and performance. In sports, the coach must rely on the team to coach one another during actual play. The best teams develop constant performance feedback between players. Players get immediate, useful feedback from teammates – without the coach doing a thing.

In an HA organization, the manager still evaluates performance but day-to-day performance information comes directly from peers. A vast amount of information can be found in the observations of peers whether in sports or business, but the information must be put into a useful and non-threatening format.

An HA coach teaches team members to critique performance in a way that reduces or eliminates defensiveness and improves skill and goal focus. HA releases productive energy that was formerly locked up in conflict avoidance and manager focused behavior. Customer focused behavior increases dramatically in an HA environment. Horizontal Accountability is an untapped source of information and energy in most organizations.

Some organizations have recognized this untapped resource and implemented various processes such as rating and ranking systems and 360 evaluations. These are good foundational tools but they miss the most important component of accountability, immediate feedback. Annual 360 reviews or even 6 month Rating and Ranking does not give the team member timely and specific feedback so they can learn rapidly and be closely accountable for the team’s goals. Something more is required to achieve strong horizontal accountability.

Micro-Performance Appraisal 

How do you get marketing and sales to become mutually accountable? How do you get engineering and operations to work the problem rather than fight each other? How do you get IT to be accountable for the external customer’s experience?

As our colleague, Barbara Bridger, formerly VP of HR at Butler Manufacturing used to say; “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. We are doing it because our competition can’t.” Horizontal accountability is a competitive advantage. When people learn to hold one another accountable with minimal management involvement, it liberates a good deal of management time and employee energy.

Horizontal accountability means creating practices and routines that encourage and support constant “micro performance feedback.” We define micro-performance as the hundreds of daily behaviors that an individual and/or team perform to provide a service or create a product. Micro-performance focuses primarily on the interpersonal interactions between individuals and teams. It is different and more fundamental than workflow analysis or other forms of technical work analysis. In virtually all teams we have studied, performance is undermined to some degree by individual “micro-behaviors.”

Examples we have seen:

  1. A team member tends to word emails with terse and subtly offending language
  1. Members of one department tend to talk disparagingly about another department.
  1. Two team members are prone to gossiping about others in ways that create conflict in the team.
  1. A programmer has the habit of working on the things he likes best, procrastinating on other aspects of the work.

You may think, “These are things for management to deal with.” Yes, management might deal with them – if the manager is aware of the behavior. On the other hand, the peer group often knows of these kinds of behaviors long before any manager. Some of these kinds of behaviors can remain hidden and non-productive for years, even entire careers. What if the peer group was able to handle these issues intelligently, tactfully and effectively without management involvement? What would that do to productivity? How would it affect the manager’s own performance? How would it improve coordination and customer service? How would it affect the wasted energy of interpersonal conflict?

Every high performance organization we have observed had some degree of horizontal accountability deeply embedded in the culture. It may not have been called horizontal accountability, but it was clearly present. Employees observed one another and gave micro-performance information in real time or close to it. No one waited for the annual review to talk about a missed deadline. Meetings were evaluated each time for their effectiveness and timeliness. Harmful gossip was dealt with effectively. Good performance was recognized the same day and at the next staff meeting. Management set the pace by modeling and training employees how to evaluate micro-performance and deliver the information effectively.

When micro-evaluation becomes the norm, there are no surprises at review time. Mistakes become learning opportunities for the person or team receiving the information as well as the person giving the information. The receiver learns something about their performance AND the giver learns more about how to give micro-performance information. It is a very rapid learning model that leads to a clear competitive advantage. The benefits include less internal conflict, faster learning cycles, less wasted time and energy blaming and finger pointing and quicker market and customer responsiveness.

You may notice that we use the term, “information” instead of the widely used “feedback.” Feedback is burdened with a negative connotation. In an environment of horizontal accountability, information is given in relation to a specific goal. It is non-judgmental and measured against the goal. To the degree that micro-performance is focused on goals, team performance is enhanced.

Conflict Avoidance, the Big Road Block

Conflict avoidance is the biggest roadblock to horizontal accountability. People are very reluctant to share information with others when they perceive it may lead to conflict. They are also reluctant to say anything that might be used negatively by management. One of the cardinal rules of group behavior is to get along and minimize conflict, even at the cost of performance. Conflict avoidance is very strong in most groups.

People aren’t stupid…… they know that giving feedback can come back to bite them, so they avoid it. Unfortunately, this eliminates the richest fund of information on performance – peers. Peers know more about one another’s performance than any manager.

The key to effective horizontal accountability is to teach micro-evaluation skills along with a system of positive consequences for doing it. As Dr. Edwards Deming stated fifty years ago, you must take fear out of the system. When people feel safe, they will give micro-performance information much more easily and frequently. It becomes a natural and free flowing part of the culture. Defensive behaviors dissolve and goal focused behaviors increase dramatically.

Managing the White Space

There is a space that exists between departments, teams or groups in any organization where handoffs occur. We call this the white space. Handoff failures occur when the white space was not properly managed. It happens all to often at a huge cost to many organizations.

The problem with managing the white space is that the manager does not have the time or attention to do it properly and it’s not sexy and fun. In a vertical accountability model, managing the white space takes time and attention away from other things the manager could be doing. In an organization with strong horizontal accountability, the teams take a great deal of responsibility for managing the white space. When there is a handoff between engineering and operations, engineering takes the initiative to ensure a smooth transition. The manager may have little or nothing to do in managing the process. When an IT project is developed with an internal customer, the two teams take the lead in controlling project scope creep and achieving the goals on time and on budget.

By managing the white space more effectively, organizations prevent huge amounts of wasted time and effort. Rework and conflict are reduced or eliminated and higher levels of collaboration develop as people learn the basic skills or horizontal accountability.

Four Elements of Horizontal Accountability

Here are four elements of the system we use to create horizontal accountability:

  1. Flood the environment with four times as much positive as improvement information. This simple formula is proven effective in all forms of applied psychology from schools to sports and business. It has been taught by many leaders in the field, from Steven Covey in his Seven Habits of Successful People to Aubrey Daniels, Bringing out the Best in People, to Peter Drucker and many others.
  1. Ensure that all information follows simple rules that eliminate attacks and defensiveness. Keep people focused on the performance to goal aspects of evaluation rather than personal preferences or less objective approaches.
  1. Make performance information so common that people think nothing of it, “its just the way we do business day- to-day.” As with any tradition, once it is established in the culture, it is easier to perpetuate.
  1. Focus on the goals of the team. Micro-evaluative behavior must tie to the goal. Micro-performance information can be seen as arbitrary and confusing if it is not anchored to the goal.

For each of these four elements described above, there are specific methods used to teach and support this element. The techniques focus on these critical steps: What is the goal? Which specific person’s behavior forwards that goal today? The team itself identifies this using some non-threatening methods. The focus is primarily on positive, goal directed behavior and less on the corrective. The focus is on what you want, not on what you don’t want.

In a performance culture, horizontal accountability is woven into the very fabric of the organization. Every individual, including management, receives micro-performance information from those who see his or her performance most closely. This improves performance in real time. Learning opportunities are maximized and skills improve rapidly. Newer employees learn faster and senior employees learn to transfer their skills to others.

Horizontal accountability keeps manager and team focused on goals and goal directed behavior. High performance organizations aren’t necessarily smarter, better trained or equipped, they just waste less energy on mistrust, conflict and goal confusion. Horizontal accountability frees huge amounts of time, energy and emotional power for achievement of goals.

Your organization

If you are like most leaders, you are constantly looking for the competitive edge. Whether you are a Six Sigma company, a lean manufacturing plant with a kanban system, an insurance company with one-call customer satisfaction

– horizontal accountability magnifies the effectiveness of these processes. We would argue that full benefit of these processes is only achieved when horizontal accountability is deeply embedded in your culture. When each individual and team is constantly doing micro-performance appraisal, other processes and initiatives benefit greatly – not least the customer.

Take Action

Team members and managers need training and follow-up to help learn the skill of micro-evaluation. It does not come natural or easily at first. Once established, micro-evaluation creates a continuous improvement environment that is powerfully goal focused and completes the human side of most improvement processes like Six Sigma, TQM, Lean, etc. It puts everyone on the same page. Managers and team members learn rapidly and respond to market and customer needs much faster.

Horizontal Accountability is more than a catchy phrase, it is a process for creating a performance culture. First, train management in the principles and skills of Horizontal accountability, then practice them for about three months. Organizational performance will improve almost immediately. Next, train team members in the skills. With management’s supervision, participation and modeling, teams will soon learn the process and see the benefits for themselves. Finally, do an in-course evaluation to ensure you are using the skills effectively.

Visit for more information and training on Horizontal Accountability.






Organizational Accountability: One World Trust and GAP

Shifting the debate: new understandings of accountability

Accountability is a nebulous concept subject to multiple interpretations and understandings: it means different things to different people. According to traditional conceptions, an accountability relationship exists when a principal delegates authority to an agent to act in their interests. Central to this view is that only those with formal authority over an agent – those that have delegated authority to it – have the right to claim accountability. This approach is often used to conceptualise the accountability relationship between politicians and the electorate, or company directors and shareholders. Within this traditional view, holding an agent to account requires clearly defined roles and responsibilities, regular reporting and monitoring of behaviour against these roles, and the ability for principals to impose sanctions for breaches of responsibilities. Accountability is largely seen as an end stage activity where judgement is passed on results and actions already taken.

This understanding is too narrow; accountability needs to be more encompassing if it is to ensure organisations are truly answerable to those they affect. Given that the impacts of an organisation’s actions are often diffuse, responsibility should be so too. Accountability should not be determined by delegation of authority alone. Although an individual may not have delegated authority to an organisation to act in their interest, the activities of the latter may impact substantially on them, enough to warrant the establishment of an accountability relationship. This view of accountability emphasises that organisations have to respond to the needs of many stakeholders. This view also emphasises that accountability is more than an end-stage activity. To ensure that an organisation is responsible for its actions, relevant stakeholders need to be involved at every stage of the decision-making process. Passing judgement after a decision is made limits the extent to which an organisation can be accountable. Accountability needs to be an ongoing, changing process.

Understanding accountability in this way extends the limits of the concept beyond its role as a disciplinary mechanism and towards its use as a transformative process. An organisation that is accountable to multiple stakeholders not only ensures that decisions are effective in meeting the needs of those it affects, but also that decision-making processes are more equitable. This more open and participatory approach unlocks the potential of accountability as an agent for organisational learning. Accountability that is pursued on an ongoing basis opens up space for those affected by an organisation’s policies to input into the decision-making process. This in turn creates feedback loops that enable organisations to learn from what is effective and what is not. When understood on these terms, accountability is no longer simply a mechanism for disciplining power, but also a force for organisational change and for strengthening organisational performance. Clearly, accountability’s effects are not only beneficial to stakeholders, but also to organisations themselves.

Given that the impacts of an organisation’s actions are often diffuse, responsibility should be so too. This view of accountability emphasises that organisations have to respond to the needs of many stakeholders.

Passing judgement

after a decision is made limits the extent to which an organisation can be accountable. Accountability needs to be an ongoing, changing process.

Today’s global governance arena is not defined by unaccountable organisations, but by organisations that are either accountable to the wrong set of stake- holders or focus their accountability on one set of stakeholders at the expense of others.

2.1 The GAP definition of accountability

Based on this understanding, in the context of the GAP Framework accountability refers to

the processes through which an organisation makes a commitment to respond to and balance the needs of stakeholders in its decision-making processes and activities, and delivers against this commitment.

A key part to this definition is the notion of balance. Today’s global governance arena is not defined by unaccountable organisations, but by organisations that are either accountable to the wrong set of stakeholders or focus their accountability on one set of stakeholders at the expense of others. The key challenge is in creating a more balanced accountability, in which the voices of those most affected by an organisation’s activities are not overshadowed by the interests of the most powerful stakeholders. Accountability thus becomes a process that manages power imbalances between the organisation and its stakeholders as well as between an organisation’s various stakeholder groups.

2.2 Who are the stakeholders?

The key challenge is in creating a more balanced accountability, in which the voices of those most affected by an organisation’s activities are not overshadowed by the interests of the most powerful stakeholders.  The concept of stakeholder is central to the understanding of accountability and underpins the entire GAP Framework. Stakeholders are

individuals and groups that can affect or are affected by an organisation’s policies and/or actions.26

Although this definition is similar to the traditional understanding of stakeholder (groups or individuals who have a ‘stake’ in the organisation), it contains an important nuance. It recognises that the actors who influence an organisation are often different from those who are affected by it.

Within the context of the GAP, distinctions are made between two different types of stakeholders: internal stakeholders – individuals or groups that are formally a part of the organisation, and external stakeholders – individuals or groups who are affected by an organisation’s decisions and activities but who are not formally part of the organisation. Of the internal and external stakeholders, the organisation needs to identify key stakeholders – those who significantly influence or are significantly influenced by an organisation and/or are integral to an organisation’s or project’s success or failure.

26 Note that not all individuals and groups who may have knowledge of, interest in, or views about an organisation are included in this definition of

Internal stakeholders



Board of Directors


National members/chapters

External stakeholders

Recipients of loans, aid or grants



Other affected groups or individuals

Peer IGOs

Suppliers Customers Contractors Financiers Partners Trade unions


Peer TNCs

Funders Supporters Beneficiaries

Partners Government Peer INGOs

In seeking to balance accountability to different stakeholder groups, an organisation must recognise that stakeholders have an interest in its success or failure and each will have the ability to help or hinder its activities. In exercising their agency, each stakeholder has:

  • Different capacity: resources (particularly financial), knowledge and expertise
  • Different degrees of access to reliable information
  • Different needs and expectations.

These differences will manifest themselves in different levels of power and influence and give rise to the unbalanced accountabilities discussed above. They are often compounded by the fact that organisations will have vested interests in certain sets of stakeholders as well.

2.3 Accountable to whom and for what?

Organisations need to prioritise both the issues on which they engage stakeholders and the stakeholder groups that they engage. It is unrealistic to expect an organisation to be accountable to all its stakeholder groups for all issues: this would lead to accountability paralysis.

An organisation must first determine on which issues it must engage. To determine this, it needs to work from a combined understanding of who its stakeholders are, the impacts the organisation has on its stakeholders, and the impact stakeholders have on the organisation. Developing this understanding is an iterative process as the understanding of one will inform the other: looking at stakeholders will increase understanding of impacts, and looking at activities and impacts will increase understanding of stakeholders.

Organisations need to prioritise both the issues on which they engage stakeholders and the stakeholder groups that they engage.

For each engagement organisations need to prioritise their stakeholders and be clear about the ways in which they are accountable to them. The starting point of this is a stakeholder analysis, of which the purpose is to:

  • Identify key stakeholders and define their interests and characteristics
  • Assess the manner in which stakeholders might affect or be affected
  • Understand the relations between stakeholders, including the real or potential conflicts of interest and expectation between them
  • Assess the capacity of different stakeholders to participate.

The prioritisation of stakeholders should take into account influence, responsibility and



Influence is about more than how much power stakeholders have to bring about change within an organisation (those that ‘can affect’). It is also about the needs and interests of stakeholders who ‘are affected by an organisation’s policies and/or actions’ but do not have the power to influence the organisation. Ensuring that these stakeholders have influence in the process is integral to the overall accountability of an activity/organisation and ultimately its success. Failure to view influence in this way will have adverse effects by reinforcing already skewed accountability systems towards those stakeholders with power, at the expense of those less powerful but affected by an organisation.


An organisation has different levels and types of responsibility to different stakeholders.

  • regulatory responsibility to the state to comply with certain regulations
  • contractual or legal responsibility to other organisations or partners

The relationship between an organisation and its stakeholders is not static, but ongoing and continuously changing... [therefore] for what and to whom an organisation is accountable also evolves

financial responsibility to donors or shareholders, to ensure their money is used in the agreed way

to stakeholders, either because they are directly or indirectly dependent on the organisation and affected by it; or because they are integral to the organisation’s mission, vision and values.

ethical or moral responsibility to stakeholders, either because they are directly or indirectly dependent on the organisation and affected by it; or because they are integral to the organisation’s mission, vision and values.


This encompasses the legitimacy of a representative (i.e. the extent to which a stakeholder truly represents its constituents needs and interests), and the number of constituents that it represents.

Through engaging in this process an organisation can understand what its impacts are, who it affects and how, and use this understanding to inform the best use of resources in achieving accountability. Critically, the relationship between an organisation and its stakeholders is not static, but ongoing and continuously changing. For instance, although some stakeholders are easy to identify and remain as such for long periods of time, other groups shift depending on the work being undertaken and the stage of a project. Consequently for what and to whom an organisation is accountable also evolves.

The GAP Framework

The GAP framework unpacks accountability into four dimensions: transparency, participation, evaluation, and complaint and response mechanisms. To be accountable, an organisation needs to integrate all these dimensions into its policies, procedures and practice, at all levels and stages of decision-making and implementation, in relation to both internal and external stakeholders. The higher the quality and embeddedness of these in an organisation’s policies, processes and procedures, the more accountable the organisation will be.


Transparency refers to an organisation’s openness about its activities, providing information on what it is doing, where and how this takes place, and how it is performing. This constitutes basic information necessary for stakeholders to monitor an organisation’s activities. It enables stakeholders to identify if an organisation is operating inside the law, whether it is conforming to relevant standards, and how its performance relates to targets. In turn, this enables stakeholders to make informed decisions and choices about the organisation.

Transparency also strengthens an organisation’s accountability indirectly. A transparent organisation provides stakeholders with the information they need to participate in the decisions that affect them. Without access to all the relevant information regarding an activity or decision

it would be difficult for stakeholders to participate meaningfully in its development.


To be accountable, an organisation needs to understand the needs and interests of its stakeholders. This is best achieved if the organisation engages with its stakeholders and develops a participatory approach to decision-making. It needs to establish mechanisms that enable stakeholders to input into decisions that affect them. This may require engagement at the operational level, the policy level and/or the strategic level. An organisation committed to accountability must enable stakeholders’ input into the broader organisational policies and strategies and not confine engagement to operational issues.

To strengthen accountability, participation must lead to change; it has to be more than acquiring approval for, or acceptance of, a decision or activity, or of including stakeholders in the implementation and evaluation of that decision. Stakeholders must have a say in how the decision is taken and what decision is made. In this regard, participation for accountability is intimately bound with issues of power. There is no escaping the fact that a degree of power needs to be ceded to stakeholders in order for an organisation to be accountable.


Evaluation is another essential component for achieving accountability. It ensures that an organisation is accountable for its performance, that it is achieving its goals and objectives, and meeting agreed standards. Evaluation allows organisations to indicate to stakeholders what

they have achieved and what impact they have had, but also allows stakeholders to hold organisations to account for what they said they would do.

The relationship between evaluation and accountability centres on learning. The evaluation process and the results that emerge from it can inform ongoing activities and future decision- making, providing the information that will allow an organisation to improve its performance, thus making it more accountable to its mission, goals and objectives.

The GAP framework unpacks accountability into four dimensions: transparency, participation, evaluation, and complaint and response mechanisms.

The higher the quality and embeddedness of these in an organisation’s policies, processes and procedures, the more accountable the organisation will be.

To be accountable, an organisation needs to integrate all these dimensions into its policies, procedures and practice, at all levels and stages of decision- making and implementa- tion in relation to both internal and external stakeholders.

Complaint and response mechanisms

Enabling stakeholders to seek and receive response for grievances and alleged harm is a critical aspect of accountability. This is the mechanism through which stakeholders can hold an organisation to account by querying a decision, action or policy and receiving an adequate response to their grievance. Transparency, participation and evaluation processes should be used to minimise the need for complaint mechanisms. Complaints and response mechanisms should be seen as a means of last resort for stakeholders to hold the organisation to account and for organisations to become aware of an issue that requires a response.

Each of these dimensions are necessary for accountability, while alone none are sufficient. Meaningful accountability only results when all four are effective.

Each of these dimensions are necessary for accountability, while alone none are sufficient. Meaningful accountability only results when all four are effective. For example, an organisation may be very transparent about its activities but, unless it creates the channels through which stakeholders can use the information it provides to actually input to and influence decisions, it is not fully accountable. Similarly, if an organisation provides mechanisms for stakeholders to file complaints, but then does not have evaluation processes in place that feed lessons from these mistakes into future decision-making to ensure learning, it is not fully accountable.

3.1 Proactive and reactive elements of accountability

A combination of mechanisms make an organisation accountable: some will proactively improve accountability, others will react to calls for accountability. An organisation’s commitment to accountability can be weighted depending on whether it focuses more on being proactive or reactive; for instance, if it expends considerable resources addressing problems that have occurred and dealing with adverse publicity, it is being reactive. If, on the other hand, it involves stakeholders in projects prior to and throughout their implementation, it is being proactive.

An organisation must take a proactive approach to accountability, but also have reactive mechanisms in place. The GAP Framework incorporates both proactive and reactive approaches to accountability.

Transparency and participation interlink to create a proactive approach to accountability. They shift the emphasis from accountability as an end-stage activity to an ongoing process. Organisations that embrace this approach are constantly providing stakeholders with information and engaging with them in decision-making and policy formulation before they take place. This creates a relationship between the organisation and its stakeholders that is more dynamic, receptive and responsive.

The role of evaluation in relation to the framework is more fluid. It is a mechanism for both understanding successes and failures, and for feeding lessons into future decision-making. This understanding of evaluation supports a proactive approach to accountability. It also plays a reactive role in reporting on performance.

Complaint and response mechanisms and, in some situations, evaluation reflect a reactive approach to accountability; they support an understanding of accountability in which outputs and/or decisions are assessed after they occur. A reactive organisation will only change its policies

Although important, reactive accountability is about responding to judgement after a decision is made or policy is implemented. It limits the extent to which an organisation can be responsive to stakeholders.

Although the proactive and reactive approaches are complementary, organisations need to emphasise the former to ensure a form of accountability conducive to learning. Any organisation that chooses to take a purely reactive approach will undoubtedly experience unnecessarily high costs as projects and policies progress to advanced stages before stakeholders’ concerns are heard.

 3.2 The accountability web

Although each dimension – transparency, participation, evaluation, and complaint and response mechanisms – is independently important to increasing accountability, its contribution is significantly strengthened through its interaction with the others. The dimensions underpin each other in a web of mutually reinforcing linkages.

Increased accountability


The provision of accessible and timely information to stakeholders and the opening up of organisational procedures, structures and processes to their assessment

Complaint & response mechanisms

Mechanisms through which an organisation enables stakeholders to address complaints against its decisions and actions, and ensures that these complaints are properly reviewed and acted upon


The process through which an organisation enables key stake- holders to play an active role in the decision-making processes and activities which affect them


The process through which an organisation monitors and reviews its progress and results against goals and objectives; feeds learning from this back into the organisation on an ongoing basis; and reports on the results of the process

Although each dimension exists independently of the others, the four overlap and intersect in multiple ways. Where there is overlap, there is strengthened accountability. For example, an evaluation process underpinned by openness and transparency is more likely to increase organisational accountability than one that is conducted in secrecy. Similarly, an evaluation that engages key stakeholders in the process of assessing performance and is open about its findings will contribute more to accountability than one that does not. The more overlap there is between the dimensions, the more accountable the organisation becomes.

For each of the four dimensions a policy needs to be in place that sets the objectives for the delivery of that dimension. How, and at what levels these are set, have a considerable impact on accountability. To ensure the objectives reflect a diversity of interests and needs, and thus are reflective of an organisation’s multiple stakeholders, they need to be developed with the participation of these stakeholders.

Likewise, to ensure meaningful accountability, an organisation’s policies and processes need to be transparent in their operation and execution. The entire evaluation process, for example, from planning, to monitoring, to communicating results, to feeding them back into decision-making; all this needs to be undertaken in an open manner to enhance the ability of stakeholders to view and input into the process. The same goes for the complaint and response mechanism. All of its elements need to be transparent. Likewise for participation: whenever a stakeholder analysis is undertaken, the results must be made available, reasons for non-engagement must be explained and outcomes of the engagement process must be reported back to stakeholders.

Elements of evaluation also need to be integrated into each dimension. The relationship between an organisation and its stakeholders is dynamic in nature. As an organisation branches out into new activities or undertakes new projects, its stakeholders will change. It is therefore crucial that accountability mechanisms evolve and adapt in parallel through evaluation and learning. For example, in identifying a new set of stakeholders, an organisation might have to change the way it discloses information, or may have to rethink its complaint and response mechanism. This continual adaptation is the key for accountability mechanisms to remain relevant to the stakeholders that use them and to the organisation that will learn from them.

An element of the complaint and response mechanism needs to be reflected in each of the other dimensions as well. Processes need to be in place that allows stakeholders to raise concerns. For example, stakeholders should be able to file a complaint if they feel they have been unfairly excluded from an engagement process or, having participated, they feel that their concerns have not affected the decision. Moreover, as part of any transparency policy, there should be a procedure in place that allows stakeholders that have been denied access to information to make an appeal.

3.3 Key conditions for accountability

What have been outlined so far are the key dimensions to organisational accountability: what an organisation needs to do to become more accountable to its stakeholders. However, for these mechanisms to be effective and for organisations and stakeholders alike to reap the full benefits of accountability, an essential condition needs to exist: organisational commitment to accountability. An organisation must want to be accountable. Although this may seem self-committed to accountability will determine the quality of the accountability mechanisms it puts in place and of the reforms it undertakes to increase its accountability.

Commitment needs to be entrenched at the highest level of an organisation, both at the Board and senior management level. Without the will of those in positions of power, there is little chance that accountability reforms will take hold; and even if they do, without high level commitment, they will only ever be piecemeal, implemented in relation to individual projects, but never integrated into organisational structures and processes. Crucially therefore, senior managers and the Board must be committed to accountability.

To be effective, accountability must also be entrenched in everything an organisation does, from its finances, to its operations, to its human resources. Commitment therefore also needs to cut across departments. If an INGO makes the decision to strengthen its accountability to beneficiaries, for example, this might require the fundraising teams changing how they report to donors, finance departments learning how to communicate financial information to people that are illiterate, and campaign teams developing mechanisms that give the poor and marginalised a direct voice in international advocacy.

For accountability to be realised, there are two concrete ways in which commitment needs to manifest itself: in the form of embeddedness and responsiveness. Firstly, accountability mechanisms need to be embedded in all an organisation’s processes and procedures, at all levels of decision-making. For accountability to be effective it cannot be just an appendage to an organisation’s core operations; it needs to be integrated into everything it does. On a practical level, this will require that the policies for each of the dimensions be disseminated at all levels of management; that there is a clear understanding within the organisation as to the benefits and importance of accountability; and that appropriate incentives and sanctions exist to ensure staff compliance with new practices and procedures. Crucially, this will also require the necessary resources being made available. Accountability is not a costless activity. It requires both money and training for reforms to be effectively implemented and sustained. Systems need to be built, for example, that enable organisations to engage with and respond to stakeholders, while staff need to be trained in how to facilitate this process. Without the necessary resources, accountability mechanisms will not be effective.

Secondly, an organisation’s commitment to accountability must be reflected in its responsiveness to stakeholders’ concerns and needs, and its willingness to adjust policies when necessary. This requires an organisation to address the power imbalance between itself and stakeholders. This should not be mistaken as a call for allowing stakeholders total power in decision-making, but as one for the need of increased respect and recognition that stakeholders also have capacity and expertise that is valuable to the organisation. There needs to be a commitment from organisations to listen to their stakeholders when making decisions, to change policies and activities when appropriate and when not, to explain why.

Commitment and success are mutually reinforcing; they interact to produce virtuous or vicious cycles. Once an organisation is committed to the accountability agenda, for example, it is more likely that the necessary resources will be made available, that accountability reforms will be widespread, that the organisation will be responsive to stakeholders’ needs and that this will lead to improved performance. Similarly, if there is a lack of commitment, the necessary resources will be lacking, reforms will be piecemeal, receptivity to stakeholders will be low and the impact on performance will be more limited.

For accountability to be realised, there are two concrete ways in which commitment needs to manifest itself: in the form of embeddedness and responsiveness.

For accountability to be effective it cannot be just an appendage to an organisation’s

core operations; it needs to be integrated into everything it does.

An organisation’s commitment to accountability must be reflected in its responsiveness to stakeholders’ concerns and needs, and its willingness to adjust policies when necessary.

Ultimately, for accountability to be realised it needs to become integrated into the culture and core practices of an organisation. It needs to become ingrained in the organisational values and norms. If an organisation has commitment at the highest levels and if this is manifested in the ways described above, there is a high likelihood that accountability will develop.

The Accountable Organisation

An accountable organisation takes proactive and reactive steps to address the needs of its key stakeholders while delivering against its mission.

  • It is transparent in both its activities and decision-making processes, engaging in ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders over the information they need to make informed decisions
  • It engages its key stakeholders in its decision-making processes related to policies and practice
  • It evaluates performance, policies and practice in consultation with its key stakeholders. It learns from and reports on the outputs of these evaluations

If an organisation manages to do this it will increase its accountability to key stakeholders. Yet, should it fail to deliver on any of these points,

  • It has channels through which stakeholders can voice their grievances and receive an appropriate response.

Performance Management

Performance management at the team level - from Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux.

How does performance management work in a self-managed context? In Orange Organizations, it’s the role of bosses to keep the pressure on employees and to prevent them from slacking off. Top management sets ambitious targets in the company’s yearly budgets and mid-term plans, and these targets then cascade down the organization. It’s part of a leader’s role to always challenge subordinates to do more, to do it faster, to do it cheaper.

In self-managing organizations that have no managers to keep up the pressure, what prevents teams from getting complacent? The short answer: intrinsic motivation, calibrated by peer emulation and market demands.

The better question, though, might be: what makes us think that people need to be put under pressure to perform? Research shows that when people pursue a meaningful purpose, and when they have the decision-making power and the resources to work toward that purpose, they don’t need pep talks or stretch targets.17 Unfortunately, in many traditional organizations, people work under the opposite circumstances; they don’t see much purpose in their work, and they feel restricted in their potential for self-expression by rules and bosses. No wonder they lose interest and must be pressured to give 100 percent. Imagine working as a nurse in a traditional Dutch neighborhood nursing organization: every morning, you receive a plan with 30 appointments with patients you don’t know, put together by a planner you don’t know. You are given exact time slots (10 minutes for an injection with the first patient, five minutes to change the compression stockings for the second patient, and so on). Patients are unhappy with you because you hurry them, and meanwhile you know that if you were to take more time, you’d have to explain yourself,   because the time registration system keeps track of everything you do. The work is so mindless that you would be forgiven for wanting to slack off.


are part of a team that is known and respected in the neighborhood. You have made your own plan for the day. You will see 10 patients with whom you’ve developed a relationship. You know their life stories and medical histories. You might have met their children and neighbors and helped arrange a network to encourage your patients to regain more autonomy. You cheer when you see them making progress, and you stand by their side when they reach the end of their days.

People working in these conditions, Buurtzorg has found, don’t need a boss to motivate them. More often than not, it’s the other way around―nurses are so deeply engaged in their work that they must remind each other to set boundaries and not to let work overrun their private lives. More generally, experience shows that self- governing teams in pursuit of a meaningful purpose don’t need prodding from above. If people stop working with enthusiasm and productivity drops, it is generally the symptom of a problem that needs addressing―for example, relational problems in the team or roles that need to be reallocated. Resolve the problem and spirits are restored.

People don’t need pressure from above, but they still need to get a sense of whether they are doing well. Teal Organizations measure indicators like team results, productivity, and profit, just like other organizations―except that they mostly tend to do so at the level of teams or process steps, and they don’t bother to measure individual performance (contrary to Orange Organizations that believe in individual incentives and therefore need individual metrics). The data is made public for all to see, creating emulation, a healthy form of peer pressure. When teams perform similar tasks―like the nursing teams at Buurtzorg or the automotive teams at FAVI―results are easy to com- pare. In a glance, a team in Buurtzorg can know if it is at the bottom or the top of the league in terms of, say, productivity. Teams at the bottom are motivated to improve out of pride; they don’t need a boss to discuss how they could improve.

In traditional organizations, many people would consider such total transparency about results to be brutal. All depends on how information is handled. In Orange Organizations, bad results prompt fears (and good results provoke envy or suspicion). Who gets to see what data is a very touchy subject. In Teal Organizations, people know that information will not be used against them. No one needs to be protected from the facts, good or bad.

What about organizations where teams don’t do comparable work? At Morning Star, teams engaged in “tomato sorting,” “steam generation,” or “packaging” don’t share metrics that would help them compare themselves. To help teams nonetheless get feedback on their performance, the company has come up with an interesting practice: every year in January, teams present a self-evaluation to a group of colleagues, which comprises Chris Rufer (the founder and president) and anyone else who cares to join. They are expected to talk candidly about what went well and what didn’t, how effectively they used company resources, and what they plan to do in the next year. It’s not a superficial effort; each presentation lasts for a few hours, and teams can expect challenging, sometimes grilling questions from their colleagues. In the course of a month, all teams make presentations; teams that haven’t performed well have received much input from their peers and know they have homework to do.18 Morning Star’s budget and invest- ment cycle also offers another opportunity for peer review. Every year, each team presents its investment plans to a panel of peers for advice. Teams that are not performing well are likely to be challenged as to whether spending money is really the best way to fix their problems.

Individual performance management

In Teal Organizations, performance and outcomes are discussed foremost at the team level: Are we collectively doing a good job contributing to the organization’s purpose? Most people nevertheless still look for feedback about their individual performance. Psychologists have come across an interesting phenomenon: a person put in a sensory-deprivation room (a so-called anechoic chamber, a room designed to dampen all sound and block out light) after only a short amount of time reports experiencing visual hallucinations, paranoia, and a depressed mood.19

Put simply, without outside stimulus, we go mad. I believe something very similar happens when we are deprived of feedback related to our work. Our egos may be wary of feedback, but we are relational beings that thrive on honest feedback. I’ve seen organizations where no feed- back is ever exchanged “go mad” because of it. People judge others behind their backs, only to wonder nervously what others might be saying when they have their backs turned. In places like these, every word, every silence, every raised eyebrow, is scrutinized for unspoken judgments.

Teal Organizations are high on trust and low on fears. Feedback in such environments feels less threatening, and most organizations in this research are places where colleagues exchange feedback frequently. In some of them, new recruits are trained in Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication and in effective ways to give feedback. Of course, the advice process is a formidable feedback mechanism built right into the fabric of daily life in these organizations.

Because feedback is exchanged so freely, some organiza- tions―FAVI, for instance―don’t hold any formal appraisal discussions. But colleagues in most organizations in this research still see value in taking the time, once a year, to reflect on their performance at work. Of based systems:

•      At Morning Star, people receive feedback at the end of every year from each of the persons they have committed to in their CLOU.

•       At AES, Dennis Bakke installed a beautiful practice of team appraisal with his closest peers. They got together once a year, often over dinner in one of their homes to make for a relaxed, informal setting. Every person in turn shared his or her self- evaluation. Other team members commented, questioned, or encouraged each other to reach a deeper understanding of their potential and performance.

•       At Buurtzorg, the rules of the game (see page 70) simply stipulate that every year, each team is to hold individual appraisals within the team, based on a competency model that the team has designed. Each team decides what format it will use for their discussions. A team I spent time with decided to exchange feedback in subgroups of three colleagues. Everyone prepares a self-evaluation as well as feedback for the other two colleagues in the trio, so people can measure their self-perception against their colleague’s perceptions.

Traditional performance evaluations can be dispiriting affairs. Often we don’t recognize ourselves in the feedback because our boss only has a narrow view of our work (or sometimes because he tells us everything is all right, just to get the uncomfortable moment over with). With more input from more peers, we get a more meaningful reflection of our contribution. There is another reason why so many appraisal conversations feel lifeless: they tend to be very narrow discussions, sticking to some preformatted evaluation grid, neglecting to inquire into broader questions of the person’s selfhood―their hopes, dreams, fears, yearnings, and sense of purpose in life. We will discuss in chapter 2.5 how a few simple questions can turn appraisal conversations into moments of joyful and soulful introspection (see page 183).


“What happens when someone does a lousy job, when someone needs to be fired?” is a question people often ask when they hear about self-management. If there is no boss, can low performers just hang on forever? What if someone is a pain and makes the workplace hell for others? Will he just be allowed to stay on? Self-managing organizations of course face such situations occasionally and have put processes in place to deal with them, processes that don’t rely on a hierarchy but on peer-based mechanisms.

Before we go into these processes, though, let’s start by saying that in practice, these cases prove to be surprisingly rare. In traditional workplaces where a job is a box in an organization chart, there is little flexibility: you are either a good fit for the job or you are not (in reality of course, you are probably a bit of both), and so you should either be allowed to stay in the job or asked to move on. In self-managing organizations, people can more easily customize a job for themselves at which they excel. A person with “performance issues” might shed one or several roles in which she fails to deliver and take up other roles that better match her skills, interests, and talents.

But some people just don’t fit in, or they perform below what their colleagues expect of them. In a traditional organization, a boss or the HR department can decide to give them a bad review and to dismiss them for low performance, rather like a teacher has power to decide a child’s future in the school. And so it’s perhaps not surprising that people being dis- missed react like children being told they failed to make it to the next grade―they feel like a failure, treated unfairly; they blame circumstances and nurture resentment. In this research, I encountered an interesting phenomenon: in self-managing organizations, it seems that almost universally, people choose to leave before they are dismissed. Only in the rarest cases is the company saying, “That’s enough.” How come? The dynamics of self-management give people natural clues that they might not be in the right place. At Sun Hydraulics, an engineer might notice that somehow little work comes his way―few colleagues spontaneously ask him to join their projects or solicit him for advice. At Buurtzorg, a nurse will feel in her interactions with colleagues that she doesn’t fit the team, or that self- management doesn’t suit her after all. There are currently 250 nurses joining Buurtzorg every month and 25 that leave each month, once they have been there for a while and realize it wasn’t meant to be. Almost always, the departure happens by mutual consent, on a friendly basis.

This does not change the fact that on a personal level, the process can be painful. The self-managing   context nevertheless helps people realize that no one is to blame; they are perhaps simply not meant for this particular work. How we react to an event such as a dismissal depends on our perspective on life. Remember: in a Conformist-Amber worldview, lifelong employment is the norm. A dismissal is therefore a deeply distressing event, a forced expulsion from an identity-giving community. In Achievement-Orange,   it is often experienced as a traumatic blow to the sense of self-worth, and in Pluralistic-Green as a betrayal by the group. In Teal, we can hold the event more consciously: a door closes, perhaps painfully at first, in order for another door to open down the line that might bring us closer to our path in life. We can see it as an invitation to reflect on the real nature of our strengths and talents and discover what other work might better suit us. We learn, grow, and move on.

What about forced dismissals? Though rare, they do happen―for instance, when someone breaches the company values. In the absence of dominator hierarchy, the process is peer-based. At Buurtzorg, when one person has lost the trust of the team, the team tries to find a mutually agreeable solution. If that doesn’t work out, the group calls in its regional coach or an external facilitator


In retrospect, I can see in my own life how the job I lost helped me find work I needed to do … how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to discern meanings I needed to know.

Parker Palmer

to mediate. In almost all cases, the presence of a mediator brings resolution. In some cases, the person and the team decide on some mutual commitments and give it another go. In others, after some deliberation, the person comes to see that trust is irrevocably broken and understands it is time to leave. If no agreement can be found, as a last chance to try to settle the matter, the team members can ask Jos de Blok, the founder, to mediate; in the rare cases where even that fails, they can ask him to put an end to the person’s contract (legally, he is the only one who can do so).

At Morning Star, the process is almost identical, except that it is initiated by an individual rather than a team (at Morning Star, people aren’t embedded as deeply in teams). Morning Star views a dismissal as the final step in a conflict and therefore uses its conflict resolution mechanism to deal with the situation. The process starts when one person asks another to leave the organization. Suppose that someone finds that a colleague has fundamentally breached a company value (perhaps the person made an important decision without requesting advice from colleagues) or that a colleague is failing time after time to live up to his commitments, despite a number of previous attempts to improve the situation. She can initiate a conflict resolution process, asking her colleague to resign. The four-stage process kicks in:

•      In a first phase, they have to sit together and try to sort it out. In the discussion, the person asked to leave can suggest ways to restore trust. Or perhaps he will come to see that he has irrevocably lost the trust of his colleagues and that he is better off looking for work elsewhere.

•       If they can’t agree on an outcome, another colleague is called in as mediator.

•       If necessary, in a third step, a panel of colleagues is asked to mediate.

•      As a last resort, Chris Rufer, the founder and president, is asked to join the panel.

People asked to mediate or sit on a panel take their role very seriously. Morning Star’s principle of not using force against anyone is at stake. They are not a jury, passing a verdict on a colleague. Their role is to explore every possible way to restore trust in the relationship. The process can take a long time if needed. Only when the person who has been asked to leave sees that colleagues genuinely tried to find a solu- tion, and that none could be found, will he come to accept that resigna- tion is the reasonable outcome. Therein lies the power and legitimacy of the process.

How often do people leave Morning Star after such a process? No one knows. Because Morning Star views this as a private conflict between two persons, everyone is under the understanding of full confidentiality (as is always the case with the conflict resolution mechanism), and no one keeps statistics. But the process clearly does get used in practice: some of the more senior colleagues I’ve spoken to told me that they have been part of a handful of panels over the years. Having been part of such panels, they are keen advocates of the method. The discussions in the panel are never easy, they report, but they do help people reach fair and reasonable outcomes.

Despite the American myth, I cannot be or do whatever I desire. … Our created natures make us like organisms in an ecosystem: there are some roles and relationships in which we thrive and others in which we wither and die.

Parker Palmer

See the whole article here in PDF Excerpt from Reinventing Organizations, Accountability

Mentoring: Key Aspects for a Successful School Mentoring Program

Mentoring is essential to a school’s success. After leading seminars for 6 years on mentoring, we have identified some key aspects that will help everyone:

1. Assign a person to coordinate the mentoring work in the school.
Like in any activity in the organization, without a person leading and coordinating it, it has a slim chance of being effective or successful. Choose someone who has successful teaching experience, some experience with mentoring, and leadership skills.
2. Get clear about the difference between mentoring, peer support and evaluation.
Mentoring is a professional relationship where an experienced teacher coaches a less experienced teacher to help them improve their teaching, collegial and parent work.
3. Make sure that you give mentors some opportunity to develop their mentoring skills.
Many mentoring situations are complicated and require specific skills in the mentor. And many mentoring relationships cruise or sink based on the skill of the mentor. Find a way to give mentors some professional development.
4. Have the whole faculty set goals for and support the mentoring work for the year.
Goals are important. They allow you to think into the future and they give you a context for reviewing the past.
5. Allocate sufficient resources to make it work.
Creating time for a mentor to visit a mentees classroom is essential to successful mentoring. It may mean flipping a schedule, finding a sub, or combining a class, but it is an investment that is key to success.

There are lots of other questions related to mentoring review and evaluation and good resources to help. The articles in this month’s newsletter are a good place to start.

Defining Terms is a clear and concise paper describing basic differences between Mentoring, Peer Support and Evaluation and is an essential starting place to help schools avoid confusion and create unnecessary problems when building a Mentoring program.

A Mentoring Program Assessment Form was developed through our seminar and is a good checklist for identifying what is needed for a successful mentoring program and areas to improve.

Mentoring vs. Training is a short article about the challenge of helping a new untrained teacher to be successful.

More Mentoring Resources is a collection of the best resources for developing your mentoring program.

Next Month: Mentoring is a big topic. Next month our focus will be on the Art of Being a Mentor – What qualities are needed for a mentor to be successful, How to observe a teacher, The Art of Mentoring Conversations and more.

Michael Soule

Mentoring an Untrained Teacher

In a recent conversation about mentoring with my long-time colleague Nettie Fabrie from Sound Circle Center who is the Pedagogical Dean of the Seattle Waldorf School, I posed a question about mentoring a new and untrained teacher and she shared with me an important thought about mentoring new teachers in general.

She asked me, “Has this teacher gone through a teacher training or preparation course?  If not then one needs to take a different route in mentoring this teacher. One needs to develop a support program for the teacher that looks more like training than mentoring.”

“You see”, she said, “you can certainly help the teacher in their teaching, but without the foundations that are provided in a good Waldorf teacher preparation program most of what an individual will absorb will be just techniques. That will serve them for a little while. But when the children meet difficulties the inexperienced teacher will have a hard time discerning what the proper response would be and that is when we often see crises and conflicts developing between the teacher, students and parents alike.”

There are four important things that one develops in a teacher preparation course that are essential to their success in a school:

  1. A refined inner practice that is active and aligned with the stream of anthroposophy.
  2. A greater capacity for social interaction, group work and community and organizational development.
  3. A deeper understanding of the Waldorf curriculum, human development, teaching and student support.
  4. An active and diverse artistic life.

These are not things that a teacher can or will easily develop through online courses, weekend seminars or one-week summer intensives. These training opportunities often work on one or another of the areas, but not all. To develop these capacities above, it ia most helpful to have a guide and a group to work with over time.

When a school hires an untrained teacher, it is faced with the question of how to provide the needed support to the teacher in their inner, social, artistic and pedagogical work. Some of this can be supported through the ongoing work and study of the faculty. Some of this can be supported by requiring the teacher to enter into a training program. This requirement, however, often creates challenges as the carrying of a class and training at the same time is more than many people can manage. Without proper training the teacher often falls behind to the point of not serving the school well and the school compromises the quality of their educational offering. There are things a school can do to avoid this pitfall.

  • Make a commitment to hiring only trained teachers
  • If an untrained teacher is hired, commit to supporting him or her by providing funding and/or giving them a lighter teaching load so they may enter a training program immediately
  • Set up a collegial support system so that they can have the coaching needed from an experienced teacher as they complete their training. The support framework is best when it involves an overall plan for professional development and collegial support in the areas most needed – parent work, classroom management, lesson planning, artistic development.
  • If you don’t have a mentoring program established, then it may be wise to find a professional mentor outside the school who can help.

For more ideas about how to transition a new teacher into the school, see the Transition Handbook developed by the Teacher Education Network of AWSNA and other resources listed on this site.

Michael Soule 12/2014

School Mentoring Program Assessment Form, Sound Circle Mentoring Seminar 2008

School Mentoring Program Assessment Form (see pdf chart here)

This form is intended to help schools develop their capacity for assessing the mentorship program in their school and identify strengths and areas where improvements are needed. This form is a tool in development.

1. The Mentoring Program + - +/- Successes & Areas Needing Improvement
a. The mentoring program at the school is one part of a complete professional development plan, which includes mentorship, peer mentorship and evaluation.

b. The program provides mentoring for new teachers.

c. The program provides mentoring for all teachers, appropriate to their level of experience.

d. The teachers, board and administration recognize the need for and support the program.

e. The mentoring program is supported financially.

f. The mentoring program is supported in the school calendar and policies.

g. Professional development support is available to help each teacher gain skills they need.

h. The school identifies when the mentoring needs exceed the capacity and experience of the faculty and seeks outside support for mentorship.

i. The program covers all the areas of a teacher’s work, including inner work, parent relations, colleagueship, administrative tasks and work in the classroom.

j. It is clear who oversees and is responsible for the program.

k. Every faculty member is aware of the assessment process and results.

l. The mentoring program assessment results in an action plan that is implemented.

2. Program Orientation
+ - +/- Successes & Areas Needing Improvement
a. A handbook outlines the goals, processes, expectations, roles and responsibilities in the program. The Handbook includes the document “Criteria for a Healthy Classroom”.

b. All new teachers are oriented to the program and handbook.

3. Mentor Qualifications and Training
+ - +/- Successes & Areas Needing Improvement
a. The mentor has sufficient teaching experience in order to guide teachers.

b. Mentors are committed to the success of their teachers.

c. The mentor has some training and experience with mentoring.

d. Mentors have skills in the areas where the teacher needs help.

e. Mentors are successful in their own teaching.

f. The mentor is grounded in an Anthroposophical understanding of child development and Waldorf education.

g. Mentors have completed full teacher training in a Waldorf affiliated institute.

4. Program Implementation
+ - +/- Successes & Areas Needing Improvement
a. Mentors are assigned through a process that matches needs and talents.

b. Mentorship responsibilities are taken into account when non-teaching tasks are distributed among faculty.

c. Time and space is provided in the weekly schedule for classroom visits and mentoring meetings.

d. Written expectations of mentors and teachers are clear.

e. Roles for mentor and teacher are clear and have been agreed to by both.

f. Confidentiality is expected and practiced.

5. Program Oversight and Review
+ - +/- Successes & Areas Needing Improvement
a. The program is reviewed annually – with input from both mentor and teacher.

b. The work of the mentor is reviewed annually. This review includes a self-assessment and reflections from the teacher being mentored.

c. The group responsible for the program has set up means of checking in with mentors and teachers.

e. The process is documented – mentor and teacher keep records of meetings and take notes of their conversations and it is clear what happens to the documentation.

f. The process for dealing with situations where things do not go well is clearly laid out, supported and practiced.

g. There is a clear process for what to do when there are concerns by either.

h. Mentors in a school meet occasionally support and learn from each other.

6. Teacher Evaluation
+ - +/- Successes & Areas Needing Improvement
a. The school has an evaluation process in place separate from the mentoring program.

b. The distinctions between mentorship and evaluation are clear to all teachers.

c. Mentors do not evaluate teachers in their own school.

d. Results of any evaluation are shared with teacher and mentor.

e. There is a process and timeline for follow-up on evaluations.

Action Plan Date

Action Due by Person(s) responsible

Assessment form completed by: Date:

For a PDF of this assessment form as a chart, click here.
Copyright: Sound Circle Center, 2008

Mentoring and Evaluating Terms: Definitions and Clarifications, D Gerwin, M Soule AWSNA

The following descriptions attempt to clarify the uses of the terms relating to mentors and evaluators of individual teachers, as well as terms referring to the mentoring and evaluation of schools as a whole.



In-house Mentor – appointed by the school

In-house mentors are experienced teachers assigned by their schools to support a colleague (often a new teacher) in the improvement of his or her teaching. It is necessary for mentors to visit regularly to observe the students and teacher in the classroom, to meet with the teacher regularly, be available for questions and provide support to the teacher. These relationships are confidential and non-evaluative.

Outside Mentor – appointed by the school

Outside mentors are experienced teachers assigned by a school to visit one or more of its teachers when no suitable or appropriate mentor is available within the school. The relationship is the same as with in-house mentors.


Peer Support (also called “buddy” or “talking partner”) – chosen by the teacher

A peer support position usually is an experienced colleague in the same school as the teacher seeking help. He or she is a person with whom the teacher can speak in confidence as a way of gaining perspective and insight and share materials.


School Mentor – appointed by the school

This term generally refers to those who advise and provide guidance and oversee the mentoring. If they are from outside the school, their periodic visits may include observing individual teachers and offering suggestions in follow-up.


School Mentoring Team – appointed by AWSNA’s regional delegates in the school’s region

            As a “developing member” of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) the regional delegates designates a team of 2-3 experienced teachers, usually from the delegates group and member schools, that provides ongoing support to the school as it progresses towards candidacy. Members of this team may make visits to the developing school to observe and assess progress, and provide support and resources to help the school in its development. These visits are usually focused more on the overall development of the school and while they are not intended to include individual pedagogical mentoring or evaluation to teachers, they may include drop-in visits to classes and conversations with individual teachers.



Teacher Evaluator – appointed by the school

Evaluators are experienced teachers invited into a school to observe one or more teachers as part of the school’s periodic review program. Evaluators write reports based on their visits, identifying strengths and areas for growth. Usually evaluators discuss their findings with the teachers they have evaluated before submitting their report to the school.


School Evaluators – appointed by the school

From time to time a school may opt to invite one or more colleagues to visit the school to offer outside perspectives. These school evaluators may come in response to a crisis or in the context of a chronic or systemic problem.


School Evaluation Team – appointed by AWSNA

            As a “candidacy member” of AWSNA, a school will be visited by a team of evaluators whose task it is to determine whether the school is moving successfully towards full membership in the Association. These visits are largely focused on the overall development of the school but will include drop-in visits to classes and possibly conversations with individual teachers.

Schools undergoing AWSNA accreditation receive similar visiting teams.

AWSNA member schools commit to periodic self-study and peer review, which may include a site visit by an AWSNA-appointed team. (See AWSNA membership guidelines for details.)


- - -   Other Forms of Mentoring and Teachers Support   - - -

Supervising Teacher – designated by a teacher education institute

A supervising teacher is a colleague working in a school who agrees to accept a student teacher into his or her classroom as part of an internship of observation and practice teaching. This teacher supervises the work of the student teacher using guidelines set by the student’s teacher education institute. Often this colleague is designated as “cooperating teacher” or “on-site teacher”.


Internship/Practicum Supervisor – designated by a teacher education institute

Students enrolled in a Waldorf teacher education program generally undertake an internship or practicum in a Waldorf school as part of their training. In this context a faculty member of the program may visit the school to observe the student who is interning in the school under the guidance of a supervising teacher (see above)


Pedagogical Mentorship Network (formerly Pedagogical Advisors Colloquium)

This group of teachers has been working together for several years to deepen its understanding of supportive mentoring practices and the overall role of mentoring in schools. The purpose of this group is not to train or prepare mentors but to build a body of experience and resources that can be helpful to schools in developing their mentoring programs. Participants in the colloquium have taken active roles in offering regional mentoring seminars based on the experience of the colloquium.


August 2006