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

The Art of Being A Mentor by M Soule

A good mentor is one who can help his/her advisee develop as a teacher and to find his/her way to manage and master the tasks of teaching, including working with the students, parents, curriculum and school. Because all development is self-development, a successful mentor also needs to help his/her advisee develop the capacity for self-reflection and self-discipline. To do this, a mentor must continually work on his/her own self-reflection and self-discipline, while continuing to practice the art of turning experience into wisdom. Finally, a mentor has the opportunity to learn and grow through the mentoring relationship.

The three essential tasks and tools of the mentor are observation, contemplation and conversation.

Being able to observe the dynamics, principles and wholeness of a situation while keeping the parts in focus is the first essential task of a good mentor. In the article by Craig Holdrege on “Seeing the World Whole”, we can gain keen insights into the mindfulness needed to find the principles and meaning in what we observe.

Being able to work with one’s observations with an open mind and to practice withholding judgment are two parts of the second essential task – contemplation. The excerpt from More Precious Than Light, a book on community building by Margreet Van Den Brink, provides a good description of the relationship between mindfulness and what Rudolf Steiner described as the three higher soul capacities. While things are not always what we think they are, when one thinks about one’s observations, what we have observed begins to show us more of its true nature. The article, “From Observation to Conversation,” shares insights gathered from the participants in the NW Mentoring Seminars held in Seattle by Sound Circle Center.

Being able to enter into conversation with one’s advisee in a creative way that meets his/her soul character is the third essential tool. Here there are many resources available, from Marjorie Spock’s essay on Goethean Conversation in Group Moral Artistry (in our resource library) to the suggestions in articles above. The article, “Conversational Wisdom,” explores five aspects of conversation applied to mentoring outlined in the book, Winning Wisdom, by Robert Aubrey.




Mentoring: From Observation to Conversation by Holly Koteen Soule from NW Mentorship Seminar

These notes are the result of discussions among colleagues in the mentoring seminar held by Sound Circle Center in 2011. We explored three steps in the mentoring process – the observation, the inner work of the mentor in processing the observation, and the conversation between the advisee and mentor.


  • Acknowledge the inevitable separation between the observer and observed.
  • Let go of personal agendas and fixed ideas, look with fresh eyes.
  • Be aware that you are seeing a specific moment in time.
  • Be open to observing a class in a particular context, as a single gesture in a larger picture.
  • Look for something the teacher does better than you.
  • Be flexible in your thinking. A good mentor practices and attempts to help the teacher practice the art of characterization. Through characterization, one can connect with and be aware of both the archetypes and the specific individualities in a situation.
  • Look for the gift of the teacher.
  • Try to imagine the genius, spirit or angel of class and teacher.
  • Remember that in all your observations, you are in the picture, too.
  • Take good notes.
  • Encourage the teacher to share his or her observations so that you have different points of view on the same situation.

Between OBSERVATION and CONVERSATION: Contemplation

  • Reciprocity is powerful, and has spiritual activity in it – try to see things forward and backwards
  • Try on the habits of the teacher (i.e. speaking and walking).
  • Naming can be limiting; staying in the unknown can be helpful.
  • Take impressions into sleep life along with a question to seek new inspiration and insight.
  • Let go of what you think you know – practice open-mindedness.
  • Be interested in the whole life of the teacher - their biography, their individuality, their teaching experience and their capacities – and how these all affect their teaching.
  • Commit to doing your own inner work with your advisee over time.
  • Be aware of and sensitive to the most effective communication style and be willing to work in that style (i.e. know the temperament of the teacher and what they are struggling with).
  • Do not be invested in an outcome – be willing to enter into an exploration together.
  • Know when more help is needed, or another perspective could be helpful.


  • Build a safe space and trust between mentor and advisee (withhold judgment, don’t be in a hurry, really make it a genuine conversation and partnership, not a view from outside).
  • Use questions. Listen attentively.
  • Begin positively and speak specifically about effects and results of teacher’s actions – practice good feedback (see feedback article).
  • Be willing to share your own struggles and how you were able to make changes.
  • Be flexible in your own thinking.
  • Pay attention to when the teacher is open and when he/she begins to move inwardly or change outwardly in a positive way.
  • Remember the process is not about “fixing” a problem but about gaining insight.
  • Create a sense of direction together rather than fixed expectations.
  • Consider bringing a question from the conversation with the teacher to the whole faculty to explore.
  • Document the conversation.
  • Anticipate – look into the future together.



Five Strategies for Mentors, from Working Wisdom by Robert Aubrey

 In the book, Working Wisdom, Robert Aubrey outlines five key aspects of the work of mentors. We have borrowed Aubrey’s strategies and annotated them for relevance in mentoring teachers. -ms-


The basis of good mentoring is the commitment of the mentor to be aware of and support the teacher on their path of development. This goes beyond offering advice, suggestions or asking good questions. It requires the mentor to be willing to step inside the context and the story of the teacher and class, and be willing to become a co-journeyer. It also requires the teacher being mentored to be open to being a co-journeyer with his/her mentor. This commitment should be clear up front and the mentor and teacher should have a conversation together about what this means to each of them when they begin their process. This relationship will help the process maintain balance and strength over a longer time. The teacher, mentor, students, class, parents, school and world are all on an unfolding journey. The mentor and teacher can be mutually supportive on this journey so that at any given moment the teacher is growing in skill and confidence in his/her tasks.


The mentor by nature of his/her experience, training and selection as a mentor will be aware of deeper aspects of the teaching situation than the teacher. It is important for the mentor to observe the teacher and the class in a way to see the archetypes of what is happening. While a young teacher may be interested in developing skills to improve certain challenging situations he/she currently faces, the mentor can also provide helpful seeds for the future by illuminating the principles and ideals that will eventually lead to better teaching. After these seeds are planted, especially when the teacher is new or untrained, they will bear fruit in the future. Nonetheless, it is important that the mentor provide insights and share principles with the teacher that he/she can realize as experience grows.


While the use of questions is generally the best strategy for a mentor, there are important times when a more direct approach can be helpful. The direct approach is always a more risky path because the resulting reaction of the teacher cannot be programmed. The mentor should only use catalyzing when the situation in the classroom results in a high degree of chaos and when the mentor has not been able to help the teacher gain control. In chaotic situations one may catalyze action through passionate, angry or forcefully direct means, but rarely are these techniques helpful in mentoring. Before catalyzing, it is helpful for the mentor to be clear about his/her strategy and to have thought about how a stronger more direct action might affect the relationship with the teacher.


While the conversation between mentor and teacher is the heart of the mentoring relationship, there are times when it is advantageous for the mentor to demonstrate what they see as happening. It can be beneficial for a mentor to offer to teacher a short lesson in the class to show what he/she is experiencing and to let the teacher observe the class from a new perspective. Another form of showing is to allow the teacher to visit another classroom, especially of an experienced teacher. This is also an important part of the overall development of a teacher. It provides opportunities for the teacher to see in action what otherwise the mentor has described.


As has been outlined in other posts and articles, an essential key to mentoring is the work that the mentor does to gain a deep insight into the style, nature and skills of the teacher. From the mentor’s observation of the teacher, he/she can develop appropriate questions and conversation that can help draw out the genius of the teacher – to help the teacher see his/her strengths and to follow his/her intuitions. Teaching is a continually unfolding and transforming practice and improvisation that over time becomes more and more aligned with higher principles and ideals. The mentor can help the teacher find a stronger connection to his/her own insights and learn how to act on them in relationship to basic principles and goals.

For a look at Aubrey’s book about mentoring for business, click here.





Goethean Observation: Two Articles by Craig Holdrege

Seeing Nature Whole — A Goethean Approach

An article and resources from Craig Holdrege and The Nature Institute

If we want to attain a living understanding of nature, we must become as flexible and mobile as nature herself. - Goethe

Many of us were introduced to biology — the science of life — by dissecting frogs, and we never learned anything about living frogs in nature. Modern biology has increasingly moved out of nature and into the laboratory, driven by a desire to find an underlying mechanistic basis of life. Despite all its success, this approach is one-sided and urgently calls for a counterbalancing movement toward nature. Only if we find ways of transforming our propensity to reduce the world to parts and mechanisms, will we be able to see, value, and protect the integrity of nature and the interconnectedness of all things. This demands a new way of seeing.

Our methodology is inspired by integrative thinkers and scientists, such as Johann Wolfgang von GoetheRudolf Steiner, and Kurt Goldstein.

We develop ways of thinking and perception that integrate self-reflective and critical thought, imagination, and careful, detailed observation of the phenomena. The Nature Institute promotes a truly ecological understanding of the living world:

We study the internal ecology of plants and animals, elucidating how structures and functions interrelate in forming the creature as a whole. Our interdisciplinary approach integrates anatomy, physiology, behavior, development, genetics, and evolution.

We investigate the whole organism as part of the larger web of life. By creating life history stories of plants and animals, we open up a new understanding of our fellow creatures as dynamic and integrated beings.

Through this approach, the organism teaches us about itself, revealing its characteristics and its interconnectedness with the world that sustains it. This way of doing science enhances our sense of responsibility for nature. No one who has read, for example, Craig Holdrege's paper on the sloth, thereby coming to appreciate this animal as a unique, focused expression of its entire forest habitat, will be able to tolerate the thought of losing either the sloth or its habitat.

As Goethe so beautifully expresses it, all of nature's individual aspects are interconnected and interdependent:

We conceive of the individual animal as a small world, existing for its own sake, by its own means. Every creature is its own reason to be. All its parts have a direct effect on one another, a relationship to one another, thereby constantly renewing the circle of life; thus we are justified in considering every animal physiologically perfect....

Our purpose is to carry out research, produce publications and offer education programs that foster this new, qualitative approach to nature. We also give off-site talks and workshops on this work.

Goethe's Delicate Empiricism

Curious about Goethean science, a special interest group of the New York Academy of Sciences invited Craig Holdrege to speak on the topic in October, 2013. Craig has expanded that talk into an essay, Goethe and the Evolution of Science. It is perhaps the best place to start for anyone curious about what we mean by “Goethean science”.

Also, a special issue of the interdisciplinary journal Janus Head focuses on Goethe's approach to science. Fourteen essays discuss Goethe's “delicate empiricism” from a variety of perspectives. This is the most thorough collection of papers on Goethe's way of science that has appeared in recent years. Nature Institute director Craig Holdrege was one of the volume's guest editors. The volume is available online at and the bound version may also be ordered through the website.

To read Goethe’s seminal essay on the nature of scientific knowing and experimentation, “The Experiment as Mediator of Object and Subject” click here.

The following publications, written by Institute Director Craig Holdrege, illustrate the Goethean approach within the life sciences:

The Giraffe's Long Neck: From Evolutionary Fable to Whole Organism
This 104 page booklet is part of our Nature Institute Perspectives series.

This book provides a comprehensive picture of the giraffe’s biology and ecology and also discusses the complex and controversial issue of its evolution. It gives a unique portrayal of the giraffe while also exemplifying the Goethean approach to understanding animals and evolution. Click here for more information about this booklet

The Flexible Giant: Seeing the Elephant Whole
This 65 page booklet is part of our Nature Institute Perspectives series. Doug Groves, Chairman of Living with Elephants Foundation in Botswana, Africa wrote:

"Your marvelous mini-monograph on "the Flexible Giant" is momentous and inspirational! Please accept my wholehearted congratulations and thanks. For the past thirty plus years I've been sharing my daily life with elephants which I think puts me in a pretty good position to appreciate your fresh, succinct, thoughtful, holistic and principle-centered approach to seeing the elephant. By taking small groups of international visitors, local village children and school kids for interpretive walks in the bush with three habituated African Elephants we try to achieve what you have managed to do very nicely with words in your booklet."

Click here for details about this booklet


"Phenomenon Illuminate Phenomenon" by Craig Holdrege. In Context #26, Spring 2011

"The Story of an Organism: Common Milkweed" by Craig Holdrege. In Context#22-24, Fall 2009 - Fall 2010

"The Forming Tree" by Craig Holdrege. In Context #14, Fall 2005

"The Giraffe in Its World" by Craig Holdrege. In Context #12, Fall 2005

"The Giraffe's Short Neck." In Context #10, Fall 2003

"How Does a Mole View the World?" In Context #9, Spring 2003

"Portraying a Meadow." In Context #8, Fall 2002

"What Forms an Animal?" In Context #6, Fall 2001

"Skunk Cabbage." In Context #4, Fall 2000

"Where Do Organisms End?" In Context #3, Spring, 2000

"Genes and Life: The Need for Qualitative Understanding." In Context #1, Spring/Summer 1999

"Science as Process or Dogma? The Case of the Peppered Moth." Elemente der Naturwissenschaft, Vol. 70, 1999: pp. 39-51

"What Does it Mean to be a Sloth?"

"Seeing the Animal Whole: The Example of the Horse and Lion." In Goethe's Way of Science, edited by D. Seamon and A. Zajonc Albany: SUNY Press, 1998, pp. 213-232

"Pharming the Cow." NetFuture #43, March 20, 1997 (Also published in OrionWinter 1997)
For articles about the methodology of the goethean approach see:

"Learning to See Life: Developing the Goethean Approach to Science",Renewal, Fall 2005.

"Doing Goethean Science" Janus Head, Vol. 8.1, 2005

Learning to See Life - Developing the Goethean Approach to Science

Craig Holdrege

I have often thought that if a teacher wanted to have one succinct motto to hang above his or her bed, she’d have a hard time finding a better one than: _characterize, don’t define. _ In order to characterize, say, an animal, we have to carry within ourselves a vivid picture of its shape, how it moves, the sounds it makes, its habitat and the ways it relates to its environment. We bring alive through our imagination and speech something of the animal’s nature. We learn, for example, how the sloth spends its life hanging in and slowly moving through the boughs of rain forest trees. It recedes into its environment to the degree that it lets algae grow in its fur, which soaks up rain like a sponge, and the resulting greenish tinge makes the sloth nearly invisible in the tree crowns. It is so adapted to hanging that it is virtually helpless on the ground.  Everything about the sloth is slow it moves slowly, it digests slowly (only climbing down to the ground once a week to, as the students would say, pee and poop); it grows slowly, reacts slowly and seems largely impervious to pain (1). When we paint a picture of the animal in this way a process in which the students are involved the animal can begin to live in the soul of the child or adolescent.

Characterization imbues a subject with life. To define may make something clear, but it is the kind of clarity that is all too often void of life. When Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, urged teachers to characterize and not define, he did so because he knew that through characterization we form living concepts that can grow and transform (2). A definition, by contrast, is fixed. Unfortunately, it is often within biology classes, with all the rote learning and memorization of definitions for multiple-choice exams, where traditional outcome-based education reaches its unhappy epitome. And biology is supposed to be the science of life.  Charles Dickens gives a lovely caricature of this way of teaching in his novel Hard Times:

_In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts! __.
Blitzer, said Thomas Gradgrind, your definition of a horse.
Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eyeteeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth. Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
_Now girl number twenty, _ said Mr. Gradgrind, _you know what a horse is. _

Of course we all need to learn facts, but isolated facts are soon forgotten and are like stones instead of nourishment for the human soul. What the students need is to see how the facts relate to each other, how the parts of an organism interact in service to the life of the whole creature. You could say that all real knowing is ecological knowing - knowing how something is part of a larger, dynamic context. If we can bring students into this way of knowing, we are preparing them for a life in a world that will not offer them pat solutions, but demand from them the ability to grow and form new ideas in relation to new and unforeseen demands.

The problem is that modern habits of thought and academic training, which encourage, above all, analysis and abstract theorizing, do not give teachers the tools they need to bring this kind of understanding to students. In fact, they tend to deaden both the propensity toward quiet and open-ended observation and the concrete, imaginative capacities a teacher needs most in order to build up exact, yet living pictures of the world.

Already over 80 years ago, Steiner saw that teachers came out of the _system_ with rigid, one-sided habits of thought. He saw the Goethean approach to nature and science as a key enabling teachers to transform their own thinking and bring a more vital reality to their students:

Our way of thinking is inclined to place things side by side. This shows us how little our concepts are geared to outer reality. In outer reality things flow together_. We need to think things together, and not as separate from each other. A person who wishes only to think things separated resembles a man who wishes only to inhale, never to exhale_. Here you have something that teachers in the future will have to do; they must above all acquire for themselves this inwardly mobile thinking, this unschematic thinking.
Science will have to wake up in a Goethean sense and move from the dead to the living. This is what I mean when I say again and again that we need to learn to get beyond our dead abstract concepts and move into living, concrete concepts. (3)

In our work at The Nature Institute we are committed to helping teachers and people who want to become teachers work on this transformation. One of the challenges of this task is that learning an approach that aims to reveal life in nature entails both ridding ourselves of ingrained habits of thought and mobilizing new.



More Mentoring Resources 2

There are a lot of resources in the business and education world relating to mentoring. We have tried to capture most of the core principles in the articles in this and the last newsletter. Along with the three pieces below, check out the 26 resources in our resource library.

“Light in the Soul”

from More Precious Than Light by Margreet Van Den Brink

In this chapter of her book on social encounter and conversation, Margreet explores the relationship between conscious conversation and the development of the three aspects of the soul outlined by Rudolf Steiner. For anyone interested in the more esoteric nature of conversation and the soul, this short piece is illuminating. Read more...

“The Art of Fruitful Conversation”

from Mentoring in Early Childhood Education by Carol Nasr Griset and Kim Raymond

Creating a space for honest listening, speaking and building relationship in a mentoring situation are at the heart of this chapter from WECAN's book Mentoring in Early Childhood Education. It also explores practical aspects of the mentoring relationship and the essential work of the mentor. Read more...

“Mentoring vs. Coaching”

from Management Mentoring Inc.

This article explores 25 ways that coaching and mentoring are different. It helps clarify the distinction that one can coach another to help them achieve a goal while a mentor works to help the person grow and develop in their life. Read more...

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