Theory A

Here is a brief summary of “Theory A“: a theory pertaining to microsociology which may explain some of the actual mechanics of “self organization” in human social systems.

Theory A

Respect is felt feelings of esteem for another individual, and demonstrations of those feelings, through behavior. You can look it up. Most folks understand what respect is. In typical 1-to-1 interactions, mature people always send at least a minimal level of respect to everyone they encounter. “Treat others as you like to be treated” is a basic rule of thumb here. The Golden Rule.

So, respect is routinely sent and received by and between individuals. When those individuals are in the same group, the “packets” of respect get tagged with various additional properties.

Chief among these properties is the “Authorized-To-Lead” tag. The details of that tag contain the message “you have my consent to help lead the group.”

This is the A-tag.


Details Of Theory A

Coherent groups seek leadership. And so members send these “A-tagged” packets of respect to others, who receive them. The receivers may then either accept or reject these packets.

The packets are tagged with “consent to follow.” Tagged with “you have my permission to help lead”. Tagged with “you have my authorization, permission and support to actively help lead this group.”

This is the “Authorized-To-Lead” tag. The A-tag.


If I tag you, you receive it. You may ultimately reject my tagged send. The tag does after all come with some duties, doesn’t it? You make a choice, conscious or otherwise. Accept or reject.

If you accept my send, others notice.

Say your name is Michelle. My name is Daniel. Say we are in the same group. I send you some respect, tagged with the A-tag. You receive it, and accept it. This is a “from 1, to 1” send and receive. This send and receive is by and between a dyad– just two people.

We are in a group. Others in the group notice that “Daniel tags Michelle.” The others are observant, and independent agents… and so they each decide individually (consciously or unconsciously) what’s best… and what’s next… for them.

The options are:

  • Do nothing, or
  • Send some respect to Michelle, and tag it exactly the same way, or
  • Send some respect to Michelle, with different tags, or no tags at all

There are obviously some other interesting options, right? This is a concise summary, and so let’s keep it as simple as possible for now, shall we?


“Daniel tags Michelle.” Others notice and may respond. Note that no response is a response. There’s no time limit, and everyone, as always, does only what they want to do, consciously or otherwise.

If enough people tag Michelle with the A-tag,  and she accepts being “drafted into a leadership role”, then Michelle is now a de facto person of influence in our group. Someone with some special permission from the group.

Seems so simple, doesn’t it?

Not so fast.


Summarizing Theory A

Being tagged with authorization is very flattering to the ego, and can be the cause of many sorrows.

And not just for the “tag-er” and the “tag-ee,” but for the group as a whole.

In self-organizing systems with high levels of maturity, authorization routinely flows to where it can do the most good, in service to the group’s primary task. This assumes of course that the group has clearly identified the primary task– that is, what it actually wants. The primary task of a group can and does shift over time, causing shifts in levels of authorization– and coherent leadership.