The Quaker Business Method Literature

Roland Carn, 2016


The Quaker Business Method (QBM) refers to the way that Quakers have conducted their church government for 360 years. The literature is explored and segmented into thirteen overlapping themes of interest to the academic, business and scientific communities. The operation of the QBM is explored in the literature. The characteristic features of the QBM are found, but not the detailed practical description hoped for. The specialness of the QBM is identified.


Quaker business method, literature review, business operation, governance, decision making, practice.

Why Review the QBM literature

The Quaker Business Method (QBM) is the way Quakers[1] have conducted their church government for 360 years. It is not about the way Quaker companies are run.

The QBM is revered by Quakers. Compared to historical and scientific work, its literature is very small. It has been written for Quakers, not for the public or for academics. It is not generally written by academics and not published in academic journals. 

The purpose of the review was to find a clear, detailed description of the QBM, and how it works.


One hundred and six works were found, mainly in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The earliest was from the early eighteenth century. Sixteen works were found in more than one library. The bibliography of 88 works is in the references. The most relevant 52 were reviewed in some depth. Four non-QBM works give contrast and perspective: Anstey 1945 discusses committee procedures; Heeks 1996 discusses community; Lakey 1982 describes the role of a facilitator and Palgrave 1895 describes parliamentary and debating procedures.

The literature begins in the years before 1670 with pronouncements and letters by George Fox, passes through a period when the independent, self-governing meetings were held together by travelling ministers – the Valiant Sixty. There was a period when Meeting for Sufferings established a strong national organisation to free Quakers from the persecutions of the day. It includes the long growth of the book of discipline into its present form as the formal governing document of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. The language, interests, social conditions and beliefs of the seventeenth century Quakers were very different from those of the twenty-first century. 

The majority of the works are from British authors and London (now Britain) Yearly Meeting (BYM). About a third are from American authors belonging to various American yearly meetings. BYM’s business method was formed under the duress of government persecution and it has remained a single religious organisation with an unprogrammed[2]worshipping tradition. The American branch has never been persecuted and has looked to London for its church government. There is a range of practice from unprogrammed Yearly Meetings (like London) through programmed, pastoral to evangelical Quakers (most notably on the west coast of the United States and in Kenya). The divisions and the development of the pastoral business methods (similar to typical Christian church practice) was not present in the literature, because I focussed on BYM and used British libraries: LSF, Woodbrooke Library, and Cambridge Jesus Lane Meeting’s Library.

Early works are written in Christocentric, even Biblical, language, that persisted to the end of the nineteenth century. Throughout, Quakers talking to Quakers, use spiritual terms and their particular Quaker jargon. So far, only Sheeran 1983 provides a glossary with a wide appeal. (Published glossaries, including those on the internet, deal with spiritual terms and are for Quakers. They do not specifically address the QBM. Carn has posted a QBM glossary for the business reader.)

The words ‘God’, ‘Jesus’, ‘Christ’, ‘The Light’, ‘The Spirit’, ‘Inner Teacher’ have different shades of meaning and are used by different Quakers in different discussions. However for the QBM, they might be lumped together to mean much the same thing – God. Pink Dandelion 1996 and Watson 1996 skirmish lightly over this, and so open the door to the literature on the nature and meaning of God. For Quakers, the exercise of the QBM is a religious practice, grounded in their beliefs and method of worship. For the QBM it is enough that the participants in the business meeting recognise a power greater than the individual and greater than the group – without enquiring too closely into the nature of the power or the belief. Non-Quakers are likely to share this view and so find common ground to work with the QBM.

Some terms have changed their meaning over time. Early Quakers used ‘Gospel Order’ (Wilson 1993, Gwyn 1995) to mean the order and structure of the universe created initially by God. Later, they talked of decisions, actions and behaviour as being in ‘right ordering’ to mean they were in harmony with that Gospel Order. Imperceptibly, ‘right order’ came to mean ‘in accordance with the advice and guidance given in the book of discipline’. Gospel Order is no longer used in common ‘Quaker speak’ but it seems to foreshadow the scientists’ view of the creation of the universe in the Big Bang with the subsequent evolution of life and ourselves, that emerged about 200 years later. Gwyn 1995 links Gospel Order to the covenants of the Old and New Testaments and with the covenant of friendship – and so opens a door to social science.

Authors differ in the depth of their understanding of the QBM. Some are profound (Sheeran 1983, Doncaster 1958), while others are shallow or focus on just one aspect, such as women’s issues (Littleboy 1943). Palgrave 1895, Anstey 1945, Lakey 1982 and Heeks 1996 are not talking about the QBM at all.

Most of the QBM work is written by Quakers for Quakers. Few of the authors are academics. Academic terms and concepts are not used, but Quaker, subjective, experiential language is used. Academic standards are discarded in favour of inspiring, and motivational language. Sheeran 1983, and Redfern 1994a are the only two works based on empirical study.

Core QBM works

The sixteen works found in more than one library might be thought of as the most popular works.

Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013 is the most comprehensive in its coverage and represents the accumulated experience of Quakers. It is prescriptive and presents only one aspect of the QBM. Brinton 1952, Sharman 1983 and Sheeran 1983 are more balanced and insightful.

Themes related to the QBM

History, Issues and Organisational Development of the QBM

The origin of the QBM lies in the letters by George Fox, referred to or quoted by some writers, that Quaker meetings for church affairs shall not be held like noisy, ill-disciplined parish meetings. 

Littleboy 1943, Brinton 1952, Doncaster 1958, Sharman 1983, Sheeran 1983, Bodine 1989, Gwyn 1995, Wells 1996, Dorsey 1998, Cookson 2003, Roberts 2003, Navias 2012, Angell 2013, Freeman 2013, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013, each give an account of the historical development of the QBM. They are similar, because they are drawn from the surviving documents, or repeated from one to another. They focus on the critical controversies during the early years, or on specific issues such as women’s role in the business meeting. 

The use of the QBM has influenced Quakers’ role in social issues, from slavery to same-sex marriage. However, treating these issues does not appear to have affected the practice of the QBM, although its prescription may have been enriched. Science, social science and business practice have not been discussed and do not appear to have influenced the QBM. A study of the history and development of the current book of discipline (Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013) would test these observations.

Doncaster 1958 focusses on the development of the organisational structure. Sheeran 1983 focusses on the development of the decision-making methods. His non-Quaker view is not part of the received wisdom of modern Quakerism, which makes his work especially useful for this review.

Spiritual Basis of the QBM

The extensive literature dealing with Quaker theology, religion and spirituality is beyond the scope of this review.

Brinton 1952, Johnson 1982, Sharman 1983, Steer 1983, Sheeran 1983, Johnson 1985, Loring 1992, Wilson 1993, Gwyn 1995, Hoffman 1996, Pink Dandelion 1996, Watson 1996, Wells 1996, Grundy 2002, Anderson 2006, Fendall 2007, Mace 2012, Angell 2013, Freeman 2013, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013, Quakers & Business Group 2014, Birkel 2015, Morley 2015, all agree on the spiritual basis for QBM.

The QBM arises from the belief that everyone has direct access to God, that God’s will and guidance can be discovered by deep listening and waiting in silence. The notion of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ confers equal value of, and respect for, everyone. It implies a community of belief and practice.

Principles of the QBM

Avery 1981, Freeman 2013, and others discuss the principles of the QBM as the philosophical, cultural values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and sustainable stewardship; not the principles of how the QBM works. 

Prescription of the QBM

Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013 is, for Quakers in Britain: it’s the prescribed, definitive account of the QBM, (chapters 2 to 17). The current edition of the book of discipline is the definitive version, which supersedes earlier books and includes excerpts from earlier books and earlier minutes. Works from other yearly meetings are definitive for that yearly meeting. Meeting for Sufferings Committee 1960, Sheeran 1983, Navias 2012, Quakers & Business Group 2014, Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting (Undated), either repeat the prescription of Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013, (usually in a reduced form) or present the prescription of their own yearly meeting.

Although prescriptive and definitive, the book of discipline is an anthology of experience and, in the tradition of Quakers, it is guidance and advice. It is not mandatory, although the advice and guidance conforms to Charity Law.

Governance and the QBM

Palgrave 1895, Brinton 1952, Doncaster 1958, Meeting for Sufferings Committee 1960, Bartoo 1978, Sheeran 1983, Redfern 1994b, Gwyn 1995, Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting (Undated), Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013, Gross 2015, Ferguson (undated), talk about the constitution, structures, roles and rules applied to Quakers’ church government.

The institutions of Elders and Overseers provide a mechanism for the governance of individual and group performance, that conforms to ‘Gospel Order’ and to ‘right ordering’ against the current version of the book of discipline. The QBM assumes an atmosphere of openness, trust, advice and guidance and is backed only by social sanctions. 

Palgrave 1895, Doncaster 1958, Sheeran 1983, Redfern 1994b, Gwyn 1995, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013, Ferguson (undated), Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting (Undated), talk generally about governance in the QBM.

Meeting for Sufferings Committee 1960 and Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013, discuss constitutional matters.

Brinton 1952, talks about freedom and organisation in governance. Bartoo 1978, mentions representation in governance. Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013, mentions standing committees. Gross 2015, talks about Elders’ and Overseers’ governance and talks of ‘right ordering’ in governance.

Scope of the QBM

From the beginning the QBM has been the way the Quaker meetings have conducted their affairs. A glance at Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013 shows the range of topics, responsibilities and functions that it covers: the holding of meetings for worship; the structure of the organisation; membership; appointments; governance (Elders and Overseers); children; hospitality; outreach (marketing); money and finance; personal behaviour; celebrations (marriage, funerals, memorial meetings); compliance with Charity Law; action on current affairs, activities and so on. Doncaster 1958, Meeting for Sufferings Committee 1960, Sharman 1983, Wilshire 1986, Redfern 1994b, Watson 1996, and Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013, Quakers & Business Group 2014, Gross 2015, Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting (Undated), show the scope of the QBM.

Frameworks used in the QBM

Organisation Structure

The Quaker organisation (Brinton 1952, Meeting for Sufferings Committee 1960, Sharman 1983, Wilshire 1986, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers] in Britain 2013), Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting [Undated]), is shallow with only six (now five) levels: Yearly Meeting, Central Committees, General Meeting, Area Meeting, Local meeting, local committees. 

Roles and Officers

The familiar officers of chairperson and secretary are not found in the QBM (Anstey 1945, Brinton 1952, Compton 1972, Jackman 1977, Bartoo 1978, Lakey 1982, Sharman 1983, Steer 1983, Sheeran 1983, Wilshire 1986, Redfern 1994a, Redfern 1994b, Hoffman 1996, Anderson 2006, Mace 2012, Navias 2012, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers] in Britain 2013, Birkel 2015, Ferguson [undated], Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting [Undated]). The clerk facilitates the meeting in doing its business and writes the minutes. The clerk selects and sequences the business, but does not make any decisions and does not steer the meeting in one direction or another. The Clerk, as facilitator and scribe, is not a ‘boss’. Other officers include the Elder(s) responsible for the right holding of the meeting, Overseers responsible for the pastoral care (Human Relations) of the members of the meeting and the treasurer. There may be other officers such as Assistant Clerk or Recording Clerk.

Decision rule

In the QBM (Brinton 1952, Doncaster 1958, Bartoo 1978, Avery 1981, Johnson 1982, Sharman 1983, Sheeran 1983, Johnson 1985, Bodine 1989, Loring 1992, Wilson 1993, Redfern 1994a, Hoffman 1996, Anderson 2006, Bill 2008, Mace 2012, Angell 2013, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers] in Britain 2013), Quakers & Business Group 2014, Birkel 2015, Morley 2015, Ferguson [undated], Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting [Undated]), decisions are made according to the will of God, as perceived by the participants. The process by which right action is distinguished from not-right action is called discernment. When it has become apparent to those present that they have reached a shared perception of the will of God, they say the shared perception is the ‘sense of the meeting’. This process and rule for making decisions is ‘beyond voting’ and ‘beyond consensus’. 

Outline Procedure of the business meeting

The procedure of the business meeting (Palgrave 1895, Brinton 1952, Compton 1972, Bartoo 1978, Sharman 1983, Johnson 1985, Redfern 1994b, Hoffman 1996, Anderson 2006, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers] in Britain 2013, Quakers & Business Group 2014), is the most visible feature that distinguishes the QBM from other meetings. 

The procedure is: 

1.   Everyone comes prepared with whatever information they have about the business to be transacted.

2.   They gather in silence, as for a meeting for worship.

3.   The clerk introduces an item of business.

4.   Anyone may speak and be listened to.

5.   There is a period of silent reflection between each contribution. 

6.   When the sense of the meeting (see Decision Rule) has been reached (or not), The Clerk drafts a minute and reads it to the meeting.

7.   The meeting amends the minute until it is satisfied that the minute truly expresses the sense of the meeting.

8.   The meeting returns to silent worship until The Clerk introduces the next item or the Elder(s) end the meeting.

9.   After the meeting The Clerk and others, execute whatever actions are required (without further discussion or argument).

Responsibility in the QBM

In the QBM responsibility for the conduct of the meeting, ensuring that good practice is followed, ensuring that discernment of what is right is exercised, and for the right execution of decisions made, rests entirely with each participant in the meeting (Angell 2013, Gwyn 1995, Redfern 1994a, Sharman 1983, Sheeran 1983, Society of Friends. Meeting for Sufferings Committee 1960, Watson 1996, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers] in Britain 2013). In politics this is sometimes referred to as ‘collective responsibility’.

Authority of the gathered meeting in session

In the QBM (Anstey 1945, Avery 1981, Brinton 1952, Doncaster 1958, Grundy 2002, Gwyn 1995, Johnson 1985, Johnson 1982, Palgrave 1895, Redfern 1994b, Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting [Undated], Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers] in Britain 2013), two authorities are in constant tension: the authority of an individual’s insight, convincement and concern on one hand, and the authority of the gathered meeting on the other. Neither authority is ascendant over the other because they are both ‘leadings of God’. Often this leads to confusion over the authority of The Clerk.

Sharman 1983 mentions a different kind of authority, the authority of skill.

Practice of the QBM

Espousal and Practice

The long tradition of prescription (see above), almost matched by a tradition of exhortation (Anderson 2006, Brinton 1952, Chalkley 1849, Fendall 2007, Loring 1992, Redfern 1994a, Sharman 1983, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers] in Britain 2013), points to an enduring gap between what is espoused and believed on one hand and what is done in practice on the other.

In empirical studies, Sheeran 1983 interviewed 150 members of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and also reported a wide diversity of understanding, explanation and practice of the QBM. Redfern 1994a reported a study of BYM in which he also found wide diversity in the QBM.

QMB Training

There is little evidence of teaching or training in the QBM literature of the QBM (Rushmore 1944, Anstey 1945, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Society of Friends, Representative Meeting, Publication Committee 1945, Jackman 1977, Avery 1981, Sharman 1983, Redfern 1994a, Ferguson [undated). 

QBM education and training is absent from Angell 2013, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013, and from Gross 2015’s’ guide for Elders and Overseers. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Society of Friends, Representative Meeting, Publication Committee 1945, is a reading list for study. Rushmore 1944 presents a study outline designed to stimulate questions and, hopefully, understanding of the contemporary Philadelphia Book of Discipline.

The outstanding exception is a set of two videos (Ferguson [undated]) that show how not run a business meeting and how to run it. The source for this is the unpublished (and probably undocumented) work of Young Friends General Meeting. Over several decades they have developed and operated a system of education, training and monitoring their business process (personal experience). They have delivered these to Yearly Meetings and to more local meetings but they have not been adopted by the ‘official’ organisations.

Methods and Techniques

Between them, Anderson 2006, Angell 2013, Avery 1981, Bartoo 1978, Bill 2008, Birkel 2015, Doncaster 1958, Green 1983, Hoffman 1996, Jackman 1977, Johnson 1982, Navias 2012, Quakers & Business Group 2014, Redfern 1994a, Sharman 1983, Steer 1983, Sheeran 1983, Society of Friends. Meeting for Sufferings Committee 1960, Watson 1996, Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting (Undated), identify 28 methods, tools and techniques in the QBM.

Some of the items focus on particular situations or conditions. Some of them refer to a ‘suite’ of techniques for dealing with, for example, ‘ways forward’ or conflict. Silence, clearness, listening, and minute writing were mentioned most frequently. Technology, group analysis, ‘after meeting’, and asking helpful questions, and problem solving were mentioned once.


Between them, Bartoo 1978, Birkel 2015, Brinton 1952, Ferguson (undated), Gross 2015, Jackman 1977, Johnson 1982, Morley 2015, Quakers & Business Group 2014, Redfern 1994a, Sharman 1983, Steer 1983, Sheeran 1983, Wells 1996, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013, identify 68 problems with the practice of the QBM. 

While many items, like ‘agenda badly organised’ or ‘silent members’ are easily understood, other items; like ‘clash of doctrines’, ‘outreach’ (as a problem) or ‘warped unverbalised assumptions’ need unpicking and clarification.

Operation of the QBM

Atmosphere and culture

From his detached, non-Quaker point of view Sheeran 1983 identifies atmosphere as critical to and characteristic of, the QBM.

Anderson 2006, Angell 2013, Avery 1981, Bartoo 1978, Bill 2008, Birkel 2015, Bodine 1989, Brinton 1952, Ferguson (undated), Grundy 2002, Heeks 1996, Jackman 1977, Johnson 1985, Johnson 1982, Navias 2012, Redfern 1994a, Sandy 1909, Sharman 1983, Sheeran 1983, Watson 1996, Wilson 1993, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013, refer to the ‘atmosphere’ of the business meeting and the QBM. What is experienced as ‘atmosphere’ is the academic’s ‘culture’; comprising the rules of behaviour; the stories people tell; the attitudes and values that are accepted; the ways of behaving that are acceptable in particular situations. It gives context to the QBM and to the participant’s behaviour in it.

Most writers are addressing Quakers and while they mention it or comment on it, they generally take the atmosphere for granted. The long list of varied problems, the need for exhortation and sharing of experience show that the assumption of a shared culture might not be valid – both historically and in today’s meetings. Sandy 1909 highlights the importance of assumptions. Jackman 1977 includes physical structures and arrangements in the atmosphere. Brinton 1952 suggests that the force binding the people into the cultural atmosphere is the force of friendship (St Paul’s agape).

Personal Behaviour

The behaviour of the individual participants in the QBM meeting is mentioned or discussed by Anstey 1945, Brinton 1952, Doncaster 1958, Jenkin 1975, Jackman 1977, Bartoo 1978, Johnson 1982, Sharman 1983, Sheeran 1983, Redfern 1994a, Hoffman 1996, Grundy 2002, Anderson 2006, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2013, Birkel 2015, Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting (Undated). On one hand they tell us what the individual should do (prescription), and on the other hand they tell us the problems arise when people misbehave, disregard the rules, or abuse the QBM.

Criticising or even mentioning a person’s behaviour is a social offence – from which Quakers’ truth and integrity does not shrink. Taking this topic further, to understand it, to improve the performance and effectiveness of the QBM, means ‘lifting the hood’ on people and their behaviour. The writers are reluctant to do this: it’s a ‘no-go area’, a taboo topic. Perhaps they consider that as Quakers, historians or normal people, they do not have the expertise or the cultural warrant to go down this path.

Leadership in the QBM

In Quaker theology, the only leader is God (or the Inner Light, the Spirit). Everyone else (who all have the status of ‘priest’ in other religions) has access to the leadings of God (inner leadings). Every participant in a Quaker business meeting has the responsibilities, authority and ability to lead, to take the initiative, to call to account and so on. The leading that comes to each person is different because they each have different expertise, experience, abilities, insights and responsibilities (Doncaster 1958, Compton 1972, Bartoo 1978, Steer 1983, Sheeran 1983, Anderson 2006, Angell 2013, Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers] in Britain 2013, Birkel 2015, Gross 2015, Morley 2015). Leadership is distributed among all those present and may move from one person to another within a single discussion. 

In non-Quaker organisations there is usually a formal or informal hierarchical structure of power, authority and responsibility. One person in the group is the ‘boss’ who leads everyone else, tells them what to do, and who has various sanctions and incentives to enforce their compliance. This view zeros-in on the role of The Clerk in a Quaker meeting: and then encounters severe cognitive dissonance, because The Clerk is not the leader or the ‘boss’, but the servant (scribe or facilitator) of the meeting. 

The writers on clerkship and on the behaviour of participants recognise the dissonance and confusion. They have little to offer in resolution, and tend to revert to authoritarian discipline and control.


Brinton 1952 is the only writer to mention expertise or knowledge of a particular subject, which, in commercial organisations, would be a prime concern.

Expertise is different from experience. Insight, understanding, capacity, ability, skill and knowledge in a particular field as well as experience of many different situations is expertise: ‘experience is doing something a thousand times: expertise is doing a thousand different things’. 

In the literature, experience is discussed as personal, subjective experience. In general, it is under-valued. It is likely to be important in the more practical aspects of the QBM, such as finance, property, pastoral care and clerkship. 

Success Factors

Anstey 1945, Avery 1981, Birkel 2015, Brinton 1952, Doncaster 1958, Redfern 1994a, touch on what makes a successful meeting. Anstey 1945 clearly identifies: clear terms of reference, enough time, and sufficient information as keys to successful committee work. Some of these can be seen at work in the list of problems. The other (Quaker) writers are less definite.

The thrust of Quakers & Business Group 2014 is the achievement of ethically good behaviour in business.

Tests of leadings

Leadings, in Quaker-speak are courses of action (decisions) that are felt by an individual, (and by extension, the meeting), as in some sense right. 

Anderson 2006, Loring 1992 and Sheeran 1983 discuss how leadings can be tested for rightness: inner certainty; degree of humility and discomfort; degree of patience needed; Fruits of the Spirit (I Corinthians); test by community; test of a gathered meeting’s closeness to authenticity, test against scripture and other writings; test of a feeling of clearness.

Fruits of the Spirit identified by St Paul are the only objective test, but it can only be applied after the decision has been acted upon. Tests against scripture and other writings are, like the Fruits of the Spirit, subject to personal interpretation. The rest are subjective feelings, which are appropriate for spiritual enquiry but are difficult to detect or measure objectively for rigorous study.

QBM in relation to other literature

The QBM literature is like an advent calendar; there are doors into many other disciplines including: history, theology, philosophy, ethics, sociology, decision making, leadership, social psychology, cognitive psychology, authority, control, communication, governance.

This is a field with little academic scrutiny, although it does include empirical and field studies. There is scope for comparative studies and extensive scope for empirical investigation, particularly in the fields of business studies and social science.

What is missing is a coherent or a comprehensive account of the working of the QBM’s mechanisms, methods, tools, techniques – its craft, its engineering and its science.

The behaviour of QBM participants might be a taboo area for some reason that would be interesting to probe.


Four topics emerged as key to understanding the QBM.

•     The atmosphere and culture in which the QBM is used and thrives, expressing the ideas of Gospel Order and the Covenant of friendship.

•     The decision rule (what is right), that characterises the QBM, contrasted with voting and consensus, and its related process of discernment.

•     The frameworks in which business is conducted.

•     The behaviour of the participants in a business meeting.

The detailed description of the Quaker Business Method did not emerge from the literature. What did emerge was a set of features (in no special order). All these ‘badges’ are necessary to characterise, identify and classify a meeting or organisation as using the Quaker Business Method. If any one of them is missing, then the meeting is not using the Quaker Business Method, or not using it properly.

Community. The QBM is a way of managing and governing a community – such as the Quaker movement or a small working group.

Philosophy. The QBM is based on a set of fundamental beliefs:

Recognition of some force greater than oneself (God, the force of nature, the larger group),

Belief in the notion of continuous revelation,

Belief that what is right in any given situation or time can be determined by everyone.

Ethical. These beliefs lead to a set of values among which integrity, equality, and stewardship are the most relevant for church government and general business.

Atmosphere or Culture. The QBM requires and fosters an atmosphere in the business meeting of:

deep trust and respect between the participants regardless of other considerations, 

an openness to new ideas and insights beyond personal considerations, 

a shared attitude of seeking for rightness beyond other considerations.

Frameworks. The QBM has a shallow structure, key roles for the facilitation of the business and a framework for the conduct of a business meeting. The latter is different from forms such as: debate, argument, parliamentary practice, command and control systems, and civil-service committees.

Responsibilities, Authority and Governance. In contrast to other business methods, the QBM places full responsibility for all decisions and actions on the individual participant – to consider, to ‘decide’, to speak out, to take initiative and to execute what is necessary. In tension with this responsibility is the authority of the corporate group to advise, counsel, guide and care for the individuals and groups in its bailiwick. Ultimate authority resides with the highest power recognised, such as God or the Force of Nature. Individuals and groups are expected to be open and accountable but ultimately the rules and advice of governance are advisory, since responsibility remains with the individual, but they may be challenged and, if necessary, changed.

Clerk. The Clerk of a QBM meeting is the facilitator of the meeting’s business, in strong contrast to the role of chairman, boss or decision-maker. The meeting makes decisions, and the participants are responsible for the conduct of the meeting, as well as their own behaviour.

Decision Rule. The decision rule at all times is: ‘Is this the right action or choice, for us, at this time, in this situation? This contrasts with other decision rules that might be used such as: what’s the cheapest; the easiest; the best for me; the best for my organisation and so on.

Silence. The QBM uses silence to allow what has been said to be heard and considered, to allow feelings, minority views and dissent to be heard and taken into account. It also allows joy and reason to enter into the matter under consideration.

Dissent. The QBM takes dissent seriously and provides a variety of techniques for dealing with it: delay for further information or consideration; return to a matter previously considered if there has been a mistake or if there is reason to reconsider; to disagree but stand aside if the point is not important enough to stop the meeting from moving forward; and so on.

Contemporaneous minutes. The QBM requires minutes to be drafted, refined and approved in the meeting before moving on to the next item. This prevents deliberate or unconscious bias creeping into a minute, and removes the possibility of disputes over the minute or delays in implementing a decision. 

None of these features are necessarily unique or special to Quakers, although they have been devised, developed and used by Quakers. What is special is that the QBM is a way of managing and governing a community – such as the Quaker movement. It has been forged in persecution and controversy for this purpose since 1647 and continues to be used today. The QBM among Quakers arises from the belief that a business meeting is a spiritual exercise, as well as a practical one. While the spiritual experience of personal transformation was common among early Quakers, it does not appear to be necessary for a successful QBM meeting – though many Quakers would insist that it is desirable.

These features are not sufficient to enable anyone to run a meeting or an organisation in accordance with the QBM or to enable an individual to take part in a meeting using the QBM. The features of a bicycle (as a manually driven, two-wheeled vehicle for one person) are not sufficient to build one, to ride one or to use it safely in the street. It’s helpful to consider the QBM as a craft or (social) engineering exercise. For example, consider what you need to repair furniture, to conduct a research study, to go on a journey? Then by analogy, what are the social mechanisms, the human behaviour systems, the ways of processing information, which make the QBM? With that view it is easy to see that methods, tools, techniques, processes, procedures, standards and good practice are missing from the QBM literature. Also missing is an understanding of the underlying systems, mechanisms and behaviours, with their support for troubleshooting, and for the design of new methods and tools. One might extend this view to cover the management of resources (people, skills, time) and their deployment to resolve situations and to reach goals. Consideration might also be given to learning, teaching and training in the craft of the QBM.


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Roland Carn is a lifelong Quaker. He has been an active member of ten meetings and two yearly meetings. He’s been: a teacher; a research psychologist; a software engineer, consultant and researcher; a management consultant; a professional furniture restorer and the warden of two Quaker meeting houses. He is an active member of the Quakers and Business Group.

[1] ‘Quaker’ is a generic term, which includes the members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, those who attend meetings for worship and (depending on the context) people associated with the world-wide Quaker movement.

[2] ‘Unprogrammed’ is a form of worship in which the worshipers gather and worship in silence without any form of leadership or priest, with no prepared structure and in which spoken ministry is spontaneous. It contrasts with the structure of pastoral worship and with the liturgy and ritual of other Christian sects.

Quakers and Business is a charitable incorporated organisation in England and Wales No. 1157008 at 21 Papillons Walk, London SE3 9SF Quakers and Business Group is a Quaker Recognised Body in Britain (BYM).
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