90% Thelema: Completed Staff Work

On the theme of good followership, often when one is given a task or, more pertinently, when one discovers there is a task that needs done, it seems appropriate for them to get feedback from their superior. Depending on the complexity of the issue, there can be many details which require specification. Details about the exact nature of the issue, it’s import and priority in relation to other concerns, relative merits of various possible approaches, proposals of varying levels of resource allocation, and so on. In some cases your superior may be very hands on and want a lot of back and forth about every detail. Generally, though, this is not the case. They have better things to do. They have their own, more immediate responsibilities, and their own superiors to negotiate with. All the time they spend with you figuring out your problem is time they take away from their own work. Determining a detailed plan of action for the task is your concern, not theirs.

An approach to aligning one’s sense of responsibility appropriately along these lines is the doctrine of “completed staff work.” The essence of the practice comes down to 1) determining that some action needs done, 2) defining the plan and steps to accomplish that action, and 3) doing so in enough in a sufficiently detailed way such that your superior merely has to give a yay or nay to the proposal. There’s no back and forth with your superior trying to get them to help you understand the problem or discern the best solution. You must rely on your own resources to accomplish the end, handing them a complete plan which requires nothing more from them than a signature.

One of my mentors taught me this valuable tool as a practical measure and also as tool for understanding character development. The underlying principle of this doctrine is to claim ownership and agency. Ownership is the quality of taking personal responsibility for everything that happens in an organization. The organization can be your household, your room, your business unit or entire company, or your OTO lodge. Your agency is your ability to introduce change into your ownership domain.

Both of these principles are vital to OTO’s development. Operating with all-volunteer staff, labor and devoted attention are at a premium. It is important that members be flexible and step in to fill the gaps as needed to get things done. Ownership is the value which prompts a person to want to see that happen, to think from standpoint and care about the totality of the work. A sense of agency is what impels them to take action. These are emphatically Thelemic values, expressions of what is sometimes referred to as the yama of Thelema.

Completed staff work refines this orientation further. It applies the niyama of Thelema: mind your own business. It demands that you recognize and accept that the project or task is your business. Don’t try to make it your superior’s business. Allow them to mind their own business.