Big Book Recovery
Working the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous

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Tradition 9

The Long form in the Big Book reads:

Every group needs the least possible organisation. Rotating leadership is the best. The small group may elect its secretary, the large group its rotating committee and the groups of a large metropolitan area its central or intergroup committee, which often employs a full-time secretary. The trustees of the General Service Board are in effect our General Service Committee. They are the custodians of our AA Tradition and the receivers of voluntary AA contributions by which we maintain our General Service office in New York. They are authorized by the groups to handle our all-over public relations and they guarantee the integrity of our principal newspaper, the Grapevine. All such representatives are to be guided in the spirit of service, for true leaders in AA are but trusted and experienced servants of the whole. They derive no real authority from their titles; they do not govern. Universal respect is the key to their usefulness.


Tradition 9 is concerned with the organisation of AA. It is about authority.

This says that in the group there should be least possible organisation. First of all, the word 'organisation' is not referring to the format of the meeting. It is true that every single group in AA has to have a set format that people follow in order to fulfil Tradition 5. Otherwise it cannot work. But that is not what we are referring to here. This tradition is talking about how the group organises itself: that is, who has authority to govern the group. It is saying that there should be as little formal management structure as possible that is separate from the group conscience.

However, the Tradition does tell us that no group can get away without some organisation apart from the group conscience, that is, it must give its officers some authority to organise things. Every group has a format that has been approved by the group conscience. Tradition 9 tells us that once that format has been set, we should give individuals as little freedom as possible to make there own decisions. However, it acknowledges that we must give our elected officers some leeway to organise within that set framework. For example, we give our secretary the authority to choose speakers without the group conscience having to make a decision to approve every choice made; and the coffee-makers decide what refreshments to serve. Once we elect people, we place our trust in them to do the job in the spirit of the group conscience. However, if other members of the group feel that the jobs are not done properly, they can appeal to the group conscience. Sometimes as a result of this, service officers are replaced.

This tradition contains a further safeguard in stating the principle of rotation, which ensures that officers go before they are removed. It is dangerous for people to be elected to positions of authority for too long, for the temptation to abuse trust is great. So after a set period of time officers step down and rotate or move back into the body of the group conscience. That applies to AA group and service committee alike.

The last section of this tradition makes it clear also that elected officers cannot demand to be trusted simply by virtue of their position. Respect is earned by the conduct of an individual. So there is no moral obligation, for example, for groups to do as the General Service Board members tell us. In fact, it is the other way round, the GSB should listen to us.

Tradition 9 defines upper and lower limits of organisation for a group: even the smallest group has to elect a secretary and the larger groups may elect service committees, for example a steering committee. In Great Britain, for example, there are no groups large enough to justify paying anybody for work and very few groups have their own committee to deal with Intergroup work, most finding a single representative sufficient. So in the Great Britain, even the largest groups are well within the limits of organisation defined by this tradition.

While the AA group should have the "least possible organisation", Tradition 9 in its condensed form says that AA, as such, should have no organisation. The phrase "AA, as such" means the same as "AA as a whole". What it means is that there is no central office to organise AA, and no AA group can be told what to do by any of the service committees. Every group is autonomous. So the fellowship as a whole should not be organised by any central authority, such as the General Service Board. The Board is just a service committee that handles particular functions that a group on its own couldn't do (for example our all-over public relations). In fact the authority should run the other way around.

AA does not just consist of AA groups. There is a different classification of AA meeting: these are service committees and service boards. In countries that follow that in the "The AA Service Manual and 12 Concepts for World Service by Bill W.", they have committees called Intergroup, District, Area, Region and Conference. Not all countries follow this manual and Great Britain, for instance, has no Area or District.

It is Tradition 9 that creates the idea of a service committee that is distinct from a group. It tells us that all of these service committees should serve the AA groups. The Intergroup is directly answerable to the groups it serves because the groups send representatives to it. Similarly the Region and Area should be directly answerable to all the groups in it by allowing any Group Service Representatives to participate and vote. The GSRs also elect the delegates for Conference and so each delegate is directly accountable to the groups. As a sub-committee of conference, the General Service Board, should be directly answerable to conference. We often hear mention of the inverted triangle of authority with the groups at the top and the Board at the tip underneath. Tradition 9 is the tradition that actually inverts the triangle for us, by making all service committees answerable to the groups, or rather their representative, most commonly the General Service Representative.

This is where the 12 Concepts come in. They explain how the service committees should be set up so that they are answerable to all the groups they serve through the 'collective conscience' of those groups. They were defined in the book called The AA Service Manual and 12 Concepts for World Service by Bill W also known as the World Service Manual. They are now listed also in Appendix VII at the back of the Big Book. This will be discussed in more detail in a later talk about the concepts.


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