Kategoriarkiv: Holacracy

Is Holacracy an environment extremely honoring and embracing of people?

Here is an old but interesting article Holacracy – The Self-Organizing Enterprise by Deborah Hartmann Preuss from September 2006.

What’s interesting is that this article was published the year before Brian Robertson filed his patent application on Holacracy in June 2007 (Pub. No. US 2009/0006113 A1), where sociocracy is prior art. The article makes it clear the four main tenets of Holacracy comes from sociocracy.

What’s also interesting is that a writer on the ScrumDevelopment list wrote: ”Holacracy appears to be a system whose highest value isn’t people, but rather ‘the organization’. I find this troubling.”

In reply, Brian Robertson wrote: ”Creating an environment extremely honoring and embracing of people is deeply important to me, and one of my most significant motivations in all of my work with Holacracy. … this is a topic I’ll write more about when I have a chance … ”

Well, Brian Robertson had the chance when he wrote his new book on Holacracy, which was published in 2015. Here are a number of quotes:

  • ”An organization … is equipped with sensors — … the human beings who energize its roles and sense reality on its behalf.”1
  • ”One powerful way … is to harness the tremendous sensing power of the human consciousness available to our organizations. … When those tensions can be processed quickly and effectively, … then the organization can benefit …”2
  • ”The whole point of Holacracy is to allow an organization to better express its purpose.”3
  • ”… an ”organization” is an entity that exists beyond the people, with its own purpose to enact and with work to do beyond just serving the people doing that work.”4
  • ”Organizations running with Holacracy are first and foremost purpose-driven … with all activities ultimately being for the sake of realizing the organization’s broader purpose. Every member then becomes a sensor for that purpose …”5
  • ”The organization is depending on you, as its sensor, to give voice to the tensions you sense so that it can evolve.”6
  • ”Holacracy is focused on the organization and its purpose—not on the people and their desires and needs …”7
  • ”Many of the rules … are there specifically to ensure that the focus is only on what’s needed for the organization to express its purpose, … not on … anything else.”8
  • ”… we are installing a system in which we no longer need to lean on our connections and relationships to be able to process organizational tensions.”9
  • ”… the organizational space is the result of working together role to role and governing those roles for the sake of the organization’s purpose.”10
  • ”[Holacracy] keeps human values out of the organizational space, which also keeps the organization out of our human-value space.” 11

So, ten years later Holacracy still appears to be a system whose highest value isn’t people, but rather ‘the organization’. I find this troubling too!

Notes:
1 Brian Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy (Penguin, 2015), p. 4.
2 Ibid., p. 7.
3 Ibid., p. 34.
4 Ibid., p. 148.
5 Ibid., p. 166.
6 Ibid., p. 194.
7 Ibid., p. 198.
8 Ibid., p. 199.
9 Ibid., p. 200.
10 Ibid., p. 201.
11 Ibid., p. 202.

Related post:
Book Review: Holacracy

Analysis of Sociocracy and Holacracy

This post is part of my series on organizing ”between and beyond.” Other posts are here. The purpose of this post is to explore the history and key assumptions of Sociocracy and Holacracy®. The post is based on my previous posts about Sociocracy and Holacracy. The analysis is summarized here.

Background
I first heard about Sociocracy and Holacracy in 2012. Both attracted my interest and I wrote an enthusiastic book review of We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy by John Buck and Sharon Villines in November 2012. I subsequently participated in several Sociocracy workshops with James Priest, got training in facilitating Sociocracy by The Sociocracy Consulting Group, and wrote an ebook on Sociocracy (in Swedish), Sociokrati: En metod för självstyre, together with John Schinnerer.

History
Sociocracy is a governance method based on consent decision-making and cybernetic principles, which was developed by Gerard Endenburg during the 1960s and 1970s. Endenburg published his first book on Sociocracy in 1981.1 The early development of Holacracy was influenced by sociocracy. Brian Robertson filed a patent application on Holacracy in June 2007 (Pub. No. US 2009/0006113 A1), where sociocracy, in my view, is prior art. The patent application was subsequently abandoned. The first Holacracy Constitution was launched in 2009. Robertson’s book on Holacracy was published in 2015.2

Objectives
Gerard Endenburg’s objective with Sociocracy is to enable everyone to develop as far as possible,3 while Brian Robertson wants to harness the tremendous sensing power of the human consciousness available to our organizations.4

Assumptions
Endenburg and Robertson have very different views on organizations and their purposes. Endenburg thinks that organizations exists for the people,5 while Robertson views the organizations as separate entities that have their own purposes beyond just serving people.6 Endenburg emphasizes the importance of each person’s equivalence in the decision-making and the potential for existence and development,7 while Robertson views people as role fillers8 and differentiates between role and soul.9 Robertson’s favorite metaphor to illustrate dynamic steering and constant weaving is riding a bicycle.10 Endenburg uses the same metaphor to illustrate weaving and the circle process.11 Both use nested circles which are linked via two separate roles.12,13 In short, both use the same basic rules, or principles.

Incompatibilities
Endenburg and Robertson use very different languages. Robertson’s book is very readable, while Endenburg’s book is difficult to read. Endenburg admits that he may sound rather cold and formal, but thinks it’s necessary.? Robertson, on the other hand, uses words creatively, and gives them his own slant. He calls, for example, the organizational structure of nested circles a holarchy,14 a term coined by Arthur Koestler. Robertson also claims that Holacracy abolishes hierarchy, while a holarchy, according to Koestler, is a hierarchy.15

Sociocracy and Holacracy are based on specific assumptions applicable to mechanical and electrical systems. Endenburg uses two examples to illustrate the feedback control loop, or circle process, in cybernetics. The first example is, as already mentioned, riding a bicycle.16 The second metaphor is a central heating system.17 Endenburg acknowledges that the operating limits in riding a bicycle are different from those within a heating system, but he still thinks that they indicate constraints within which control may be exercised.18 Endenburg is aware that riding a bicycle is far more complex in reality than his simple example might suggest.19 He also acknowledges that people are not system components,20 but he doesn’t distinguish between machines and organisms in his reasoning.21 Neither does Robertson, who views people as sensors for the organization.22 But people are not machines (or sensors). Machines and organisms ARE different.

Holacracy prioritizes the systemic value of thought by keeping intrinsic human values out of the organizational space. Robert Hartman showed how values can be measured systemically, extrinsically, and intrinsically.23 For example, systemically a worker is a production unit, extrinsically one of several workers, and intrinsically a human being. In Holacracy, systemically an individual is a role and sensor, extrinsically one of several roles and sensors, and intrinsically a human being. The whole point of Holacracy is to allow an organization to better express its purpose.24 Every individual becomes a sensor for that purpose.25 Holacracy is focused on the organization and its purpose—not on people and their needs.26 The focus is only on what’s needed for the organization.27 Holacracy installs a system in which there’s no longer a need to lean on individual’s connections and relationships.28 Holacracy keeps human values out of the organizational space. 29 According to Robert Hartman, there is a tremendous gap between those who think in terms of human values and those who think in terms of non-human systems.30 Elevating systemic values OVER intrinsic human values is dehumanizing. Hartman goes a step further and says that ignoring life’s intrinsic value is the danger that threatens life itself.31

Conclusion
The operating limit on Sociocracy and Holacracy is that people are ”autonomic”.32

Notes:
1 Gerard Endenburg’s first book on Sociocracy was originally published in Dutch in 1981. The first English translation was published in 1988. The Eburon edition was published in 1998. See Gerard Endenburg, Sociocracy: The organization of decision-making (Eburon, 1998).
2 Holacracy is registered in the US Patent and Trademark Office. Brian Robertson’s book on Holacracy was published in 2015. See Brian J. Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy (Penguin, 2015).
3 Endenburg, Sociocracy, p. 5.
4 Robertson, Holacracy, p. 7.
5 Endenburg, Sociocracy, p. 142.
6 Robertson, Holacracy, p. 148.
7 Endenburg, Sociocracy, p. 167.
8 Robertson, Holacracy, p. 92.
9 Ibid., pp. 42–46.
10 Ibid., p. 129.
11 Endenburg, Sociocracy, pp. 16–19.
12 Ibid., pp. 10–11, 26–27.
13 Robertson, Holacracy, pp. 46–56.
14 Ibid., p. 38.
15 Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine (Last Century Media, 1982, first published 1967), p. 48.
16 Endenburg, Sociocracy, pp. 16—19, 23, 33—37, 223—224.
17 Ibid., pp. 19—23, 30, 36, 40.
18 Ibid., pp. 23, 30.
19 Ibid., p. 16.
20 Ibid., p. 39.
21 Ibid..
22 Robertson, Holacracy, pp. 4, 166, 198.
23 Robert Hartman, Freedom to Live: The Robert Hartman Story, p. 67.
25 Robertson, Holacracy, p. 34.
26 Ibid., p. 166.
27 Ibid., p. 198.
28 Ibid., p. 199.
29 Ibid., p. 200.
24 Ibid., p. 202.
30 Robert Hartman, Freedom to Live: The Robert Hartman Story, p. 124.
31 Ibid..
32 There is a distinction between being ”autonomic”, obeying self-law, and ”allonomic”, obeying some other’s law. See Norm Hirst, Research findings to date, Autognomics Institute, (accessed 4 August 2016)

Related posts:
Organizing in between and beyond posts
Book Review: Sociocracy
Book Review: Holacracy
Book Review: Freedom to Live
Holacracy-vs-sociocracy
The phenomenology of sociocracy
Is sociocracy agile?

Holacracy and Arthur Koestler

The organizational structure in Holacracy is a holarchy, a term coined by Arthur Koestler in The Ghost in the Machine. Brian Robertson writes in his book on Holacracy that (his italics):

The type of structure used for organizations in Holacracy is not a traditional hierarchy, but a ”holarchy.” Arthur Koestler coined the term in his 1967 book The Ghost in the Machine. He defined a ”holon” as ”a whole that is a part of a larger whole” and a ”holarchy” as ”the connection between holons.” 1

Arthur Koestler actually defined a holon as a node in a hierarchic tree which behaves partly as wholes or wholly as parts, and a holarchy as a hierarchy of holons. Koestler writes (his italics):

… to talk of sub-wholes (or sub-assemblies, sub-tructures, sub-skills, subsystems) is awkward and tedious. It seems preferable to coin a new term to designate these nodes on the hierarchic tree which behave partly as wholes or wholly as parts, according to the way you look at them. The term I would propose is ‘holon’, from the Greek holos = whole, with the suffix on which, as in proton or neutron, suggests a particle or part. 2
… we may say that the organism in its structural and functional aspects is a hierarchy of self-regulating holons which function (a) as autonomous wholes in supra-ordination to their parts, (b) as dependent parts in sub-ordination to controls on higher levels, (c) in co-ordination with their local environment.
Such a hierarchy of holons should rightly be called a holarchy …3

In Holacracy, people act as sensors for the organization, processing tensions. Brian Robertson writes that (his italics) :

An organization … is equipped with sensors — … the human beings who energize its roles and sense reality on its behalf.4
Organizations running with Holacracy are first and foremost purpose-driven … with all activities ultimately being for the sake of realizing the organization’s broader purpose. Every member then becomes a sensor for that purpose, and the rules of Holacracy’s governance process ensure that no individual interest can dominate.5
The organization is depending on you, as its sensor, to give voice to the tensions you sense so that it can evolve.6
Holacracy is focused on the organization and its purpose — not on the people and their desires and needs …7

What’s interesting is that Arthur Koestler not only coined the word holarchy, but also criticized the mechanistic view of organisms. Koestler called the following doctrine a monumental superstition:

[The doctrine] … that all organisms, including man, are essentially passive automata controlled by the environment, whose sole purpose in life is the reduction of tensions …8

To paraphrase Arthur Koestler, it’s a monumental mistake to view people essentially as sensors controlled by the organization, whose sole purpose is to process tensions.9,10

Update 2016-07-26:
Notes 9 & 10 added.

Notes:
1 Brian Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy, (Penguin, 2015), p. 38.
2 Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine, (Last Century Media, 1982, first published 1967), p. 48.
3 Ibid., p. 103.
4 Brian Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy, (Penguin, 2015), p. 4.
5 Ibid., p. 166.
6 Ibid., p. 194.
7 Ibid., p. 198.
8 Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine, (Last Century Media, 1982, first published 1967), p. 3.
9 People also have the responsibility to act as role fillers in Holacracy. This is a sacred duty. See Brian Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy, (Penguin, 2015), p. 85. Role and soul are separated. Ibid., p. 42–46. People energize the roles and enact its accountabilities. Ibid., pp. 43, 97. And the organization depends on people processing its tensions. Ibid., pp. 7, 113, 125, 194, 200.
10 Arthur Koestler introduced the concepts of holarchy and holon in search for an alternative to the robot image of people. See Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine, (Last Century Media, 1982, first published 1967), p. 348.

What is healthy power?

The Healthy Power Alliance writes in its Healthy Power Manifesto that:

Healthy Power is the ability to do work over time
in a way that is good for all the people and systems involved:
the ecosystems, the human communities, the customers, the workers, the investors, the leaders,
all of us.
Healthy Power is circular, not linear or flat.
Healthy Power is fluid, not frozen.
Healthy Power is consensual, not coercive.1

The Healthy Power Alliance also writes that there are numerous models of Healthy Power:

The beautiful thing, the profoundly inspiring thing, is that if you want to make the power you live by into Healthy Power, you do not have to invent it yourself. You have years, decades, in some cases centuries of experience to draw on. If you want to bring Healthy Power to your workplace, community, or family, the options are numerous.2

Among the models, or gold standards, mentioned in the manifesto is Holacracy. It’s worth noting that Healthy Power is process power in Holacracy. Holacracy really doesn’t care how people feel as long as the process is honored. And Holacracy keeps human values out of the organizational space. This means, in my view, that the gold standards may not be so golden after all. I think we have to discover, and protect, Healthy Power ourselves. The beautiful thing is that we have millennia of experience to draw on. Healthy Power sees life’s intrinsic value. Unhealthy power doesn’t.

Notes:
1 The Healthy Power Alliance, The Healthy Power Manifesto, the short version, official until July 1st 2016. (Accessed May 15 2016)
2 The Healthy Power Alliance, The Healthy Power Manifesto, the FULL version, official until July 1st 2016. (Accessed May 15 2016)

Metaphors both reflect and influence our thinking

Metaphors both reflect and influence our thinking. The computing metaphor, for example, is popular in Holacracy, where Holacracy is likened with an operating system,1 and people are viewed as sensors acting on behalf of the organization.2 Both Holacracy and Sociocracy treat organizing as a cybernetic problem.3

But our thinking has consequences. People are neither sensors, nor actuators. Making use of control, not for the good of those who are in the system, but only for the system’s own benefit is problematic. Ultimately it leads to tyranny. If the organization is a living system, then cybernetics is a poor metaphor.

Notes (added 18 April 2017):
1 A description of Holacracy as ”a comprehensive new operating system” can be found in Brian Robertson’s book on Holacracy. See Brian Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy (Penguin, 2015), p. 12.
2 Ibid., pp. 4, 81, 166, 194.
3 The ”circle process” is a concept which comes from cybernetics. Gerard Endenburg uses two examples to describe the concept. The first is riding a bicycle, and the second is a central heating system. See Gerard Endenburg, Sociocracy: The organization of decision-making (Eburon, 1998), pp. 16–23.

Related posts:
What if the organization is a living system?
Holacratic tyranny
Cybernetics is a poor metaphor for living systems

Holacratic tyranny

People are viewed as sensors for the organization in Holacracy (and Sociocracy 3.0):

  • … individuals act as sensors (nerve endings) for the organization 1
  • An organization … is equipped with sensors — … the human beings who energize its roles and sense reality on its behalf. 2
  • One powerful way … is to harness the tremendous sensing power of the human consciousness available to our organizations. When those tensions can be processed quickly and effectively, then the organization can benefit … 3
  • The whole point of Holacracy is to allow an organization to better express its purpose. 4
  • … an ”organization” is an entity that exists beyond the people, with its own purpose to enact and with work to do beyond just serving the people doing that work. 5
  • Organizations running with Holacracy are first and foremost purpose-driven … with all activities ultimately being for the sake of realizing the organization’s broader purpose. Every member then becomes a sensor for that purpose … 6
  • The organization is depending on you, as its sensor, to give voice to the tensions you sense so that it can evolve. 7
  • Holacracy is focused on the organization and its purpose—not on the people and their desires and needs … 8
  • Many of the rules … are there specifically to ensure that the focus is only on what’s needed for the organization to express its purpose, … not on … anything else.” 9
  • … we are installing a system in which we no longer need to lean on our connections and relationships to be able to process organizational tensions. 10
  • … the organizational space is the result of working together role to role and governing those roles for the sake of the organization’s purpose. 11
  • [Holacracy] keeps human values out of the organizational space, which also keeps the organization out of our human-value space. 12

Metaphors both reflect and influence our thinking. I think the sensor 13 metaphor leads the thinking in the wrong direction. The processing of tensions becomes primary when people are viewed as sensors, but people are neither sensors, nor actuators. 14 Alternatives to navigating via tension are navigating via awareness, 15 or navigating via the quietness within. 16 The latter is, for example, what the Quakers do in their unanimous decision-making. 17

My view is that values 18 are primary – especially intrinsic human values. Values can be measured systemically, extrinsically, and intrinsically. 19 For example, systemically a worker is a production unit, extrinsically one of several workers, and intrinsically a human being. 20 In Holacracy, systemically an individual is a role and sensor, extrinsically one of several roles and sensors, and intrinsically a human being. Holacracy prioritizes the systemic value of thought by keeping intrinsic human values out of the organizational space. However, making use of control, not for the good of those who are in the system, but only for the system’s own benefit is problematic. Ultimately it leads to tyranny. 21

Notes:
1 Bernhard Bockelbrink & James Priest, Introduction to Sociocracy 3.0, (v2016-01-29), p. 81. (Accessed 2016-04-09)
2 Brian Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy, p. 4.
3 Ibid., p. 7.
4 Ibid., p. 34.
5 Ibid., p. 148.
6 Ibid., p. 166.
7 Ibid., p. 194.
8 Ibid., p. 198.
9 Ibid., p. 199.
10 Ibid., p. 200.
11 Ibid., p. 201.
12 Ibid., p. 202.
13 A sensor is an object whose purpose is to detect events or changes in its environment, and then provide a corresponding output, Sensor – Wikipedia. (Accessed 2016-04-09).
14 An actuator is the mechanism by which a control system acts upon an environment, Actuator – Wikipedia. (Accessed 2016-04-09)
15 The proposition of Theory U is that the quality of results in any kind of socio-economic system is a function of the awareness that people in the system are operating from. See Theory U, Presencing Institute. (Accessed 2016-04-09).
16 There’s a center, a quietness within, from which action occurs. This quiet place has to be known and held. See Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, (Doubleday, 1987), pp. 161–162.
17 Holding the quite place, or silence, within is how Quakers make unanimous decisions. See Michael Sheeran, Beyond Majority Rule: voteless decisions in the Religious Society of Friends, pp. 49–50.
18 Value is used as defined by Robert Hartman. When life has meaning, it has value. The richer its meaning, the richer its value. See Robert Hartman Freedom to Live: The Robert Hartman Story, p. 60.
19 Ibid., p. 57.
20 Ibid., p. 67.
21 Tyranny, as used here, is making use of control, not for the good of those who are in the system, but for the system’s own benefit only.

Related posts:
Book Review: Holacracy
Book Review: Freedom to Live
Book Review: Beyond Majority Rule

All roles in Holacracy are managerial roles

Tim Rayner writes in the article ”Medium’s Experiment with Holacracy Failed. Long Live the Experiment!” that:

  • Holacracy flattens organisations, getting rid of hierarchical power structures.
  • It distributes power to individuals, who get to choose what projects they work on and are granted full authority to execute tasks as they see fit.”
  • The Lead Link heads a circle, but doesn’t manage it.

I’d challenge this:

  • First of all, I think a Holacratic organization is all but flat. The organizational structure consists of nested interlinked circles.1 It’s this hierarchy of nested circles which is called a holarchy.2
  • Secondly, Holacracy distributes power to Roles, not individuals. I think this is an important distinction. In Holacracy, the power is in the process, which is defined in detail.3 Individuals have the basic responsibility, and sacred duty,4 to act as role fillers. Individuals also have specific duties in offering transparency, processing requests, and accepting certain rules of prioritization.5 The process is all that matters, and it takes care of everything else.6
  • And finally, I do think that the Lead Link manages the circle. It depends of course on how you define manage. The Lead Link definitely controls the circle, and control is a managerial function.7 With this definition, all Roles in Holacracy are managerial roles.

Notes:
1 Brian Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy, p. 47.
2 Ibid., p. 46.
3 Ibid., p. 21.
4 Ibid., p. 85.
5 Ibid., p. 92.
6 Ibid., p. 111.
7 Control (management), Wikipedia. (Accessed 31 March 2016)

Related posts:
Traditional vs. Sociocratic vs. Holacratic Command & Control
Book Review: Holacracy by Brian Robertson

Medium is moving beyond Holacracy

Medium announced that they are moving beyond Holacracy.

Below are some quotes from their post (in italics, my emphasis in bold):

  • Recently we decided to move beyond Holacracy and wanted to talk directly about our experience with the system and where we go next.
  • Our experience was that it was difficult to coordinate efforts at scale.
  • … we found that the act of codifying responsibilities in explicit detail hindered a proactive attitude and sense of communal ownership.
  • Holacracy has become fraught with misconceptions that make it hard to separate the actual system from the imagined one.
  • For us, Holacracy was getting in the way of the work.

The last statement is remarkable, since Holacracy is claimed to increase agility, efficiency, transparency, innovation and accountability within an organization 1. The sheer number of rules and regulations seems to slow the work down and drain people’s energy.

Notes:
1 Holacracy – Wikipedia. (Accessed March 5, 2016)

Sociocracy vs. Holacracy vs. Sociocracy 3.0

Sociocracy is a governance method based on consent decision-making and cybernetic principles which was developed during the 1970s. Sociocracy significantly influenced the early development of Holacracy in 2006/2007. And Sociocracy 3.0 was introduced in 2014. Here’s my attempt to compare all three based on my reading of Gerard Endenburg’s first book on Sociocracy, Brian Robertson’s new book on Holacracy, and Bernhard Bockelbrink’s and James Priest’s freely available Introduction to Sociocracy 3.0, (v2015-04-23).

Endenburg, Sociocracy (Eburon, 1998), and Robertson, Holacracy (Penguin, 2015).

Sociocracy

Holacracy

Sociocracy 3.0
(v2015-04-23)

Aims To enable everyone to develop as far and in as diversified a manner as possible.1 To harness the tremendous sensing power of the human consciousness available to our organizations.8 To make the best use of the talent already present and help the organization move forward (grow) in its own pace through continuous improvement.15
People It is fundamentally important to involve the complete individual in the decision-making process.2 Differentiates between role and soul in order to keep the organization from being overly influenced by individual feelings and opinions that are not relevant to work.9 People gather around drivers, co-create policies, and act as sensors (nerve endings) for the organization.16
Equivalence Equivalence in policy decision-making, and in the potential for existence and development.3 Not mentioned.10 Everyone affected by a decision has the power to withdraw consent.17
Organization An organization exists for the people and it is in their interest that the actual problem-solving capability of their organization is as great as possible.4 An organization is an entity that exists beyond the people, with its own purpose to enact and with work to do beyond just serving the people doing that work.11 An organization is defined by its values, driver and strategy.18
Needs To give both the individual and the group space to arrange their lives in accordance with their own wishes and needs.5 To fulfill the organization’s purpose – not people’s desires and needs.12 To identify needs in relation to the organization itself, its members, stakeholders, customers or environment.19
Rules Rules are laid down to allow each individual to perform within limits. Equal say of each participant is guaranteed in determining the operating limits, or “thresholds“.6 Explicit roles with explicit accountabilities creates clarity on the operating limits.13 Policies within defined domains of accountability guide the flow of value.20 Policies are created to satisfy drivers.21 Core principles are values.22 Values are policy.23 Everyone needs to become an expert in policy.24
Empowerment Ensures that each system component, for example an individual, is empowered to issue its own instructions by consent.7 Establishes a core authority structure and a system that empowers everyone.14 Manages expectations via (self-)accountability. Accountability is a core principle.25 Collaboration happens within circles and follows principles and values.26

Update 2016-07-09:
Bernhard Bockelbrink and James Priest have updated their Introduction to Sociocracy 3.0, from (v2015-04-23) to (v2016-01-29), since I wrote this post 2015-11-28. Policies are now called agreements in Sociocracy 3.0.27 Maybe this is an attempt to change the language in Sociocracy 3.0? Here is a post on the difference between the language of rules & polices vs. the language of agreements. Like sociocracy and Holacracy, Sociocracy 3.0 still emphasizes that structure (rules, policies, agreements, or whatever you call it) guides the flow.28 Here is an example of when structure instead follows the flow.

Update 2016-10-06:
James Priest writes in a comment on this post that it’s a ”much more accurate description” to say that structure follows flow in Sociocracy 3.0, since Sociocracy 3.0 ”invites, facilitates and supports” optional and adaptable patterns. Here is James Priest’s comment. Here is my comment, and here is James Priest’s answer.

A constant challenge in comparing Sociocracy 3.0 with sociocracy and Holacracy is the constant change. An example, as already mentioned, is policies in Sociocracy 3.0 (v2015-04-23), which were changed to agreements in Sociocracy 3.0 (v2016-01-29).29 An agreement is designed to guide the flow of value.30

(CC BY-SA 4.0) Bernhard Bockelbring & James Priest, Sociocracy 3.0 Handbook (beta), (2016-09-14), p. 16.

Another example is patterns, which have grown into a framework in Sociocracy 3.0 during the year. A pattern is an agreement,31 and a template for successfully navigating a specific context.32 Sociocracy 3.0 is now said to form a pattern language,33 and has more than 60 patterns.34 The term pattern language was coined by Christopher Alexander. Here is a presentation by Christopher Alexander on patterns in architecture. And here is my analysis of Alexander’s pattern language.

(CC BY-SA 4.0) Bernhard Bockelbring & James Priest, Sociocracy 3.0 – A Framework of Patterns for Collaboration.

Notes:
1 Gerard Endenburg, Sociocracy: The organization of decision-making, (Eburon, 1998), p. 5.
2 Ibid..
3 Ibid., p. 167.
4 Ibid., p. 142.
5 Ibid., p. 10.
6 Ibid., pp. 23, 145.
7 Ibid., p. 22.
8 Brian Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolished Hierarchy, (Penguin, 2015), p. 7.
9 Ibid., pp. 42—46, 116.
10 Ibid., no quote on equivalence found.
11 Ibid., p. 148.
12 Ibid., p. 198.
13 Ibid., p. 41.
14 Ibid., p. 21.
15 Bernhard Bockelbring and James Priest, Introduction to Sociocracy 3.0, (v2015-04-23), pp. 5—7 (accessed 2015-11-28).
16 Ibid., pp. 56, 78, 82.
17 Ibid., p. 30.
18 Ibid., p. 186.
19 Ibid., p. 43.
20 Ibid., pp. 47, 49, 51.
21 Ibid., p. 48.
22 Ibid., p. 25.
23 Ibid., p. 182.
24 Ibid., p. 133.
25 Ibid., p. 33.
26 Ibid., pp. 57, 184.
27 Bernhard Bockelbring and James Priest, Introduction to Sociocracy 3.0, (v2016-01-29), pp. 46—47 (accessed 2016-07-09).
28 Ibid., pp. 46, 118.
29 Ibid., p. 47.
30 ”An agreement is an agreed upon guideline, pattern, process or protocol designed to guide the flow of value.”  See Bernhard Bockelbring & James Priest, Sociocracy 3.0 Handbook (beta), (2016-09-14), p. 16 (accessed 2016-10-06).
31 Ibid. (accessed 2016-10-06).
32 ”A pattern is a template for successfully navigating a specific context.” Ibid., p. 13 (accessed 2016-10-06).
33 ”The patterns in S3 form a pattern language, i.e. while each pattern can be applied independently, patterns mutually reinforce each other, because they are all based on the same set of principles.” Ibid., p. 3 (accessed 2016-10-06).
34 Bernhard Bockelbring & James Priest, Sociocracy 3.0 – All Patterns in one Big Picture, (2016-06-22) (accessed 2016-10-06).

Related posts:
Holacracy vs. Sociocracy
Book Review: Sociocracy
Book Review: Holacracy
Language of rules & policies vs. agreements
Analysis of Sociocracy and Holacracy

The big misconception in sociocracy

Georges Romme analyzes The Big Misconceptions Holding Holacracy Back in the 10 September 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review.  Sharon Villines provides a summary and commentary on Romme’s article in the Misconceptions about Sociocracy at Sociocracy.info on 18 September 2015. Here are my own comments.

I agree with Georges Romme that Holacracy and sociocracy share ”key principles, with the main differences arising from jargon”, and have written about it here. I disagree with Romme that the ”real problem with holacracy isn’t the ideas behind it”. The key idea in both Holacracy and sociocracy is that ”management should be viewed as a mechanism — an ”operating system” in holacracy — for distributing power and leadership throughout the organization”. I find the cognitive model of human beings as autonomous rule-following entities inadequate, and have written about it here and here. This is perhaps the big misconception which has held sociocracy back since the 1970s? This might also be the stumbling block for Holacracy and sociocracy going forward? Time will tell!

Related posts:
Sociocracy requires a new mindset
Scrum vs. Sociocracy
Sociocratic principles can be implemented in many ways
Sociocracy is a method, and still it isn’t
Implementing sociocracy without sociocracy
Sociocracy as practiced by the G/wi
Policies vs. agreements
Scaling sociocracy is all about the context
Unspoken sociocratic principles
Cultural dimensions of sociocracy
A prerequisite for sociocracy is a socios
Holacracy vs. sociocracy
The phenomenology of sociocracy
Are Holacracy and sociocracy Teal?
Is Sociocracy an empty method?

 

Are Holacracy and sociocracy Teal?

First a disclaimer. I don’t really know how a Teal organization1 looks like!

What Frederic Laloux does in his book Reinventing Organizations is to use Holacracy to define aspects of Teal.2, 3, 4

Well, is Holacracy Teal then by definition? No, not necessarily!

In Holacracy, the power is in the process,5 roles and accountabilities are defined explicitly,6 and people have a basic responsibility to act as role fillers.7 This is Amber thinking. Amber organizations have highly formal roles and rigorous processes,8 and seeks to create control through strictly defined roles.9 Authority is linked to a role.10 Holacracy really doesn’t care how people feel as long as the process is honored.11, 12 Not caring about people’s feelings is non-Green.13

What about sociocracy then?

Well, I think Holacracy is a full implementation of sociocracy. Both Holacracy and sociocracy use rules and policies as control mechanisms. This is non-Teal and non-Green. Teal avoids the tendency to create rules and policies,14, 15 and Green relies on shared values rather than rules.16, 17 The way of seeing in sociocracy is the engineers, and the operating idea is cybernetics. This is Orange thinking.18, 19

So, are Holacracy and sociocracy Teal?

I’d say no, but it depends on what you emphasize and the interpretations you do. Both Holacracy and sociocracy have an individual cognitive model of people as autonomous rule-followers. Is that Teal?

It’s so easy to get lost in the verbiage!

Notes:
1 Teal organizations, according to Frederic Laloux, shift from having external to internal yardsticks in the decision making, mostly do without job titles, value intrinsic over extrinsic motivators, emphasize inner rightness, don’t need everything to be quantified to discern a right course of action, decentralize power, do away with job descriptions, start with the premise that people have a sense of pride and want to do a good job, and view profits as a byproduct of a job well done. See Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations, (Nelson Parker, 2014), pp. 46, 94, 135, 172, 174, 175, 185, 186, and 201.
2 Frederic Laloux writes that one of ”the core elements of Holacracy, which can be found in all Teal Organizations in this research, is to separate role from soul”. See Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations, (Nelson Parker, 2014), p. 122.
3 Laloux sees Holacracy’s separation of role from soul as a ”necessary first step” to ”reconnect role and soul, from a different place”. Ibid., pp. 349—350.
4 Laloux writes that Teal replaces ”predict and control” with ”sense and respond” and refers to Brian Robertson’s metaphor of riding a bicycle. Ibid., pp. 214—215. Gerard Endenburg uses the same metaphor to illustrate the circle process in Sociocracy. See Gerard Endenburg, Sociocracy: The organization of decision-making, (Eburon, 1998), pp. 16—18, and G. Endenburg, Sociocracy: As Social Design, (Eburon, 1998), pp. 67—71.
5 Brian Robertson emphasizes that ”rules and processes reign supreme” in Holacracy. See Brian Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy, (Penguin, 2015), p. 21.
6 Ibid., pp. 40—42.
7 In addition to people’s ”basic responsibilities as role fillers”, they also have specific duties in ”offering transparency”, ”processing requests”, and ”accepting certain rules of prioritization”. Ibid., pp. 92—94.
8 Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations, (Nelson Parker, 2014), p. 37.
9 Ibid., p. 20.
10 Ibid..
11 As long as the process is followed, people’s feelings doesn’t matter. Brian Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy, (Penguin, 2015), p. 110.
12The process is all that matters” and takes care of ”everything else”. Ibid., p. 111.
13 Green is ”is highly sensitive to people’s feelings”. See Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations, (Nelson Parker, 2014), p. 32.
14 Teal organizations are able to avoid the ”tendency in organizations to create rules and policies”.  Ibid., p. 247.
15 Policies are viewed as ”wasteful control mechanisms”. Ibid., p. 299.
16 Ibid., p. 34.
17 Green’s relationship to rules ”is ambiguous and conflicted”. Ibid., p. 32.
18 Orange thinks of organizations ”as machines”. Ibid., p. 29.
19 Orange looks at management through an ”engineering perspective”. Ibid., p. 30.

Related posts:
Sociocracy requires a new mindset
Scrum vs. Sociocracy
Sociocratic principles can be implemented in many ways
Sociocracy is a method, and still it isn’t
Implementing sociocracy without sociocracy
Sociocracy as practiced by the G/wi
Policies vs. agreements
Scaling sociocracy is all about the context
Unspoken sociocratic principles
Cultural dimensions of sociocracy
A prerequisite for sociocracy is a socios
Holacracy vs. sociocracy
The phenomenology of sociocracy
The big misconception in sociocracy
Is Sociocracy an empty method?
Are Holacracy and sociocracy Teal?

What if control is inappropriate?

My conclusion after having read Brian Robertson’s new book on Holacracy and Gerard Endenburg’s first book on Sociocracy is that neither Holacracy nor Sociocracy replace Command & Control (C&C). Both use C&C within limits.

This triggered feedback from Holacracy people that the Lead Link Role doesn’t manage day-to-day work and doesn’t manage others, but that there is definitely control in Holacracy. All Roles ”have the authority to control and regulate” their own Domains (Holacracy Constitution v4.1, 1.4 Authority Over Domains). There is definitely control in Sociocracy too.

My follow-up question is: What if control in itself is inappropriate?

Here is an interesting article on The ”Command and Control” Military Gets Agile by Daniel Mezick, which contains references to writers within the military who challenge control themselves. Key points are that complex situations cannot be controlled, and control is in fact an emergent property, not an option to be selected. Here are a few quotes:

The word “control” is inappropriate … because it sends the wrong message. It implies that complex situations can be controlled, with the implication that there is the possibility of an engineering type solution. … But this is a dangerous oversimplification. The best that one can do is to create a set of conditions that improves the probability that a desirable (rather than an undesirable) outcome will occur and to change the conditions when what is expected is not occurring. Control is in fact an emergent property, not an option to be selected. … The argument that … commanders in the military or… management in industry do not have control creates cognitive dissonance. Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly the case. The widespread belief that we have control is merely an illusion, and a dangerous one at that. The literature on complex adaptive systems explains why the notion of control as a verb is misguided.1

…any Complex Adaptive System…cannot be controlled or ruled: a CAS will simply find ways of working around the rules if the context in which it formed remains viable. … The basis of these … systems of working … are based upon very simple trusts — not rules …
Essentially, the tension is … between trusts and rules.
2

Attempts to control complex systems … tend to be pointless at best or destructive at worst.3

And here are quotes from some non-military references:

For life, where freedom of choice in acting exists, control and prediction is impossible, attempts to control are destructive to life and lead to chaos. If we examine the causes of our failing institutions, it is easy to show that attempts to control them, violating normal processes of life, makes them fail.4

We talk and write about leaders and managers being in control of organizations. In the reality of our experience, however, no one can control the interplay of intentions, because they cannot control what everyone else in every other organization is choosing and doing. Consequently, no one can choose or be in control of what happens.5

For nearly three centuries we have worked diligently to structure society in accordance with that concept, believing that with ever more reductionist scientific knowledge, ever more specialization, ever more technology, ever more efficiency, ever more linear education, ever more rules and regulations, ever more hierarchal command and control, we could learn to engineer organizations in which we could pull a lever at one place, get a precise result at another, and know with certainty which lever to pull or for which result. Never mind that human beings must be made to behave as cogs and wheels in the process.6

Notes:
1 David S. Alberts, The International C2 Journal | Vol 1, No 1, 2007, pp. 15—16.
2 Simon Reay Atkinson & James Moffat, The Agile Organization: From Informal Networks to Complex Effects and Agility, pp. 5—6, 7.
3 Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, (Penguin, 2015), p. 68.
4 Norm Hirst, Towards a Science of Life as Creative Organisms, (Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, vol. 4, nos. 1-2, 2008), p. 93.
5 Ralph Stacey, Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change / Gervase R. Bushe & Robert J. Marshak, editors, (Berett-Koehler, 2015), p. 153.
6 Dee Hock, One From Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization, (Berrett-Koehler, 2005), p. 37

Related posts:
The big misconception in sociocracy
Dee Hock on control
Harrison Owen on control
Fritz Perls on control
The phenomenology of sociocracy
Traditional vs. Sociocratic vs. Holacratic Command & Control
Holacracy vs. Sociocracy
Book Review: Holacracy by Brian Robertson
Book Review: Sociocracy by Gerard Endenburg
The phenomenology of sociocracy
Machines are allonomic, living organisms are autonomic
Autognomics: Radical Self-Knowing
Self-organization is the real operating system
Emergence is simply what life does
Empowerment is a red herring
Pre-conditions for self-organization
What if the organization is a living system?
Carl Rogers on person-centered leadership

Traditional vs. Sociocratic vs. Holacratic Command & Control

Adam Pisoni writes in Here’s Why You Should Care About Holacracy: The ”leaderless” workplace structure is sweeping companies like Zappos and Medium that ”Holacracy is simply the first fully formed alternative to C&C that real companies are using successfully.” I think this is misleading. Sociocracy predates Holacracy® with 30 years. And neither Holacracy nor Sociocracy replace Command & Control (C&C). Both use C&C within limits. Furthermore, neither Holacracy nor Sociocracy are ”leaderless”. This is how it looks like:

  • Traditional C&C: The Manager manages day-to-day work autocratically.
  • Sociocratic C&C: The Operations Leader manages day-to-day operations (most often) autocratically within policies established by consent. The Operations Leader is elected by consent. The circle decides and measures results.
  • Holacratic C&C: Similar to Sociocratic C&C, with the addition that the Lead Link assigns Roles. Roles have exclusive day-to-day control of Domains. The Lead Link is not an elected role.

C&C is the exercise of authority, and control is a managerial function (Wikipedia). With the latter definition, all Roles in Holacracy are managerial roles.

Related posts:
The big misconception in sociocracy
What if control is inappropriate?
Holacracy vs. Sociocracy
Book Review: Holacracy by Brian Robertson
Book Review: Sociocracy by Gerard Endenburg

Holacracy vs. Sociocracy

I have written book reviews of Brian Robertson’s new book on Holacracy and Gerard Endenburg’s first book on Sociocracy. Robertson’s book was published in 2015. Endenburg’s book was originally published in Dutch in 1981. The first English translation was published in 1988, and the Eburon edition, which I have reviewed, in 1998. Here’s my comparison between Holacracy® and sociocracy together with my conclusions:

Aims
Endenburg and Robertson have very different aims with their respective methods. Endenburg wants to ”enable everyone … to develop as far and in as diversified a manner as possible” (Endenburg, Sociocracy, p. 5), while Robertson wants to ”harness the tremendous sensing power of the human consciousness available to our organizations” (Robertson, Holacracy, p. 7).

Organizations
Robertson and Endenburg also have very different views on organizations and their purpose. Robertson views the organization as ”an entity that exists beyond the people, with its own purpose to enact and with work to do beyond just serving the people doing that work” (Holacracy, p. 148), while Endenburg thinks that an organization ”exist for us and it is in our interest that the actual problem-solving capability of our organizations is as great as possible” (Sociocracy, p. 142). Organizations provide goods and services “on behalf of the community” (Sociocracy, p. 89), and they serve the community and “the participants in the company” (Sociocracy, p. 89).

People
Endenburg recognizes the worth of the whole person, while Robertson primarily views people as “role fillers” (Holacracy, p. 92). For Robertson it’s ”about processing tensions for the sake of our roles, which ultimately serve the organization’s purpose” (Holacracy, p. 113). This ”keeps the organization from being overly influenced by individual feelings and opinions that are not relevant to the work …” (Holacracy, p. 116). He differentiates between ”role and soul” (Holacracy, pp. 42—46). Endenburg, on the other hand, thinks that ”it is fundamentally important … to involve the complete individual in the decision-making process” (Sociocracy, p. 5). He wants to give both the individual and the group space ”to arrange their lives in accordance with their own wishes and needs” (Sociocracy, p. 10), and emphasizes the importance of each person’s ”equivalence in the decision-making” and ”equivalence in the potential for existence and development” (Sociocracy, p. 167).

Basic Rules
What’s interesting is that Holacracy and sociocracy use the same basic rules, or principles. One of Robertson’s “favorite metaphors” used to illustrate “dynamic steering” and “constant weaving” is riding a bicycle (Holacracy, p. 129). This is the same example which Endenburg uses to illustrate “weaving” and the “circle process” (Sociocracy, pp. 16—19). Both use nested circles which are “linked via two special roles” (Holacracy, pp. 46—56; Sociocracy, pp. 10—11, 26—27), decision-making with objections, and role elections. A difference is that all roles are elected in sociocracy, while only the ”Rep Link”, ”Facilitator”, and ”Secretary” are elected roles in Holacracy (Holacracy, p. 57).

Conclusions
I’d say that Holacracy is a full implementation of sociocracy. What Robertson does is to use his own words, and give them his own slant. The fundamental difference between Holacracy and sociocracy lies in Endenburg’s and Robertson’s different aims. Their different intentions influence their interpretations. The weak spot in sociocracy, as I see it, enabling Holacracy’s interpretation, is that the “principle of consent” or “principle of no objection” (Sociocracy, p.  10) is limited to deciding “operating limits” or rules (Sociocracy, p. 23). The vehicle for implementing this in Holacracy are the roles. If I’d give sociocracy my own slant, then I’d give all people in the organization the possibility to object to any decision which affects them. I think we need to create workplaces where people can thrive and show up fully as human beings, and not just act as ”role fillers” (Holacracy, p. 92). What I’d add to my own implementation of sociocracy would be conflict resolution. Otherwise, I’d keep the method to an absolute minimum, and follow Endenburg’s advice to let the the organization search for its own solutions in a ”sociocratic way” (Sociocracy, p. 12), i.e., by respecting people’s equivalence.

Related book reviews:
Book Review: Sociocracy by Gerard Endenburg
Book Review: Holacracy by Brian Robertson

Related posts:
Sociocracy requires a new mindset
Scrum vs. Sociocracy
Sociocratic principles can be implemented in many ways
Sociocracy is a method, and still it isn’t
Implementing sociocracy without sociocracy
Sociocracy as practiced by the G/wi
Policies vs. agreements
Scaling sociocracy is all about the context
Unspoken sociocratic principles
Cultural dimensions of sociocracy
A prerequisite for sociocracy is a socios
The phenomenology of sociocracy
Are Holacracy and sociocracy Teal?
The big misconception in sociocracy
Is Sociocracy an empty method?
All roles in Holacracy are managerial roles
Holacratic tyranny
Sociocracy is both right and wrong
Is sociocracy agile?

Metaphor: An organization as a tree

Daniel Mezick posted my Holacracy book review on Facebook . . .

. . . and Michelle Holliday replied with the following metaphor of an organization as a tree.

Here’s an excerpt of Michelle’s reply (my emphasis in bold) :

If we think of an organization as a tree, the roots can represent the people who work there. The leaves, branches and fruit can represent their unifying purpose – their ”fruit” or offering out into the world, their relationship with customers and community. The roots and leaves are where life enters the system (nutrients from the ground in the case of roots, sun and photosynthesis for the leaves). The connective and supportive trunk represents the infrastructure of processes, rules, practices.

… most of the trunk of a tree is dead. There’s just a thin layer of living tissue called the cambium right under the bark where life flows from roots to leaves and from leaves to roots. So the trunk is dead, but it’s necessary to raise up the leaves to the light and life of the sun and to bring that life down to the roots.

The machine view of organizations tells us that the infrastructure (the trunk) IS the organization, and employees and customers are external to it. It puts people in service of the non-living infrastructure, rather than the other way around. And that leads inevitably to lifeless bureaucracy. … with people filling life-less roles in emotion-less service of the rules and process. The rules and processes are useful, but let’s keep them in their proper place – in support of the life in the system.

— Michelle Holliday

I love Michelle’s metaphor!

Book Review: Holacracy

Brian J. Robertson has written a book about Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy. Holacracy® is a governance system and a registered trademark owned by HolacracyOne. The word Holacracy is very easy to confuse with holocracy (with an o), which means universal democracy. Robertson’s aim with the system is to ”harness the tremendous sensing power of the human consciousness available to our organizations” (p. 7). This harnessing is done by ”a set of core rules” (p. 12). The Holacracy constitution acts as ”the core rule book for the organization” (p. 21). Robertson hopes that his readers will approach the book ”not as a set of ideas, principles, or philosophies, but as a guide to a new practice” (pp. 13—14).

Brian Robertson’s book is very readable and informative. I share Robertson’s view on the problems associated with ”predict and control” (p. 7) and his interest in finding ”better ways to work together” (p. 12), but I can also see problems with heavily rule based approaches. I think there’s a fundamental difference between following rules and honoring agreements. Rules are externally-focused, while agreements are internal because they are directly linked to will. Agreements, not rules, are the glue that ties commitment to results.

Brian Robertson focuses on practices in his book, while my interest primarily is on principles. This doesn’t mean that I think practices are unimportant. I share, however, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s view that ”The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” To paraphrase Emerson, the man who focus on rules and processes, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble. I also think that processes need to grow, or evolve, from their specific context. Each situation is unique in some way, small or large.

For Brian Robertson, it’s very important to ”prevent others from claiming power over you” (p. 21). This is done by establishing a ”core authority structure” and ”a system that empowers everyone” (p. 21). The power is in the ”process, which is defined in detail” (p. 21). For me, ”harnessing true self-organization and agility throughout an enterprise” (p. 20) is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Harnessing self-organization might actually kill it. I suspect people might decide to withdraw their engagement if they realize that they are harnessed for the benefit of the organization only.

Brian Robertson defines a ”circle”, not as a group of people, but as a ”group of roles” (p. 48). The ”basic circle structure” consists of nested circles (p. 47). Robertson calls the hierarchy of ”nested circles” a ”holarchy” (p. 46). Arthur Koestler defines a ”holon” as ”a whole that is a part of a larger whole” and a ”holarchy” as ”the connection between holons” (p. 38). I’d challenge that a hierarchy of nested circles really is a holarchy. A person certainly is a holon, but I doubt that a role, in itself, is a holon. What inherent ”wholeness” does a role have if people are needed to ”energize” the role and ”enact” its accountabilities (p. 43)? Having said that, I do think that a group of people can become and act as a holon under certain circumstances. Maybe Bohmian Dialogue, the U-process, and Open Space Technology are examples when such circumstances can occur?

The nested circles in the basic circle structure are ”linked via two special roles”, the Lead and Rep Links (p. 49). The idea behind this interlinking of circles comes from the Sociocratic Circle Organization Method (Sociocracy), which was invented by Gerard Endenburg in the 1970s. Brian Robertson tried to patent the idea (Pub. No. US2009/006113 A1, Fig. 4), but subsequently abandoned the patent application. Other ideas in the patent application similar to Sociocracy are the decision-making (Fig. 6), governance meeting (Fig. 8), and role election (Fig. 9) processes. A significant difference between Sociocracy and Holacracy is that all roles are elected in Sociocracy, while only the Rep Link, Facilitator, and Secretary are elected roles in Holacracy (p. 57). Holacracy is also more prescriptive. The responsibility of people in a Holacracy is to act as role fillers. This is a ”sacred duty” and ”an act of love and service, not for your own sake, but nonetheless of your own free will” (p. 85). Holacracy ”empowers you to use your own best judgment to energize your role and do your work” (p. 97). I cannot help but wonder why people can’t empower themselves? Why do you need the permission of a system to use your own best judgment in your work?

In addition to the ”basic responsibility as role fillers”, people also have specific duties in ”offering transparency”, ”processing requests”, and ”accepting certain rules of prioritization” (p. 92). Transparency and effectiveness are important in Sociocracy too. However, equivalence doesn’t seem to be as important in Holacracy as in Sociocracy. In Holacracy, ”the process is all that matters, and the process will take care of everything else” (p. 111). The rules in Holacracy ”create a sacred space that frees each of us to act as sensors for the organization, without drama getting in the way” (p. 110). ”As long as the process is honored, you really don’t care how anyone feels — at least not in your role as facilitator.” (p. 110) I ask myself, aren’t feelings important if people are going to be able to act as sensors? The answer Brian Robertson gives is that ”it’s about processing tensions for the sake of our roles, which ultimately serve the organization’s purpose” (p. 113). ”This keeps the organization from being overly influenced by individual feelings and opinions that are not relevant to the work …” (p. 116). He assures that ”No one’s voice is silenced, yet egos aren’t allowed to dominate.” (p. 117) Well, really? Yes, says Robertson. Holacracy seeks to ”process every tension and be truly integrative; it’s also a recipe for [not] letting ego, fear, or groupthink hinder the organization’s purpose” (p. 125). ”Playing politics loses its utility …” (p. 126). I think that the politics of identifying issues and building support that is strong enough to result in action will always be there. It’s great if the politics can be channeled through Holacracy. If not, it will go underground.

One of Brian Robertson’s ”favorite metaphors” used to illustrate the ”dynamic steering” and ”constant weaving” is riding a bicycle (p. 129). Interestingly, this is the same metaphor which Gerard Endenburg uses to illustrate the circle process in Sociocracy. (References: G. Endenburg, Sociocracy: The organization of decision-making, pp. 16—18; and G. Endenburg, Sociocracy: As Social Design, pp. 67—71). Robertson explains that ”Dynamic steering means constant adjustment in light of real feedback, which makes for a more organic and emergent path.” (p. 129) Dynamic steering done well ”enables the organization and those within it to stay present and act decisively on whatever arises day to day …” (p. 130). The focus is on ”quickly reaching a workable decision and then let reality inform the next step” (p. 131). As in Sociocracy, ”any decision can be revisited at any time” (p. 131). I think the dynamic steering is a major strength of both Holacracy and Sociocracy.

Holacracy defines the organization as ”an entity that exists beyond the people, with its own purpose to enact and with work to do beyond just serving the people doing that work” (p. 148). This is also why Holacracy isn’t a governance process ”of the people, by the people, for the people”, but ”of the organization, through the people, for the purpose” (p. 34). Holacracy differentiates ”between the human community and the organizational entity” (p. 149) and between the ”role and soul” (pp. 42—46). To summarize, ”Holacracy’s systems and processes are about continually helping the organization find its own unique identity and structure to do its work in the world, while protecting it from human agendas, egos, and politics.” (p. 199). Still, the organization needs human beings to energize and enact all its roles.

Holacracy is ”a big shift” (p. 145). Brian Robertson emphasizes that ”you can’t really practice Holacracy by adopting only part of the rules”, but ”you can take on all of the rules in only part of the company” (p. 147). Holacracy isn’t for everyone. Robertson has ”seen organizations where it just didn’t stick” (p. 167). The three most common scenarios he has identified are ”The Reluctant-to-Let-Go Leader”, ”The Uncooperative Middle”, and ”The Stopping-Short Syndrome” (p. 167). The last scenario is ”perhaps the most insidious” (p. 170) because ”slowly and almost imperceptibly, the change starts to fade” (p. 170). At best the organization ends up with ”a surface level improvement” only (p. 171). I don’t think this is a scenario unique to Holacracy. Regardless, Robertson claims that ”a majority” of the Holacracy implementations he has witnessed seems to result in ”lasting transformation” (p. 173).

Brian Robertson acknowledges at the end of the book that he is grateful to his mother for her great job in catalyzing the development of his ”strong and healthy ego” (p. 211). Robertson writes that he has a ”solid sense of self throughout” (p. 211). Unless he hadn’t had such a strong and healthy ego, he ”wouldn’t have needed a system capable of protecting others from it” (p. 212). To me, this sounds contradictory. I can understand if a person with a weak ego seeks protection in rules, but not why others would need protection from a person with a solid self and healthy ego. Maybe there are some deeply human needs behind Brian Robertson’s birthing of Holacracy? For one reason or another, Robertson perceives a need for a strong rule based system. It’s up to you to decide if you need such a system too! If so, it’s called Holacracy®.

Related book review:
Sociocracy by Gerard Endenburg

Related post:
Holacracy vs. Sociocracy

Zappos and Holacracy

”It’s kind of deliciously ironic that self-management is being decreed from above.”
— Jeffrey Pfeffer1

”Holacracy, itself, is too complex, dogmatic, and rigid.”
— Bud Caddell2

I’ve previously written about it here. There is always a cost in trying to script people’s behavior. They might decide to withdraw their engagement. I think this is what’s happening at Zappos right now. And I’d suspect there’re people staying at Zappos who’ll just play the game, but withdraw their hearts. Time will tell.

Notes
1 Richard Feloni, Inside Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s radical management experiment that prompted 14% of employees to quit, Business Insider UK, 2015-05-16.
2 Bud Caddell, Why Self-Organizing is So Hard, 2015-03-27.

Related posts:
The big misconception in sociocracy
Holacracy vs. Sociocracy
Book Review: Sociocracy
Book Review: Holacracy
Language of rules & policies vs. agreements
Self-organization is the real operating system
Emergence is simply what life does
Empowerment is a red herring
Pre-conditions for self-organization
What if the organization is a living system?
Facilitating an Open Space
How to enable and sustain self-organization
TEDxTalk on Open Space Technology

What if the organization is a living system?

Holacracy is described as a new operating system 1 for evolution-powered organizations. It’s a punchy analogy which people understand. What people seem to forget is this: The operating system as a metaphor requires people to execute the programming code, but people aren’t microprocessors. This might seem like playing with words, but metaphors both reflect and influence our thinking. There is always a cost in trying to script people’s behavior. They might decide to withdraw their engagement. What if the organization is a living system, and not a computer?

Notes (added 17 April 2016):
1 HolacracyOne’s web page where Holacracy is described as a new operating system no longer exists. However, a description of Holacracy as ”a comprehensive new operating system” can also be found in Brian Robertson’s book on Holacracy. See Brian Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy, (Penguin, 2015), p. 12.

Related posts:
Book review: Holacracy
Metaphors both reflect and influence our thinking
Language of rules & policies vs. agreements
Self-organization is the real operating system
Emergence is simply what life does
Empowerment is a red herring
Pre-conditions for self-organization
What if the organization is a living system?
Facilitating an Open Space
How to enable and sustain self-organization
TEDxTalk on Open Space Technology

Contrasting Sociocracy and Holacracy

Sociocracy is an interesting dynamic governance method which is described in We the People. Aspects of sociocracy are incorporated into Holacracy. This video contrasts the underlying intentions and practical differences between the two methods.

I think this is an example of where the same principles, but with different intentions, leads to different practices. I would also assume that there are different interpretations of sociocracy itself. There might be practical differences, however slight, depending on the individual understanding and the actual context.

Related posts:
Sociocracy requires a new mindset
Scrum vs. Sociocracy
Sociocratic principles can be implemented in many ways
Sociocracy is a method, and still it isn’t
Implementing sociocracy without sociocracy
Sociocracy as practiced by the G/wi
Policies vs. agreements
Scaling sociocracy is all about the context
Unspoken sociocratic principles
Cultural dimensions of sociocracy
A prerequisite for sociocracy is a socios
Book Review: Holacracy
Book Review: Sociocracy
Holacracy vs. Sociocracy
The big misconception in sociocracy

Related posts in Swedish:
Holakrati, holokrati och sociokrati
Hur införa sociokrati i en organisation (del 1)?
Hur införa sociokrati i en organisation (del 2)?
Sociokrati är som permakultur, fast för människor
Sociokrati är som en skogsträdgård
Kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod, som bygger på att nå enighet kring beslut
En historisk tillbakablick på kväkarnas beslutsmetod
Sociokratibok: Idag publiceras boken
Några tankar om sociokrati
Min gästblogg på #skolvåren: Att organisera oss rätt