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:
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
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