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 3.0

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.

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

Published by Jan Höglund

Jan Höglund shares his thoughts on work and life at and his art at

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  1. Hi Jan, thanks for your ongoing work sharing new ways of collaborating and organizing with the world.

    I noted your comment at the bottom of this article where you say: Sociocracy 3.0 still emphasizes that structure (rules, policies, agreements, or whatever you call it) guides the flow28. Here is an example of when structure instead follows the flow.

    Following your link there is a quote: Husband writes that “structure depends … upon the nature of work, … the pertinent flows of information and motivations and skills … etc.” In other words, that structure follows flow.

    This is a much more accurate description of what pulling in S3’s optional and adaptable patterns invites, facilitates and supports.

    It’s helpful to read your interpretation because it shows that we need to do some further work in how we describe S3 in writing so that others like yourself who have not accessed any training in S3, can still understand the primary elements clearly. A constant challenge being as we all interpret information through the lenses of our previous learning and assumptions.

    You are, as always, most welcome to connect and have a conversation about this. I’m very happy to help you understand more about S3, especially as you are writing about it – it might be helpful for you to learn a little more so you can reference it with more accuracy in future.

    Warm regards and with wishes all is well with you.


    1. The comparison is based on Sociocracy 3.0 (v2015-04-23). The accuracy of my references is dependent on the accuracy of the documentation and, of course, on the stability of Sociocracy 3.0 itself.

      You are doing a great job with your website and resource library. I understand it’s difficult to keep the documentation up-to-date and invite you to update the comparison based on the latest version of Sociocracy 3.0.

      Structure guides the flow in sociocracy. Policies, as you have described in your sociocracy workshops, are operating limits, or river banks, that guide the operations, or river. And consent governs policy decision-making (principle 1).

      Interestingly, agreements (previously policies) also guide the flow in Sociocracy 3.0. And agreements are agreed guidelines, patterns, processes or protocols. At least according to the beta version of your Sociocracy 3.0 Handbook (2016-09-14). In other words, patterns and processes guide the flow.

      It’s great that Sociocracy 3.0 “invites, facilitates and supports” optional and adaptable patterns, but I assume Sociocracy 3.0 still shares some “primary elements” with sociocracy although the language is different.

  2. Thanks Jan, yes, I think that this comes down to finding ever better ways to articulate clearly in written word what is intended to be said. And it’s true, we’re are just learning about Sociocracy 3.0 ourselves and therefore you can expect further edits and changes to how it’s articulated at this early stage.

    Thanks also for the invitation to edit your table. On the whole I thought it was pretty good though.

    Some thoughts and reflections:

    We dropped the term “policy” from the literature in S3 due to concerns that you have also shared.

    Agreements do guide the flow. People agree on where they wish to focus their energy and resources in response to the primary driver they collaborate towards addressing.

    Governance is (to use the metaphor) a process where people come together to build the banks of the river to guide the creative flow

    In my opinion, effective governance output results in people freeing themselves up to get on with doing things in ways where they can decide and act as autonomously as possible. Agreed constraints should be enabling as well as governing, otherwise they can strangle the system. And regardless of previous agreements, each situation requires consideration on it’s own merit.

    1. Yes, there’s a nuanced difference between the language of rules & polices vs. the language of agreements, which is why I have difficulty in understanding the difference between consent on policies (sociocracy) vs. agreements on guidelines, patterns, processes or protocols (Sociocracy 3.0). Consent is, in a way, an agreement (sociocracy), and all agreements are made by consent (Sociocracy 3.0).

  3. Hej Jan!

    Hur mår du :)?
    My Swedish is not good enough to express my thoughts around the topic of this article, and so I’ll stick to English.
    First of all – really appreciate the work you’ve done here! Also, it is nice to see some Swedish roots for the thought (I lived in Sweden not a long time ago and I still go back now and then to your beutiful country).

    I’ve been oracticing Holacracy for nearly 2 years now and I’d like to share some additional thoughts to your table from Holacracy point of view. Hope you and others can find them helpful!

    Format: name of the cathegory + a quote from the existing table + my addition

    1. People: “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.” People are filling multiple roles on behalf of the organization, all roles contribute to a shared purpose. People act as sensors in the roles and have ability to evolve them and the structure of the organization through them.

    2. Needs: “To fulfill the organization’s purpose – not people’s desires and needs.” But, we also speak and practice ‘role fit’ (people fill in multiple roles) which in practice mean connecting to people’s interest, energy, drivers.

    3. Rules: “Explicit roles with explicit accountabilities creates clarity on the operating limits.” and, very important element, Policies – they act as guidelines, show limits and permissions to access organizational domains (a bit like traffic lights on a road – you as a driver have every freedom to use the road, drive where you want to, but you should obey by the common rules that everyone else obeys, i.e. traffic lights).

    4. Empowerment: “Establishes a core authority structure and a system that empowers everyone” Empowers them by giving them Roles in Circles (teams) across an organization. With roles, they become members of circles and have the right to particiate in decision making on organization’s structure, purpose etc.

    All that’s above is in simplification and does not share all the thoughts I have in mind, but I hope it adds value without overwhelming 🙂

    Keep up your great work!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! My comparison between Sociocracy, Holacracy, and Sociocracy 3.0 is a simplification in itself. I’ve deliberately tried to keep it short and to the point. People have different views and value things differently. I have my own views too, of course.

  4. As an academic I like comparisons like this very much. What I’d like you to add to the comparison is ‘structure (re)design’.
    Sociocracy can be implemented ‘on top of’ any kind of structure, e.g. a functional, activity-based one, or a flow-based BPR or lean structure. When an organization with a functional structure adopts sociocracy, it will soon find out that lower circles can decide on hardly anything, because these workfloor units are interdependent (having lots of interfaces with other units where coordination is mandatory). So much is delegated up to the top circle. (see: G. Romme’s The quest for professionalism, a recent source on sociocratic circle org’s).
    Holacracy: the same, although it is best applied in a projectteam-based primary process where teams/units are independently developing something for a customer, or are part of a larger project team organization. When holacracy is implemented in a functional structure, discussing tensions with the structure (e.g. division of labour, coordination issues between units) may eventually lead to a more flow-like structure.
    Sociocracy 3.0 ….. (I don’t know)
    In general, when implementing these approaches (or agile, self-managing teams, …) my advice is to study the structure first: too many interfaces between operational units lead to a lot of coordination needs, and that implies that for many, or even most of their decisions the units need to coordinate with other units to prevent their optimization leads to problems for other units. Or, when customer orders are handed over many times, lik the baton in a relay race, then units are too interdependent to expect self-management to become a succes. As I tried to explain here:

    1. Hans, your comment on the need of structure (re)design is interesting.

      When I reviewed Wyatt Rawson’s book The Werkplaats Adventure, which is about Kees and Betty Boeke’s pioneer comprehensive school, the school where Gerard Endenburg went as a child, I noticed that much of the organization of the Werkplaats deliberately was left fluid (Wyatt, The Werkplaats Adventure, p.55). Committees, including their composition, arouse as needed. So, an alternative to designing the structure upfront is to let it emerge over time, as was done at the Werkplaats.

      I did this comparison in 2015 and will not work on it any further. Sociocracy 3.0, in particular, changed much at the time. For example, the word policy was replaced by agreement between version 2015-04-23 and version 2016-01-29. I don’t know if this reflected a true change, or if it just was a play with words. It could have been both, of course. Regardless, it makes the comparison difficult.

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