Holacracy Sociocracy Thoughts

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!

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?
Is Holacracy an environment extremely honoring and embracing of people?
Holacracy and Arthur Koestler

Update 2022-09-25: Text converted to blocks. Added two links to related posts on Holacracy.

By Jan Höglund

I share my reading, book reviews, and learning in my blog.

2 replies on “Are Holacracy and sociocracy Teal?”

Hi Jan,
Thank you for this clear and concise account – you made a lot of dissonances explicit which I felt and could not articulate so clearly, let alone give all those references.
Mange tak.

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