Sociocracy uses consent decision-making. 1 If people are autonomic, 2 then decision-making by consent 3 is right. But if people are autonomic, then limiting consent to policy decisions only is wrong. 4
Sociocracy is based on cybernetic principles. 5 The basic feedback model consists of input-transformation-output steps, 6 and leading-doing-measuring activities for each step. The problem is that cybernetics is a poor metaphor for living systems. 7
Notes: 1 See Sociocracy, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 April 2016. (Accessed 26 April 2016) 2 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 26 April 2016) 3 Sociocracy makes a distinction between consent and consensus. Consent is defined as “no objections,” and objections are based on one’s ability to work toward the aims of the organization. See Sociocracy: Consent vs. consensus, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 April 2016. (Accessed 26 April 2016) 4 All policy decisions are made by consent although the group may consent to use another decision-making method. See Sociocracy: Consent governs policy decision making (principle 1), Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 April 2016. (Accessed 26 April 2016) 5 Gerard Endenburg integrated his understanding of physics, cybernetics, and systems thinking, and applied these principles to human systems. See Sociocracy: In contemporary practice, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 April 2016. (Accessed 26 April 2016) 6 The ideal feedback model consists of the input of information or resources, the transformation of those resources, and the output. A feedback loop of information is used to correct the process or confirm that it is accomplishing the aim. See Sharon Villines, Producing Organization: The 27 Block Chart, 2 May 2013. (Accessed 26 April 2016) 7Cybernetics is an advanced form of mechanism, but it is still a mechanism, which makes it a poor metaphor for any living system. See Elisabeth Sathouris, Ecosophy: Nature’s Guide to a Better World, Kosmos Journal, Summary 2014. (Accessed 26 April 2016). 8 Living organisms are self-making, holistic, autonomous and have no information inputs. Perception begins in acts, not inputs. Autonomy implies organisms are closed to information. Information is not a commodity. In organisms, informare (formed within) replaces information. See Norm Hirst, Research findings to date, Autognomics Institute. (Accessed 26 April 2016)
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
“When we have to find solutions, we take our time. We begin in a circle of chiefs, with the grandmothers standing behind. The chiefs must answer to the grandmothers and to the community they represent for their decisions. They understand that they have a lot of responsibility, not to their own egos, but to the grandmothers and to the community. And so, if it is not possible to find the right solution at one council, we wait until the next time there is a meeting. There is no shame in not finding the solution quickly. There is shame in not coming to the right solution for all who are affected.”
— Six Nations Elder in Canada 1
Notes: 1 Birgitt Williams, The Genuine Contact Way: Nourishing a Culture of Leadership, (DALAR, July 2014), p. 195.
The first thing I notice is that wirearchy is an organizational design principle 1 while sociocracy, or rather the Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method, is a collaborative governance method 2. What I also can see is that sociocracy, as a method, supports some of wirearchy’s pillars, most notably trust 3 and the focus on results 4. One of the core values in sociocracy is transparency 5, which of course helps building trust. And the valuing of action, decisiveness, effectiveness, and focus 6 in sociocracy certainly supports the focus on results. The furthest distribution of all authority 7 in wirearchy is also well supported by the consent decision-making in sociocracy 8. I see some support for wirearchy’s credibility 9 in sociocracy – primarily through the use of the team’s collective intelligence 10 in the consent-decision making – but I don’t see any active questioning of ALL assumptions 11 in sociocracy. Assumptions behind decisions can of course be questioned in the consent decision-making, but it’s difficult to get a deeper understanding of the assumptions underlying the sociocratic principles. I have made an attempt in my article on the phenomenology (or way of seeing) in sociocracy. I have also questioned one of sociocracy’s assumptions in this post. What is clear is that the technical bias 12 is strong in sociocracy.
I wonder how a governance method would look like which fully supports the wirearchy organizing principle? It would be a wirecracy! And it would be descriptive, rather than prescriptive.
Notes: 1 Jon Husband et al., The Wirearchy Commons, Wirearchy: Sketches for the Future of Work, pp. 5, 8–9, 23, 25, 43, 62. 2What Is Sociocracy and Why Do You Need it? (Accessed March 5, 2016) 3 Jon Husband et al., The Wirearchy Commons, Wirearchy: Sketches for the Future of Work, pp. 5, 17–18, 26. 4Ibid., pp. 6, 9. 5Values and Sociocracy (Accessed March 5, 2016). 6Ibid.. 7 Jon Husband et al., The Wirearchy Commons, Wirearchy: Sketches for the Future of Work, p. 6. 8Principles and Practices of Sociocracy. (Accessed March 5, 2016) 9 Jon Husband et al., The Wirearchy Commons, Wirearchy: Sketches for the Future of Work, p. 5. 10Ibid.. 11Ibid.. 12 Gerard Endenburg, Sociocracy: As social design, (Eburon,1998), p. 5.
Because otherwise some become more equal than others, as George Orwell put it.
Because it allows humanity, society and organisations to tap into the inner collective wisdom, which is always better than relying on the perspective of one or an elite of powerful decision-makers.
Because how else can you achieve distributed leadership?
Because if you don’t have equivalence you have already systemically predetermined the direction of decisions on the basis of those with a “more valid views” (more equal?) – who decides whose views are more valid than others, and why?
Because the socius can then resemble the workings of the networked brain – or can someone tell which of their brain cells is the big boss, the master cell?
Equivalence resembles what S. Toyoda called Respect, i.e.. fully respecting the perspectives of every single worker in an organisation, those doing the work. The whole premise of Total Quality Control, for instrance, is that everyone is involved in quality control, not just the inspectors or managers – “total” is a misnomer in English as it is not meant to refer to total control, but to the total workforce.
Equivalence (not equality) is fundamental to collaborative decision-making, and it goes beyond democracy in that people decide on issues rather electing representatives to decide for them and also overcomes the toxicity of majority voting (which in essence at worse means ignoring 49% of people’s perspectives). It goes beyond consensus which is really a kind of pseudo-equality. By giving everyone equivalent voice (in an organisation, circle etc) you allow the organisation, circle to consider all perspectives, rather than deciding on the basis of a few predetermined ones.
The whole point of sociocracy is to ensure equivalence in decision-making, and the point of the consent-based decision making procedures is to demonstrate this equivalence.
I would say equivalence is not just important to sociocracy, it is central.
Hos san-folken råder en strängt egalitär kultur. 1
Samförstånd är det som gäller i alla san-grupper. … Men på samma sätt som jämlikhet inte betyder likhet, så kan samförstånd inte likställas med demokrati. Visserligen finns det inget auktoritärt eller formaliserat ledarskap, … men det är inte heller så att man röstar sig fram till någon sorts majoritetsbeslut. Vuxna och ungdomar samtalar om det som behöver bestämmas kollektivt … Men man diskuterar inte tills alla är överens utan tills man hittar ett beslut som ingen motsätter sig tillräckligt starkt. Naturligtvis väger olika röster olika tungt, beroende på speciell kunskap eller erfarenhet, när det gäller att forma denna allmänna samsyn. Ledarskapet är auktoritativt, inte auktoritärt. Det sociala trycket att komma överens är starkt, för att uttrycka det försiktigt. Samarbetsvilja har mycket hög kulturell status. 2
Men tvister uppstår naturligtvis. De är oftast av personlig art. … Det allmänt accepterade sättet att lösa konflikter är inte som i vår kultur att så tidigt som möjligt klargöra motsättningar och lyfta fram dem till diskussion. Istället utmärks san-kulturen av … utpräglad konflikträdsla. Man föredrar … att i första hand skämta bort problemet. Helst i elegant metaforisk form så att ingen tappar ansiktet eller blir utskämd. En spänd situation kan plötsligt punkteras av ett skämt som får lyssnarna att formligen vrida sig av skratt. Gränsen mellan skratt och vrede är ofta nästan osynlig. Det betyder inte att man inte tagit det hela på allvar, utan att man behandlat tvisten i inlindad form. 3
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).
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
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 in policy decision-making, and in the potential for existence and development.3
Everyone affected by a decision has the power to withdraw consent.17
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
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 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
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
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.28Here is an example of when structure instead follows the flow.
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
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.
Notes: 1 Gerard Endenburg, Sociocracy: The organization of decision-making, (Eburon, 1998), p. 5. 2Ibid.. 3Ibid., p. 167. 4Ibid., p. 142. 5Ibid., p. 10. 6Ibid., pp. 23, 145. 7Ibid., p. 22. 8 Brian Robertson, Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolished Hierarchy, (Penguin, 2015), p. 7. 9Ibid., pp. 42—46, 116. 10Ibid., no quote on equivalence found. 11Ibid., p. 148. 12Ibid., p. 198. 13Ibid., p. 41. 14Ibid., p. 21. 15 Bernhard Bockelbring and James Priest, Introduction to Sociocracy 3.0, (v2015-04-23), pp. 5—7 (accessed 2015-11-28). 16Ibid., pp. 56, 78, 82. 17Ibid., p. 30. 18Ibid., p. 186. 19Ibid., p. 43. 20Ibid., pp. 47, 49, 51. 21Ibid., p. 48. 22Ibid., p. 25. 23Ibid., p. 182. 24Ibid., p. 133. 25Ibid., p. 33. 26Ibid., pp. 57, 184. 27 Bernhard Bockelbring and James Priest, Introduction to Sociocracy 3.0, (v2016-01-29), pp. 46—47 (accessed 2016-07-09). 28Ibid., pp. 46, 118. 29Ibid., 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). 31Ibid. (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).
The Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method (Sociocracy) is said to be ’empty’ since the users are free to fill out their own details.1 I think this is true for many methods, including Holacracy and Sociocracy 3.0.2
Sociocracy is based on the following norms:3
SCN 500 The Sociocratic Method: Terms and definitions.
SCN 1001-0 The Sociocratic Method: Patterns for application, the production of equivalency in decision making.
SCN 1001-1 The Sociocratic Method: Patterns for application. Part 1. Production of dynamic organization.
SCN 1001-2 The Sociocratic Method: Patterns for application. Part 2. Leading dynamic organization.
SCN 1001-3 The Sociocratic Method: Patterns for application. Part 3. Anchoring of the method in legal terms.
SCN 1001-4 The Sociocratic Method: Patterns for application. Part 4. Mutual involvement.
SCN 1001-5 The Sociocratic Method: Patterns for application. Part 5. Production of ways of development.
SCN 1001-6 The Sociocratic Method: Patterns for application. Part 6. Production of Existence Ability Guarantee (EAG).
So, is Sociocracy empty? No, not really! Why would Sociocracy need to be ‘open’ to change,4 if it’s empty? And why are these norms needed in the first place? What are the assumptions behind these norms? I think this is related to the operating idea in Sociocracy, which is cybernetics.
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!