By Ted Rau and originally published as one article at sociocracyforall.org, adapted for EE Magazine.
Differences that depend on the culture/context
Strictness of process
While the definition of consent is the same in both systems, Holacracy has a defined process of validating objections where an objection is tested to see if it meets the criteria. On the sociocratic side of things, testing objections in this way is uncommon but possible.
The practices of evaluating objections in order to distinguish them from personal preferences (preferences that make little difference in the proposal’s effectiveness) differ within sociocracy which makes it hard to compare without too much simplification.
As a general sentiment, sociocracy attempts to hear people and guide the process more gently while Holacracy facilitators are asked to “ruthlessly cut out of process interaction”. How strict and how graceful the facilitator will be addressing objections will depend on their training, context and skill level.
In general, Holacracy is often criticized as being too rigid which some celebrate as an achievement and some don’t. Organizational culture will determine how the strictness is lived in practice and how that is perceived. In the same way, sociocracy is experienced as strict and formal by some and as flexible and fluid by others, most likely depending on people’s preferences and practice as well as fluency.
I personally suspect that it depends on people’s expectations. In a chatty organizational culture, sociocracy will be seen as rigid. In a only-talk-when-asked setting, holacracy will allow for people to finally be heard. Our perception will be influenced by what we consider ‘normal’ and acceptable.
Policy/governance vs. tactical/operational
Holacracy is strict on the difference of tactical (operational) vs. governance (policy) meetings. In sociocracy, this is highly context-dependent. My experience is that the more operations there are to take care of, the more organizations will separate governance and operational meetings.
Yet, in sociocracy, it is not prohibited to talk about policy and operational alignment within the same meeting (but not within the same agenda item). Again, this depends on the ways people use these distinctions in practice.
The idea in sociocracy is that boards (Anchor circles/Mission Circles/Top Circles) are multi-stakeholder circles with members that represent interests that are present in the organization. For example, in worker-owned company, workers are represented in the work circle, while owners give input as owners in the Mission Circle. Another example is parents in a self-organized school.
This even goes beyond internal members; sociocracy represents the interdepence of the organization with other organizations by including stakeholders as board members with consent rights. For example, I know of a sociocratic school where the contact person from the municipal school administration became a board member with consent rights. The idea is to represent the web of interdependences so information can flow between organizations.
This is a guideline and each organization decides themselves how many and which stakeholders will be represented in their Mission Circle.
For Holacracy, there are conventions and some organizations are committed to multi-stakeholder boards, yet there is no model for boards.
Both systems use jargon. In sociocracy, jargon is often changed and adapted so there is not necessarily a determined set of jargon. Yet, trainers typically use similar words that then find their way into practitioners’ vocabulary.
In the list below, I am omitting the jargon that’s the same (like the secretary or facilitator role).
leader – circle lead/Lead Link
delegate – circle rep/Rep link
Policy – governance
operational – tactical
General Circle – (General Company Circle)
board/TopCircle – Anchor Circle
This is Part 2 of a 4-part article. Part 3 is here.
Republished with permission.