By Ted Rau and originally published as one article at sociocracyforall.org, adapted for EE Magazine.
The whole difference in one paragraph
I was aiming to point to differences, aware that they might be significant, yet they aren’t big in practice. When studying organizations, we often find that organizations that say that they are “holacratic” (lower case h) or “inspired by holacracy” meet our criteria for being sociocratic.
That makes sense since we consider sociocracy a bigger umbrella.
The short version of this article is therefore this: Holacracy® is one form of sociocracy. While sociocracy leaves a lot of room for many parameters to be set by the individual organization, Holacracy comes with a lot of pre-set parameters.
The only truly “un-sociocratic” aspect about Holacracy is that lead links and operational roles are chosen without the circle’s consent. (Because of the axiomatic sociocratic requirement that a circle has consent rights on its new member.) All the rest can be defined in sociocracy, if an organization so chooses.
Personal comments: So why the big difference in perception?
I personally think that the biggest difference between Holacracy and sociocracy doesn’t lie in the frameworks themselves but in the self-selection of the practitioners.
Which means it basically boils down to the messaging, perception and marketing around the two systems.
I have been deliberately leaving out the the question of what the role of humans (vs. role-holders) is answered differently by different people and none of it is hardwired into the governance rules. Sociocracy tends to be adopted by people who are excited by system with an integrative approach (like Nonviolent Communication, permaculture and similar systems) but those examples exist for Holacracy as well. My guess is that while there might be “real” differences contributing, this still says more about the self-selection that the systems.
People drawn to Holacracy are often drawn to the efficiency and clear rules of the game that acts as a equalizer in business while non-business applications, for example the Self-Organizing System (SOS), used by Extinction Rebellion (XR) in the UK and beyond, are more in the camp of “inspired by, but not, Holacracy”. Other organizations have “adjusted it (Holacracy) to our needs until a point that it is not Holacracy anymore”.
People drawn to sociocracy are drawn to the egalitarian and social change roots of sociocracy and the focus on human connection. Another difference is the tradition of how it’s implemented: as mentioned before, strict top-down implementations are rare in sociocracy and—by some—not considered in the spirit of sociocracy.
Because of the strong role of the lead link in Holacracy, Holacracy is often not a welcome choice in very horizontal contexts. (For example, I know an employee of HolacracyOne who told me he didn’t think Holacracy would be the right choice for his housing community.)
On the other hand, Holacracy, since so many parameters come predefined, makes it easy to learn. Not every organization is up for defining so many aspects of their governance system and would rather take a more pre-defined system that might fit better with a more top-down feel to it.
The freedom and choice in sociocracy can be overwhelming and new learners see themselves exposed to a lot of versions of sociocracy which makes for a steep learning curve.
Closing the divide. Let’s talk about what we want
In this article, I tried to answer the very common question “what’s the difference between sociocracy and Holacracy”.
I tried to show how they are very similar and also have some ‘hardwired’ differences as well as—probably the biggest factor in its differences—a difference in culture that comes with the sectors and “vibe” that both carry.
While I think that the clarity and direct comparison is useful, the more relevant part would be to have an undogmatic conversation about different features of governance systems. We don’t do sociocracy to do sociocracy, or Holacracy to do Holacracy.
A more useful question is, for example, how much power do you give your lead link, and how is it working for you?
What do you do with the feedback you’re getting on that?
Do you have experience with a circle selecting its own leader and how did that work?
What conclusions or changes in governance did you make to address it?
Or, what are features of your meeting format or your workflows that enhance connection?
What are areas where you notice that you lack clarity or where you overbuild structure and become bureaucratic?
What are elements that new members of your organization struggle to learn and how can we help them?
I hope that ultimately, there will be a mash-up of all the tools, and the growing self-organizing community will have more choice and awareness of what it is that they want to use in their governance system. It’s like we have a two lego series and we’re discussing their differences instead of taking the pieces and playing with them in a creative, constructive way.
With more familiarity and first-hand experience of all the tools in the larger community, the learning curve for the basic and most commonly used tools and features will be less steep so we all can get to work more smoothly sooner.
Our goal, ultimately, is to have a governance system that gives us what we want in an organization we enjoy.
Republished with permission.