The Art of Hosting

Great question posten on the emaillist, Jan.'12.
Is anyone familiar enough with sociocracy (also known as holocracy) to comment on whether it is in line with or at odds with AoH philosophy and principles?  I have a client that would like to introduce this form of governance and decision-making. From what I can tell, it seems too controlled to truly allow emergence.  It also seems to place too much emphasis on the individual voice and not enough on eliciting the voice of the whole - it achieves the "two heads are better than one" effect, but not the emergence of a higher, wiser level of life. 
Are my instincts correct?  Or is there more to this method that I'm not seeing? And even if my instincts are correct, might it still be a good choice for them under certain circumstances?  For example, is it a good stepping stone from traditional top-down decision-making, preparing them for a more fluid, fertile form of decision-making when they're ready? Likewise, is it an appropriate decision-making structure for some types of decisions? 
Thank you!

Hello Michelle,

I entirely share your observation and maybe I also lack some insights.

I have used holocracy twice with a some holocrocy freaks and certified facilitators while being a novice myself. Like every tool you can see the use and it can have a place in the process of change. For me, I saw some benefits as you described, the top being “forced” to listen, but it was too much control and listening skills can be obtained differently.

One major problem popped up when we wanted to implement the double loops of governance in parallel with capacity decision making loop. In most European countries NGO’s or privately held organisations legally have only ONE person responsible and liable. The second governance loop representatives therefore are not on equal foot with the capacity people or person. Do you understand what I mean? I hope this helps.

If you like to hear more, please contact me directly

Best regards from Brussels,



Dear Michelle,
I am far from being an expert on holocracy, however have used a method based on its principles quite successfully once in the European Commission. We used the integrated decision making method, to come to a group decision of a larger group, on a document only a smaller group had been drafting, in order to endorse it by the whole group or community concerned.
We had one person who was trained and who prepared us other hosts, so we could run the process together.
I must say, yes, it is rather structured and controlled, but in a transparent way, and it really did it's job in our case. In the end all voices were heard, the principles agreed, and the document, in a changed version and accepted by everyone, endorsed, ready for further processing.
In my view it totally depends what the purpose of your client is, where he wants to see this applied and for what.
It could be that a wise combination of the too might be the key. For the governance issues of a larger group for instance, or when the outcomes of a hosted participatory gathering are to be acted upon, etc. As the only way of governing all of your meetings it might indeed not serve well, as the representation functions seem a bit fixed. So I would just sense into what is needed, and propose a wise combination that is purpose driven, probably case by case, to insure participation through resonance, as well as creating space for emergence. In that way I would see a way to combine the two.
Curious to hear more from the experts in this community!
Ursula Hillbrand

Hello again, Michelle,

Coming back to your question about how Sociocracy/Holacracy fits with AoH principles...
First off, there is a distinction to be drawn between Sociocracy and Holacracy - I have more understanding of the latter than the former, and I know there are many disagreements on the finer aspects, but as I understand it, sociocracy is a process that is designed to serve 'community' and it's all about the people in the group and how they work/live/operate together. Holacracy is about the organisation, and harnesses similar processes to sociocracy, but with the focus on how the people - as sensory organs inhabiting/energizing specific roles - provide the information and action needed to enable the organisation to fulfill its purpose in the world. There is basic assumption that an organisation is (or can be) an entity in its own right, with a soul and a purpose distinct from the people in it. So it's not about the people, it's about the organisation, as an entity, that has a mission in society that cannot be fulfilled by any one person. So organisational purpose is at the centre.
Which certainly accords with the AoH principle of purpose being the invisible leader.
Holacracy quite rigorously follows a set of practices which might feel a bit constraining to some people. But they are practices for the organisation, not the people! And the people don't have to follow those practices all the time - only during the different types of meeting, which make clear distinctions between strategy (where the organisation is going in pursuit of its purpose), governance (how we work together, through our roles, in pursuit of the organisation's purpose), operations (what we are actually going to do today, this week, next week, etc.) - and we're not talking about the tyranny of consensus here - there's a great deal of scope for individual action and accountability: more than in most traditional organisations.
I have never seen any incompatibility between AoH and holacracy - but the one need not necessarily lead to the other in either direction. That said, you might know that I work in the European Commission, which is a huge, rambling organisation which clearly has a soul and a purpose, but has no processes whereby the people can unfailingly feed into that purpose, and so the monster has lost its way and lost its connection to its soul and its purpose. It's like a body inhabited by a multitude of hungry spirits, pulling it this way and that, so it can do one thing and its opposite simultaneously 30 times before breakfast. Which equates with quite some stuckness. We have been introducing AoH practices into this system quite successfully since 2008, and now have a growing community of practitioners and loads of different processes going on. All seemingly very promising. But it's not enough - far and away not enough - to bring coherence into the body mind and spirit of this beast. Holacracy is the only 'operating system' that I am aware of that has the potential do do that, because of the way its disciplined processes intermesh with its structural architecture to bring coherence to the whole from all the parts at once, because there is clarity - just as there is in the human body - of what each part and system is for, and the processes allow continual adjustments and corrections to occur naturally throughout the body of the organisation without everything having to be 'led by the head'. There is a hierarchy, but one of scope, not dominance, so each functional circle in the organisation is self-governing, but not self-directing.
There is a lot more I could say. I cannot claim to have had much experience of applying practices of Holacracy in the Commission (what little I have managed to try has been most effective, but unless it can grow and expand, it will die) - it's hard to introduce such an integral, joined up set of practices into such a colossal monster, especially one that is so firmly in the grips of a dysfunctional hierarchy of dominance - but I sense with great clarity, in the deeper recesses of my being, that the disciplined processes and practices of Holacracy could revolutionise our effectiveness in serving the cause we love, if only we could get over our immature egos and collective unconsciousness enough to try it. Which I'm pretty sure we won't!
Don't hesitate to contact me, Michelle, if you want a more in-depth conversation about this all.

Views: 872

Reply to This

Replies to This Conversation

After this indepth explanation, a deeper question surfaced:

(note: theofficial name is HolAcracy, not HolOcracy)

Thank you very much, Helen!  This was an extremely helpful explanation. Over the past few days, I've dug more deeply into both Sociocracy and Holocracy and discovered the differences you described.  And I see the promise of the structure that Holocracy provides, along with its focus on organizational purpose.  Your explanation brings it all together powerfully. 

What still concerns me is its seeming dismissal of the individual in an attempt to block the problems of individual ego.  What about what's beautiful and creative and alive about the individuals within the organization?  And what pathos might we create in seeing the organization as separate from the people who make it up?  Might there be a way to introduce the helpful supporting infrastructure (the practices and processes), the laser focus on the purpose of the whole....and also a warm recognition that people gather together in organization in order to grow, share, contribute and thrive at an individual level, too?  Could this combination create a compassionate and highly effective organization? 
My concern is that Holocracy brings us back to the days of the large corporation, in which "it's business, not personal' and we exist to serve the machine. In Holocracy, we're seeing it as a higher level of life, but if our own needs and creativity are not welcome in the process, then it seems as if we might as well be serving a machine. 
It's as if three things are needed: (1) laser focus on the purpose of the whole, (2) individual responsibility (including responsibility for self), compassion and creativity, (3) infrastructure that supports and connects #1 and #2.
So, does Holocracy feature enough of #2?   
Thank you again, Helen!

Hi Michelle,

I took an Art of Hosting training and a Holacracy training around the same time early last year.  I'm now a member of HolacracyOne, where I fill a number of roles in multiple circles, including facilitator.  As a side project, I'm also implementing Holacracy in a small organization that operates an environmental education program/summer camp/retreat center.
Helen's comments highlight many important aspects of Holacracy, and I would echo much of what she wrote. I'll add that the place I see many people running into trouble is in applying community practices to organizations, where those practices are less helpful, and vice versa.  Holacracy is a practice specifically for organizations -- not for communities, teams, or groups of people.  (You can find some further notes on the distinction between communities and organizations here:
My experience with Holacracy has been that its radically non-personal approach does indeed deftly bypass many human attachments in service of organizational purpose.  By getting our "stuff" out of the way of doing the work, Holacracy seems to make many things that traditional organizations struggle with quite easy and painless.  On the flip side, my experience has also been that doing so frees up a huge amount of energy for self-responsibility and creativity.  When it's not hard to get the work done, address tensions, and incrementally improve the organization, there's much more room for me as a person to show up in my fullness.
Beyond the ease of addressing tensions in a non-personal way, another thing I'm really appreciating about Holacracy is the "differentiation of role and soul": when I am not identified with the roles I fill, the work can just be the work, and the people can just be people.  To put a finer point on it, if I eat dinner with my coworkers, work doesn't need to happen over the dinner table.  We have a clear space to get things done for the organization in the roles we fill, and a clear space to simply be people and connect -- to the extent that we desire to do so.  I don't have to use my relationships with others to get things done, because the weight of the organization's work isn't resting on my personal relationships.  As a client remarked when he saw this distinction, "Ah, okay: it's an inappropriate use of love and care to achieve a result."  I thought that captured it nicely.
I don't know if that answers your questions exactly, but it seemed like it might be a helpful contribution to the conversation.

More food for thought!

Hi All,


This is indeed an interesting string.

I confess right up front that I nearly everything I know about holocracy is what I’ve read here.

The thought struck me, as I was reading about the distinction between “organisation” and “community”, is that it is, in my opinion quite false. Indeed within our organisation we deliberately do all we can to acknowledge that it is a community. My contention is that one of the reasons we are almost devoid of politics and collaboration is so easy is that we work as a community.

The second thought is that both communities and organisations are complex adaptive systems. Many of the features and assumptions that work in one will work in another.

The notion of a “non-personal” approach to organisations is anathema to me. Organisations are about ideas and people – both deeply personal.

Anyway my interest is piqued and I will have to go to learn a lot more about holocracy.

Many thanks



And immediately a thoughtful comment:

I think the difference between "organization" and "community" is more one of scope than of kind.  My basic understanding of "community" though refers to what I might call "natural community" which is a group of people living and working together and which covers all of the life stages and the full range of abilities, activities, accidents of being, etc.  A natural community has an economy, provides both essentials such as food, water, health care and shelter to itself as well as engaging in some form of governance, arts, celebrations and rituals all of which provide structure and meaning to life together, the humanness of life.

Of course the word "community" is also used in other ways to include only some part of this full range of human being in specialized "communities"  and these may even be very short-lived (at a weekend retreat for instance) or may not even be face-to-face (an online community).  What they all include is some measure of knowing each other as individual persons and some measure of interdependence.  

I could say that an "organization" is such a specialized community but I would assume that the organization also has some stated purpose, it's mission, which falls within some wider vision and is carried out through specifying and working toward particular goals or aims.  I consider holocracy to be a souped up version of sociocracy which organizes in cross-linked circles each with its own stated aim.  Other elements have been added as well.  Originally the details were worked out and tested in Brian Roberson's software company and I am interested in reports of how it has developed since then.  I could see that it still might be very much oriented toward organizations that want to be very efficient and competitive.  It would be interesting to hear in what ways it has been enhanced or altered to be used in communities other than enterprises.

Sociocracy also was originally tested out in an electric company (still around) and is still in use in many community organizations, intentional communities, etc. as well as businesses.  If I knew more about AoH I might venture to think about interfaces though I will say that both sociocracy and holocracy do allow for using alternative processes within their greater governance structures whenever they are appropriate for particular tasks.

Anita Manuel

From experiece with Sociocracy:

Hi Michelle,

The primary process I use in my work is Sociocracy (aka Dynamic Governace). It is a governance structure developed in business setting in the Netherlands, and is now being used in business, nonprofits, government, and intentional communities around the world. I have worked with group process, decision making, and conflict resolution for over 25 years and find it the most effective and efficient governance structure I have been exposed to that listens to everyone's voice and is also able to get things done.

In the context of Sociocracy, I incorporate AoH practices and other tools like Nonviolent Communication that are appropriate to the needs and goals of the group. Sociocracy is especially helpful in converting the information from open space, world cafe, and appreciative inquiry into a structure for organizational development and ongoing decision making.
As an example, I am presently working with the folks at Occupy Cafe to organize sociocratically while implementing an Appreciative Inquiry.

You can find a summary and links for more information on the Sociocracy page of my website: A Co-Creative Path

I am fairly new to this list and would love to hear any input on this.


Reply to Discussion


© 2024   Created by Rowan.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service