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Consortium for Service Innovation

Sociocracy 3.0 and Holacracy

What is Sociocracy 3.0?

Sociocracy 3.0 is a descendent of Gerard Edenburg’s sociocracy (1970’s), a government method based on consent decision making and cybernetic principles. Sociocracy influenced the development of Holacracy (2006/2007) and later (2014) the development of Sociocracy 3.0. Sociocracy 3.0 combines principles of Sociocracy with Lean and Agile.

Sociocracy 3.0 was designed to make the concept of self-organizing practical. It is a framework for fast and rapid decision making in teams and eventually organizations. Its principles and patterns contribute to the development of an agile and resilient organization (https://sociocracy30.org/). The seven principles are:

  1. Effectiveness – devote time only to what brings you closer to your goals
  2. Consent – do things in the absence of reasons not to
  3. Empiricism – test all assumptions through experiments, continuous revision and falsification
  4. Continuous improvement – change incrementally to accommodate stead empirical learning
  5. Equivalence – involve people in making and evolving decisions that affect them
  6. Transparency – make all information accessible to everyone in an organization, unless there is a reason for confidentiality
  7. Accountability – respond when something is needed, do what you agreed to do, and take ownership for the course of the organization

From these seven principles many patterns can be derived. A pattern is a template for successfully navigating in a specific context. Examples are: organizing work, meeting practices, and enablers of co-creation. Sociocracy 3.0 (also named S3) aims to make best use of the talent already present and help the organization grow at its own pace through continuous improvement (source).

What is Holacracy?

A related method, also based on Sociocracy, is Holacracy. Look here to see methods (Sociocracy, Holacracy, Sociocracy 3.0) compared.  Holacracy is “a method for decentralized management and organizational governance, in which authority and decision making are distributed throughout a holacracy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in management hierarchy” (Wikipedia). In Holacracy, there are no functions, only roles. Authority and decision making are decentralized and team members are expected to act autonomously in a collaborative way. Because all information is transparent, people can offer their advice when they think it is necessary. Holacracy is adopted by a few for-profit and not-for-profit organizations (Zappos being one example).

How does Sociocracy 3.0 relate to Intelligent Swarming?

Although developed from very different origins, the way Intelligent Swarming is organized could be seen as a form of Sociocracy 3.0, applied to a specific group (Service Organizations).

The process of forming a swarm is rather similar to forming action circles in S3. In S3, action starts with a tension between the current and desired situation, called a “Driver”, a person’s or group’s motive for responding to a specific situation. In Intelligent Swarming, action starts with a customer issue that cannot be solved, which is also a tension between the current and desired situation. Then, people gather in circles around a driver, which is similar to forming a swarm around the issue. Decisions need to be taken: what needs to be done, who does what, and how. Who does what depends on the roles the members take, which is based on capacities. All members take accountability for solving the issue (in swarming) or fulfilling the tasks related to the initial driver (S3).

Similar to Intelligent Swarming, Sociocracy 3.0 focuses on creating a culture of collaboration, with shared values and shared motivations (source).

Both the Sociocracy 3.0 and Holacracy methods have hardly been adopted by companies and are often seen as idealistic rather than practical. Intelligent Swarming starts on a smaller scale and has been implemented by several companies (see Lessons Learned).

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