Holacracy — decentralized 'people management'

There is a lot of cross-over in the biomimicry vernacular of holochain and holacracy, such as use of the term ‘DNA’.

Holacracy is essentially a ‘people management’ method for decentralized governance of an organization. Yes, I would say people do need to be ‘managed’, but not by centralised authority, rather by transparent rules of an agreed system that enable maximum individual role autonomy in achieving the organizations objectives. Holacracy is the best approach I’ve found for that to date.

Having managed marketing functions of up to 18 people myself, never feeling comfortable with centralized management approaches and suffering the consequences in dozens of organizations, I take great inspiration from Holacracy. It may well suit the Holochain community for general use in organizational governance.

I don’t represent them. Not an expert on Holacracy. However, the synergy for Holochain seems clear.


Very much in the Holochain spirit of being more self-managed. Good podcast episode going over some of these concepts here:


yes, I think a lot of us would agree with you about the overlap between Holochain and holacracy/sociocracy. Holochain is designed to enable a bunch of nodes to work directly with each other, governed by a set of shared rules. Basically we’re teaching computers how to be holocratic :wink:

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While I respect the spirit of Holocracy, I see it as running on consensus a priori to enable consent… which IMO is back to front. A noble attempt and suitable perhaps for companies that do have to answer to legal fictions.

As Paul mentions, Sociocracy is another alternative. One that doesn’t try to blockchain the graph with a consensus constitution and is IMO more bottom up and community oriented - I think you’ll like it as they are very similar :slight_smile:


It reminds me the term which is “Complex Adaptive Systems” but its sound is not as compatible with Holochain as Holacracy.


I also like Sociocracy much more. It’s more ‘agent-centric’. It also references Nonviolent Communication, which I love.

Note there are a few different Sociocracy ‘schools’. I am talking about Ted J Rau’s ‘Many Voices, One Song’ book.


Thanks for the heads up on S3. I just went to their website and as I was learning, I asked myself “is there an opportunity for these guys to show don’t tell?” Shouldn’t they use their organization method on their intent to proliferate their tech? Just by reading about their ideas I should start my journey in the S3 Sociocracy, right? How close are you to that organization?

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Brian Robertson explicitly presents Holacracy as an alternative to the tyranny of top-down decision making and the tyranny of requiring universal consent. Perhaps I don’t fully understand the manner in which you’re using the word “consensus” @Joshfairhead, but certainly in terms of how Holacracy uses the term “consensus” it is very much seeking an alternative to it.

Also, since Holacracy is an management system that isn’t, in and of itself, a part of any blockchain or blockchain alternative tech projects I’m confused by your use of terms like “One that doesn’t try to blockchain the graph with a consensus constitution” - implying that Holochain does “try to blockchain the graph with a consensus constitution.”

Hey Adam, Holocracy uses consensus a priori (a normative constitution) to enable consent - so in my opinion it gets the sequence backwards which will have negative emergent effects. Its a green org structure with a ‘family head’ called the CEO that signs the constitution but can always call a halt to the ‘experiment’ which can be better than most companies if they are a benevolent dictator but I prefer the notion of organisations as organisms that are interdependent.

Re the confusion of my terminology of blockchain and graphs, just forget that analogy if it bothers you. I wasn’t implying that holochain was doing such, if were using the same terminology I’d say they are graphing (or DHT’ing) the blockchain - which is a different configuration.

What I am saying however is that sequence is very important. Consent enables consensus but not the other way around. Many dualisims are like that but they are probably better integrated into non-dualities… though perhaps another discussion. RE what Bryan says about tyranny of the top down, its still top down just perhaps sans the tyranny… I’d consider such statements espoused beliefs that are not congruent with action. Many entities (especially businesses or ICO’s) are like that, and so are most people (self-included) and communities IMO

From that angle integrity is kinda like calculus… we can only get closer to infinity (consistency) and we can tell its direction. Most entities will be incongruent and paradoxical… but to what degree? the smaller the better IMO - Holocracy (benevolent non-dictator) is a step backwards from Sociocracy (consent based communities) but like all things it depends on the inter-relation of individual :slight_smile:

“in my opinion it gets the sequence backwards which will have negative emergent effects.”

Gets what sequence backwards and with what effects? What would the alternative look like?

The a priori fundamentals; as mentioned it puts consensus ahead of consent. Rather than consent ahead of consensus.

The negative effects would thus be command and control rather than relationally, or at least the shadows of such looming like the sword of Damocles.

Perhaps Sociocracy/S3? Perhaps a Viable system of some kind, a fluid network of trust rather than control (I’ve outlined how consensus is normative), or even something we’re yet to think up! Regenerative culture based on stories we appreciate? Stories are Schelling points after all and practically everything is one! Maybe question driven orgs? Living systems? I don’t know, I’m too agnostic to be an arbiter of truth but to make it clear I reject the idea of a normative constitution :slight_smile:

I just don’t know what you mean by that, or understand what justification you have for making that claim.

So basically you’re saying that Holacracy is a command and control structure. I don’t agree and I really don’t understand what basis you have for making such a claim. I’ve read Brian Robertson’s book about Holacracy. It’s not a command and control structure. It’s a distributed sovereignty structure. Everyone has autonomy within their domain of authority.

I don’t have any practical experience of using Holacracy but I find Brian Robertson’s arguments and ideas persuasive. Holacracy is radically different from a traditional top-down management model. I don’t know anything about Sociocracy except that people say that it is very similar to Holacracy.

I don’t know what you mean by “I reject the idea of normative constitution”. At the end of the day we do need ways of organising and we do need to be able to divide responsibilities. Personally I think that any way of organising that seeks to maximise individual sovereignty whilst also enabling coordinated group action is going to end up looking a lot like Holacracy, and the ideas provided by Holacracy offer a pretty good guide to how to achieve that.

I’m sure that there are valid criticism of the manner in which some people have tried to implement Holacracy. Brian Haney is writing a book called Hacking Holacracy in which he advocates a more flexible use of Holacracy as a methodology:

“Holacracy, in spite of some claims, does not have to be implemented as an intact, monolithic framework. You can break it down into key components, then implement those components in a particular sequence.” See: https://www.briankhaney.com/my-story/

If you refer to ‘a priori’ it means first principal, cornerstone or central pillar.

Re the ordering of things its tricky, most people don’t get it without significant discourse which I’m not sure will even translate in a forum.

I’ve done it several times in several orgs. In one experience a facilitator (who was against adopting it) asked for consent to enforce it strongly as per the instructions; upon closing round one of the most grounded women in the group said it felt like emotional repression… except phrased MUCH more strongly. It seems like a good idea until you try it, then you realise its actually pretty horrible and inhuman.

A group consensus to adopt a constitution that “this is how we will do things” from now on without all parties giving their express consent. I.e Holocracy by imposition from a CEO etc.

Heres a story about it working not so well: https://blog.medium.com/management-and-organization-at-medium-2228cc9d93e9

Please look into consensus vs consent modes of operation. It’s super important; I just don’t think I can make it any clearer without you actually trying it empirically.

Who does the implementation?

So basically you’ve had some very bad and very weird experiences of Holacracy - why on Earth did “a facilitator (who was against adopting it) asked for consent to enforce it strongly as per the instructions”?

Thank you for pointing me towards that.

Yes, I’m sure that you are right to highlight that at a key issue. There needs to be buy in and I think that Holacracy cannot work well if it is imposed.

I feel as though I understand you much better now - thank you for your patience! :slight_smile:

Because the group of people that were experimenting with working models thought Holocracy was a good idea to try and were gradually slipping back into consensus patterns. But yeah, all my experiences with Holocracy in several orgs have been awful. Domination patterns rolled in glitter.

Try it, see if you like it.

Your most welcome, and I’m glad your starting to understand the difference between consensus and consent as a byproduct of that statement. Don’t get me wrong there are some nice parts of Holocracy, they were just forked out of Sociocracy which does away with the constitution and relies on people holding good intentions rather than regulating them! :slight_smile:

Hi Josh, we met at Lisbon Hackherthon. Were the orgs (that you witnessed/participated in holochain implementation) commercially-focused? Or were they more ‘intentional community / living / co-creating some experience’ -focused?

Having myself managed marketing teams up to 18 people, and recently began adopting holacracy in a commercial venture, so far it seems to fit well with a commercially-focused team. That is, a business startup or operating business.

You said “The group … were gradually slipping back into consensus patterns”

This may be because they needed more practice at owning/defining the responsibilities of their respective roles within the circles. How long did they attempt to use Holacracy for?

I’m curious about this. Re-phrased as:

‘Consensus does not enable consent.’

Isn’t that the same thing as saying ‘2 people who agree on what to do, does not facilitate either of them to do it’?

Without getting too nitpicky in the semantics, this doesn’t seem correct. If I agree with a friend on which of us will cook and which of us will clean up, it has created consent of responsibility/control/management/ownership of those activities. No?


Both but the larger part of my experience was community focused (none were Holochain focused, blockchain world). I can see Holocarcy working for businesses much better than community.

I can see this working when there is a benevolent dictator style character around, that is understood to be the person ‘holding the space’ and capable of terminating the experiment if people don’t retain a certain amount of discipline.

Yep, I’d agree although defined roles is not something I’m particularly into. Discipline yes - roles no. This is because all categories break and roles can create a jobs worth type attitude of “its not my role”. I’m more about looser descriptions. Theres a story of an ex Raindrover employee that moved to one of the Japanese manufacturers (Toyota?), upon getting the job he asked his employer what he should do, suggesting that perhaps he should start by writing up his own job description (technically a definition) to which they responded “but what if thats all you do?” - I think theres a lot to be learned from that statement!

I’m afraid the rephrasing doesn’t apply, you’d think so but I would not phrase it that way. I agree on your later summary though, that works logically because consent came first, consensus second. For the record I’m not saying consensus is a bad thing, I’m just saying it should play second fiddle to consent. (AKA eventual consistency if we want to take it into technological realms).

Thanks for your clarifying questions, I appreciate them - semantics are super tricky and I doubt I’ve done a good job explaining my (loosely held) perspectives :slight_smile: