Re: Can We Live Without Hierarchy?
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Wed, 5 Aug 2015 10:31:24 -0700 (PDT)
Trying to get the terminologies clear in my own mind …
   —   Consensus is a process for making good decisions.
   —   Sociocracy is an organizational structure that relies on consent (a 
variant of consensus).
   —   The N Street method is a variant of consent / consensus that has a 
super-majority vote escape hatch, just in case.  And …
   —   Holocracy?  I don’t know much about that, and haven’t been tracking it.

So:  Is Sociocracy a hierarchical structure?  Given the double links, the 
feedback loops, the elections, the consent methodology, and so on, one could 
certainly argue that sociocracy follows a network model, and offers the kinds 
of benefits attributed to network structures.  On the other hand, sociocratic 
organizations may also have hierarchical features, such as aim(s) of “lower” 
groups being set and clarified by “higher” groups.  In the end, maybe 
sociocracy is a hybrid of hierarchies and networks.  Come to think of it, most 
systems are hybrids:  For instance, no nation in the world practices either 
pure capitalism or pure socialism; all national economies are a mix of the two. 
 (Some mixes, of course, are “better” than others.)

“… disadvantages of … delegated or distributed authority”?  Well, at its 
extreme, delegation / distribution puts all power and discretionary authority 
in the individual.  Political scientists call this anarchy.  Very few of us 
have actually experienced anarchy, and it’s probably a good thing.  My own 
community — Cornerstone Cohousing — has an interesting, and perhaps unique, 
delegation challenge.  We do have chartered committees, but these committees 
have no members.  Or rather, their membership consists of whomever happens to 
be in the room while the meeting is occurring.  Anyone in the room has the same 
speaking and decision-making privileges as anyone else in the room.  But there 
is no communal expectation that a member must commit to committee service, or 
consistently contribute time or talent to the on-going accomplishment of the 
committee’s charter.

Because of this — because committees have no members, or because the community 
has no say in who these members are — our community remains very wary of 
delegating or distributing authority to committees.  Instead, the system we 
trust most is the plenary or full circle or “General Meeting”, which is 
scheduled once each month.  At these GMs roughly half of our 45± members 
attend.  So many (probably too many) of our community decisions get made at GM. 
 Which takes a long time.  Which leaves us with a pretty big back backlog of 
decisions we can never get to.  Such are the disadvantages of *not* delegating. 
 One can also argue, however, that we are non-hierarchical, since our structure 
has basically one level to it: plenary.

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

mobile: 617.460.4549
email:   rpdowds [at]

> On Aug 4, 2015, at 1:58 PM, Pare Gerou <paregerou [at]> wrote:
> Daniel,
> The article you offered is very interesting.  I am reading "Holacracy: The
> Revolutionary Management System That Abolishes Hierarchy" by Brian
> Robertson in an effort to better understand what leaders like Sharon
> Villines, Diane Leafe Christian, Jerry Koch Gonzales and others are
> advancing in cohousing governance. I am comparing Holacracy and Sociocracy
> to the thoughtful and arguably improved N Street Consensus "2.0 model" as
> well as to the traditional consensus-with- unanimity model.  It is easy to
> read and understand the advantages Holacracy and Sociocracy- your article
> talks about distributed authority as enabling the "larger complexity of the
> collective behavior" and Holacracy claims a similar advantage that allows
> rapid processing of "tensions" to enable better educated responsiveness or
> innovation.  So, the advantages seem plentiful.  We have some great minds
> in cohousing, and I would love to hear what some of them have to say about
> the disadvantages of Holacracy or delegated or distributed authority
> governance for cohousing.  Any of you have the interest in mentioning the
> disadvantages or problems using this model?
> -Pare Gerou
> Pare Gerou
> 1725 Belvedere Place
> Charlottesville, VA 22901
> 434.962.7801

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