Re: Can We Live Without Hierarchy?
From: Elizabeth Magill (
Date: Thu, 6 Aug 2015 18:33:10 -0700 (PDT)
It is fascinating your analysis of why your community is unwilling to
delegate to the teams. We also have that challenge, and the loss to
the community is great. Not just in back up of decisions, but in
frustrations by people who want to make things happen but aren't given
the authority.

we also don't know precisely who is on our teams, but I hadn't used
that to explain why we don't let our teams decide. I'll have to think
about that.

As a leader of a religious community, from a denomination that isn't
supposed to have leaders, I will say that it isn't that simple to keep
from having people in charge.

My experience in cohousing is the same--people see some people as the
leader and see others as not the leader. When those seen as leaders
speak, others follow. Is that heirarchy or not? Is that good or not?

I appreciate the statement earlier that leadership is important. That
might be seen as hierarchy, or not.

Berlin, MA

On Wed, Aug 5, 2015 at 1:31 PM, R Philip Dowds <rpdowds [at]> wrote:
> 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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(The Rev.) Elizabeth M. Magill
Worcester Fellowship

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