Imagine that you are the owner and CEO of a company and you are considering to use Holacracy as an operating system. That basically means, you give up the power to tell your employees what they should be doing and how they should be doing it. However much you may be excited about moving to such a self-organising structure, deep down you also feel fearful (or maybe not so deep down!):
What if my employees take different actions and directions than I would like them to take? What if they forget things? How can I make sure they’ll be taking the right decisions?
Trust and transparency
It takes a certain amount of basic trust in your employees, and people in general, to decide to use Holacracy. Besides that, it actually provides the proper framework for former decision-makers to be able to relax about controlling the work that needs to be done in the company.
In project work, we often speak of “Roles”. But rarely it is made explicit, what it means exactly to take on a “Role”. What are the expectations one can have towards you? What expectations can you have towards others?
Holacracy is a framework for collaborative work. It provides explicit and clear rules for how to work together.
In Holacracy, taking on a role means taking the responsibility:
- to sense tensions for that role and process them.
A tension is a gap between what is, and what could be better.
- to break down the role’s accountabilities into projects and next-actions, and to document these projects and next-actions.
(The role’s accountabilities are decided on in a governance process. You can see examples of role descriptions on our company’s public governance records. (click any small circle.))
- to continuously decide which projects and actions to work on
(More detail in the Holacracy Constitution, Section 1: http://holacracy.org/constitution#art1)
Filling a role grants the authority to take any action to express the Role’s Purpose or Accountabilities, as long as it doesn’t impact the Domain of another Role without permission. (Constitution 1.4) (More on “Domains” at another time.)
What are the essential steps to seting up and maintaining coherent, purposeful collaborative work? How do you build an organisation?
Giving a talk to participants of Berlin’s Climate-KIC accelerator program last week helped me clarify my thinking on this. I will attempt to sketch out a systematic way to to get from “a bunch of people wanting to do things together” to a working and evolving organisation. There are many ways to do this – this is one, that, in our experience, has often worked well. It is informed by the work we did with Nenásilná komunikace group and our practise of Holacracy.
This will most likely be incomplete or unclear in places – please do leave questions and comments below so that it can improve!
1) Clarify Purpose
Goal: Arrive at a shared expression of purpose.
Method: Story Circle Conversation with Convergence.
Get all founders together and host a circle conversation on purpose.
An interesting quote jumped out at me from Brian Robertson’s article on the History of Holacracy®:
“build the healthiest possible system where people thrive.”
Reimo Sandau, who I met in the afternoon, emphasized the word choice to me: “thrive”.
We have been struggling to clearly capture our company purpose in words for quite some time. “Structure & Process” is WHAT we build, WHAT we deliver. But WHY do we do it? What is the _purpose_ of building structures & processes? What are we really working for or towards? WHY is this work important?
Yesterday, we captured this formally in our company purpose for the first time: “Effective collaboration through clear structure and process” became: “People thriving in collaboration, through clear structure & process”.
It is longer and maybe not as smooth, but it is a start to put at the centre of our purpose the core of what this really is about: People. “Thriving.” Living, learning and growing as they work together. Being fully alive.
intransitive verb \ˈthrīv\
: to grow or develop successfully : to flourish or succeed
This may evolve into “people and organisations thriving” if we consider organisations to have a life of their own, but this will be up to a future governance meeting to decide. :)
Joyful work. Meaningful conversations. Clarity of purpose.
If you’d like to join us, there is plenty of work to be done! We are grateful for new collaborators and for opportunities to apply our skills – helping people thrive in collaboration. Let us know if you see any potential in your environment!
Have a great summer.
Through a partnership with iGi Partners, one of the most experienced Licensed Holacracy Providers, we can now offer you company-internal Holacracy Discovery Sessions, delivered by Holacracy Master Coach Bernard Marie Chiquet.
In these events, your own organisation is set up as if it was running on Holacracy. You can experience Holacracy’s Tactical and Governance Meetings and get an intensive impression of what it is like to work under this business operating system. This allows you to decide wether to continue with testing or implementing Holacracy or try other routes.
Please contact us if you are interested in experiencing this in your organisation!
Holacracy is a method for people to work together.
It provides a shared language and defined work processes – especially processes for running meetings – that help create clarity on what-is-actually-happening and who-does-what and allows for easy adaptation of an organisation’s structure.
Let’s look into the details:
- “Shared Language” means terminology that helps mutual understanding. In Holacracy, “Tactical Meeting” “Governance Meeting” “Project” “Objection” “Accountability” “Domain” and other terms are well-defined. Collaborators know what it means when somebody speaks of a “tension” (a felt dissonance between what is (current reality) and what could be (purpose)).Compare this with conventional uses of “problem”, “issue”, “meeting”, “challenge”, “project”, “accountability” and so on: What do these words mean in your context? Is this understanding shared between everybody?
- “Rules” give a fundamental structure for how to work together: who has what permissions? In Holacracy, the rules for working together are codified in the Holacracy Constitution.What are the rules in your working context? Are they clear? Are they explicit? Do they change? How?
- “Roles” allow for the differentiation of personal interests and egos from purpose-driven functions. Within a role, I might have a strong conflict with a coworker who is filling another role. The framework of role-based work allows processing this conflict into constructive action.
- Holacracy offers a defined Process for Change. Any tension that anyone senses from any role can be processed into a meaningful change. Improvements do not stay stuck in politics, fear or inertia.
Our latest governance meeting minutes are online. Changes include new supporting roles (Proofreader, Sales Intelligence, Czech Translator) and a separation of the previous “Idea Sharing” role into Publications and Events.
To understand better what roles mean and how they evolve, see our blogpost Clarifying roles and accountabilities in Holacracy. And if you are inspired by any of what you see, please consider joining us!
In our company, we use Holacracy as our Operating Model: it allows us to develop great clarity on what we actually do (what our work processes are) and who does what (who is responsible for taking a particular action).
The functions and accountabilities are captured in Roles, and are being refined in Governance Meetings. You can study all of our company’s roles in our public governance records and there is a history of Governance and Tactical Meeting minutes available too.
(Note: since publishing this article, we have restructured the company, making most links in the following paragraphs not functional anymore.)
If you look at this morning’s governance meeting, you can see the subtleties of governance in Holacracy. For example
- we noticed that nobody was actually responsible for maintaining lists of participants of our events. We captured this as a new accountability for our Events Outreach Role. Having responsibilities in Sales and Marketing and Idea Sharing, I can relax now, knowing that this is being taken care of by Tanja in her Events Outreach role.