I have been following the guys at Holacracy for quite a while now and I’ve been meaning to jot down some thoughts in a blog for some time. In my lectures in complexity I talk a lot about complex systems in nature, for example the ways in which animals swarm, behave intelligently, solve intricate problems and can make life-and-death decisions accurately and repeatedly. I then look at various business case studies such as Kyocera’s Amoeba Management System and Gore Inc’s lattice management structure, noting how they too appear to be based on nature’s principles.
One of the major challenges though is moving from an out-of-date mechanistic top-down hierarchy to a more natural business structure. The results can often be even more complexity:
Today`s big companies do very little to enhance the productivity of their professionals. Verticallly oriented organizational structures, retrofitted with ad hoc and matrix overlays, nearly always make professionals work more complex and inefficient – relics of the industrial age.
Lowell Bryan and Claudia Joyce The 21st-Century Organization McKinsey Quarterly, Issue 3, 2005
Transforming an organisation at a very fundamental level is therefore no simple task. It is for this reason I have been studying Holacracy’s philosophy and solutions. Brian Robertson, the founder, notes that organisations have the following issues, as seen in this slide below.
Robertson asks the question that perhaps organisations are designed to achieve these results? Perhaps they are features or side effects of the system, as a result of how we organise? So we need to look at how power and organisation and communication works.
Holarcracy is a social technology allowing an organisation to upgrade its operating system. In Robertson’s words, it is an “upgrade which changes how power works and decisions get made.” One of the central developments Holacracy have created is their written constitution which documents the core rules, structure, and process of the Holacracy operating system. This has recently been re-published in plain English, and can be downloaded from the Holacracy website.
I recently took part in a Holacracy seminar, and it really was interesting. One thing becomes clear which is the whole Holacracy system is more than just a number of physical documents. I would recommend that you watch the introductory presentation above to get a much more detailed picture of what it is and how it could be implemented.
One of the key proponents of Holacracy is Evan Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, and who has also founded the Obvious Corporation which recently launched Medium (of which I have just started contributing to). The clear focus from Williams was to create a mindful organisation, and he saw Holacracy as a key foundation for his vision.
“Holacracy is the opposite of the cliché way to run a startup. People think “freedom, no job description, everybody does everything, it’s totally flat, and that’s cool because we’re all down with those rules”. But actually that creates tons of anxiety and inefficiency, and various modes of dysfunction, whether we have to build consensus around every decision, or I’m gonna do a land grab for power… People romanticize startup cultures, but I know it’s fairly rare that people in startups say “this is it, it is amazing and everybody is super-productive and going along”. So in Holacracy, one of the principles is to make the implicit explicit — tons of it is about creating clarity: who is in charge of what, who is taking what kind of decision — and there is also a system for defining that, so it’s very flexible at the same time.”
Much of the work I am doing here in Brazil is to help organisations overcome complex problems. Brazil has huge problems, of course it does, but then so do pretty much all countries right now. I think for a certain type of organisation with the right mindset and a deep seated desire to evolve, Holacracy offers a very credible potential solution, an upgrade to a more natural organisation, one which is authentically whole. I have not implemented Holacracy myself of course, so I can not speak from experience. But a number of organisations with visionary leaders are beginning to implement the constitution and structure, and for this reason it is certainly worthy of study and investigation.
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