Last year I wrote about Holacracy and their new operating system for organisations (see Holacracy – Who they are, what do they do, and why they are interesting). In our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter Maria and I discuss the ways in which hierarchies affect our thinking about organisations, and that we need to move from a top-down command-and-control mindset to a way of thinking that understands systems as dynamic and authentic wholes.
We do of course also look at Arthur Koestler’s notion of the holon, and how this notion of ‘holos’ is now starting to enter the business and organisational domain, citing HolacracyOne (the organisation behind the concept of Holacracy) as a prime example.
Yesterday Maria spoke at the Harvard Business Review summit on leadership in São Paulo, and was joined on stage with Sergio Chaia, who we interviewed in Holonomics as he is a CEO and President who is integrating his Buddhist practices into the multinational companies he has been the leader of (currently Symantec in Latin America). These practices are designed to honour the whole organisation, through the respect and honouring of each and every person. Employee engagement is a critical theme for business leaders today in the new complex realities they are facing – how do you get your employees involved in your organisation in order to optimise their performance?
There were many interesting talks at this event, the focus of which was mindfulness, and I will write about it in more detail in my next article, including a look at the talk given by Gustavo Caetano, founder of Sambatec, and how Brazil’s very hierarchical culture may impact on the effectiveness in the implementation of Holacracy here.
One very key observation though is that enabling self-direction in a transparent system seems to have positive effects. Ruben Timmerman adopted Holacracy at his company Springest in 2012 and claims this new agile organisational method is the best way to get people engaged. So I am very pleased to be able to introduce his guest article in which he asks “Is your organisation ready to abandon traditional hierarchy too?”
How Holacracy is Putting All Employees in the Driving Seat
In Holacracy the organisation puts emphasis on iterative governance, adaptive processes, and self-organisation. The term comes from ‘holarchy’, a system composed of ‘holons’ or units that are autonomous and self-reliant, but also dependent on the greater whole of which they are a part of. Holacracy as an organisational method assumes that all employees are capable of working in flat teams, called ‘circles’, that are self-regulating. Authority and decision-making are distributed throughout these circles and are no longer placed in a pedestal.
Lose hierarchy, increase motivation
Getting rid of traditional top-down management might seem like a scary thing for many corporate leaders and managers. But doing so may have more of a positive impact than you would expect. With Holacracy an organisation does not wind up in a state of total anarchy. The organisational method comes with a set of clearly defined rules and all employees do have to adhere to those rules.
The system does, however, prevent the situation in which people are ‘bossed around’ and told what to do or how to do it. And being bossed around to do things you do not agree upon is a big motivation killer. Especially if your objections to certain activities or tasks are not being heard or taken into account.
Raising the levels of autonomy
One of the premises in Holacracy is that people are autonomous creatures, who can work together in teams. Springest found that high levels of autonomy are beneficial for both individual efficiency and motivation, as long as all accountabilities and priorities are clearly defined and communicated.
In Holacracy, all employees are accountable for and are ‘managers’ of their own roles. Roles are the building blocks of the structure and the accountabilities that come with theses roles serve the purpose of the organisation. They are created in the circles and the people who energise the roles are fully accountable for their own results. Everyone can see who is responsible for what and the circle regulates itself as they report their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and project updates to each other.
Everyone wants to be influential
Holacracy gives a lot of power to all employees. Not only over their own roles, but also to contribute to the improvement of the entire organisation. It ensures the possibility to influence the organisation by involving everyone in its governance processes.
At this moment we have 33 employees and everyone gets plenty of room to express their thoughts and ideas during structured meetings. Although no one can tell anyone else what they have to do or how to do it, if anyone feels there is a certain tension, they can bring it up. The system provides the space and time for all tensions to be heard and processed.
Change is envisioned as a positive thing and as long as the suggested change does not cause the organisation any harm, it is safe enough to try. If it fails, it will return to the governance later on as a new tension anyway. Everyone has a voice in the organisation and they can use it as they please.
When tensions are envisioned as fuel for the organisation, and not as a cause of anxiety or frustration, people will start to see their tensions as a chance for improvement. Being open is an important prerequisite for successful Holacracy adoption. Nothing is to be swept under the table. Everything can be discussed amongst the team within structured meetings. This seems to have a motivating effect on our workforce.
Another way we enable transparency is by using an accessible tool to keep track of every project and task that is done within the team. This way, everyone can ‘get things done’, and no work will go unnoticed. People can comment on updates and nice accomplishments on our internal communications platform and express their engagement by liking each other’s efforts. The transparency is necessary to keep everyone well informed of all current activities and projects within the organisation and it’s beneficial for individual motivation.
Noticed workers, happy workers
Implementing Holacracy may not be the easiest way to work on employees’ motivation, but it may be a very effective one. There are many pro’s and con’s of the method, but the one thing all organisations can learn, is that leading-by-letting-go does in fact work and motivated employees do obtain better results.
People ‘in the trenches’ often know the best way to do the job, so trust them, or hire new people that you can trust. Clear communication about progress and set-backs is not only a way of keeping all activities aligned with the corporate strategy, but is also a great way of getting everyones work noticed and valued. And, as logical as this may seem, people tend to like to work with a clear purpose and get noticed in their organisation.
About Ruben Timmerman
Ruben Timmerman is an enthusiastic internet entrepreneur and the founder of Springest, a comparison website for training programmes and courses. Springest has the mission to help people find their way in personal and professional development. It has grown into a company with over 30 employees within a few years.
Ruben has a background in marketing and is a specialist in the field of user experience, online marketing and learning. He has a lot of experience and knowledge in the field of startup management and was the first in The Netherlands to implement the Holacracy model in his business. Ruben implemented this structure in 2012 to be able to grow without the potential barriers of bureaucracy.