Holacracy: changing the future of management

Yesterday we posted about the four-day-week startup: an organisation that is growing fast, yet there are no managers and all employees work only a four day week. (Technology manages the workflow, anybody can propose a new project.)

Feedback from some readers has pointed us towards holacracy, “a real-world-tested social technology for purposeful organization”, which “radically changes how an organization is structured, how decisions are made, and how power is distributed.”

Hmmmmm, sounds a little bit more challenging…

One writer and organisation consultant who attended the five-day Practitioner Certification Training certainly found it “a struggle… not an easy practice to learn.” But he gives a very good description of the approach, here, together with details of what he admires about it, and how to decide whether holacracy is for you.

Another manager takes a more pragmatic approach. He describes his key learnings of the first six months of holacracy as:

  • “Applying it is a fundamental paradigm shift.
  • “I would compare the complexity of holacracy deployment to reorgs, workshops, trainings and coaching of every employee of the company in the same period of time with very high intensity.
  • “It is painfully hard to do without help, but it is possible
  • “You need a sponsor. An owner, or a board member, and you got to be the champion.
  • “The speed of deployment depends on the speed how the skill of facilitation spreads.
  • “Elections are scary first, but it’s no big deal.
  • “Processing tensions by integral decision making – in my opinion – is worthy of a Nobel prize in itself. Reducing the number of tensions in the company periodically gives the company the acceleration of a TESLA sport car. Although…
  • “You have to realize that first things will come first. Tensions won’t let you make shortcuts or procrastinate on critical issues.
  • “It is not a good system for bad apples. Transparency is evolving fast.”

(It is not often you see a management technique as “worthy of a Nobel prize”…)

Screen shot 2014-04-14 at 09.37.22In other words, it seems that:

  • Holacracy is hard to do, (because) it involves a fundamental paradigm shift.
  • As with all paradigm shifts, parts appear scary at first but in reality “it’s no big deal.”
  • And the outcome is to periodically give the company “the acceleration of a Tesla sports car”, while the increased transparency means that this is “not a good system for bad apples.”

This sounds like a system, with advantages (more transparency, less waste, greater adaptability), and disadvantages (challenging to implement).

Back in the 1980s, the Japanese ‘total quality’ systems saw management as a form of waste or ‘muda’: anything that did not contribute directly to customer satisfaction should be eliminated wherever possible.

Thirty years later, and people are still coming up with new ways to achieve this. Some, like holacracy, involve a “total paradigm shift”. Others, like the four-day-week example, appear to involve a more flexible approach.

Which methods spread the fastest will be subject to the normal rules of marketing.

But whatever happens, it is clear that the way your company gets managed, and the way that you (if you are a manager) will earn your living, are both up for reform.

And the relevant question to be asking yourself is probably less, “What is appropriate for your business right now?”, and more “Where will your business need to be in two years’ time?”


The originator’s description of holacracy is here.

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