Recently a friend was considering introducing Holacracy in his company. He asked me what my thoughts were and while I was tempted to run screaming from the room in the same way you want to flee to a remote island when your mum buys a new PC, instead I blinked, swallowed, and we talked through my experiences and what I believe Holacracy can really bring to an organisation. Here is what I told him:
Which context have I tried it in?
A few years ago I played a key part in the introduction of Holacracy with Snapper, a 60-people transport ticketing provider in Wellington, New Zealand.
Snapper had been agile since 2010 and because of its benefits were looking for a way to be agile across the entire organisation, not just within the IT and customer focused teams. In 2016 things were going well but Snapper foresaw success and growth – and were well aware of the pitfalls involved in scaling up.
As an experiment it went really well and two and a half years later Snapper are still running Holacracy across the entire company.
Is Holacracy good or evil?
It’s neither. It is completely culture agnostic. It won’t change any culture, it will just amplify the existing one. If you have a collaborative culture, it will help you collaborate better. If you have silos and empires Holacracy can be used as a weapon to build bigger silos and empires. The good or evil depends on whose hands it’s in. I have turned down clients who I thought had the wrong culture.
"Holacracy is an implementation of Sociocracy: Sociocracy being the philosophy and Holacracy the how-to-do-it."
Focus on the principles!
Holacracy has a huge number of rules and it is very easy to become obsessed with the system itself. In my view Holacracy is an implementation of Sociocracy: Sociocracy being the philosophy and Holacracy the how-to-do-it.
For us it was important to do the first three months 'by the book’ and to stick to Holacracy’s weird language and many rules. We wanted to really understand why all the complexity existed before we made any tweaks or changes. It was tough and tedious to start with, but after sticking it out for three months we knew it was the right thing for us. We also realised that we now could follow the principles and not necessarily focus on all the rules.
It’s like Agile. You start with Scrum and all the steps in the process, but end up doing something that’s much looser and dropping some of the rules because you are now proficient and can follow the principles.
How formal should you be about the rules?
When we started Holacracy we sought to distribute decision making and improve people’s sense of autonomy while increasing their ability to do what they do best. Holacracy provided the framework to allow us to consciously begin that journey.
However, it can be somewhat rigid and inflexible at times and that doesn’t really align well with our culture. So we pick and choose the bits we believe will positively contribute to our goals. We see this as “being holocratic” opposed to “doing Holacracy”.
This is one of three blog posts on Holacracy. Next up “Things that were great” and “Things we struggled with”.
I’ll be giving a talk about my experiences with Holacracy at the Business Agility conference in New York in March 2019. I hope to see you all there!
Categories: Business Agility.