Holacracy Community of Practice Archive, 2015-2019 Community Holacracy Web Site

Case Examples service desk organizations

I have a case of a Holacracy Powered Organization where more than 30 partners are having more or less the same Customer Service Desk responsibilities. Before they were organized as teams of around 7 with one team coordinator, but now they have transformed this to circles. Now they are running into all kind of boundary issues with that. I am looking for examples or apps (e.g. Zappos?) of ways to organize that. My first hunch is to have all agents have the same role. But then how to deal with team dynamics? Examples of similar cases welcome. 

11 Replies
Koen Bunders

Hi Marco,

A team is not necessarily a circle. So I can imagine the Customer Service Desk role lives in one circle. You don't want all 30 partners in every meeting, but you do want the role to be represented. Help them craft a policy to do that, see 2.3.2 Exclusion for Multi-filled roles.

Regarding the Team coordinator role, make sure to unpack the work of that role into accountabilities.

Maybe the person filling the Team coordinator role is also the one representing the Customer Service Desk role. It doesn't matter, just help them define their solution in that policy mentioned above.

Cheers, Koen


Hi Koen,

Tks a lot for your reply. Especially the idea about unpacking the work of the coordinator role is very useful! 

Bruce Peters

What problem are you trying to solve? If it's to accomplish the work shouldn't the team design or create the solution? Process as a Tension? 


The reason for the current situation is that the service teams work well together as persons (the teams were originally put together on the basis of diversity of colour - Spiral Dynamic wise value systems). The problem is that circle structure for each team is a bit overkill, because they are replicating similar roles in each circle and that the roles are continuous requesting work from roles in another circle directly because going through the Lead Link is too slow in order to fulfill the kind of customer requests. So how to keep what works (diverse persons in a CS team with a coordinator and flexible handling of overflow) and supplementing that with clarity and roles in Holacracy. So I am thinking of multi filled roles with the idea of a policy that codifies the conditions for organizing the (people) teams? Call it a Customer Service Agents app. So any previous experiences or examples of policies welcome. 

Chris Cowan

[@mention:486850353354280140] Yeah, I think having each of these teams as a circle could cause some boundary issues, so instead you could:

A. Get rid of the duplicate circles and just have one circle.

B. Have two multi-filled roles; 1) Customer Service Desk, and 2) Coordinator, with some specific focus in each role defined like "Team 1," or "Blue Team." So, 7 CSD role-fillers with a focus of Blue Team and 1 Coordinator role with a focus of Blue Team.

C. Have a policy to decides who will actually attend those meetings as [@mention:449974511356313784] mentioned above. 

The other question that comes to my mind is, "Why a group of seven?" Like, I don't know, I could maybe guess something like that has seemed like a requisite number for the Coordinator to coordinate, or, I don't know. Now that people can have many roles instead of just one job, then I'd be curious about that number. Maybe nothing. 


[@mention:476716727608952329]  Tks for your questions. I am aware it sounds like I a want to design something. However we have monitored the situation now for a few months, and the Lead Links/coordinators do not feel a tension on the boundary issues, but I as a coach do feel it. The other tension is that the current circle structure does not stimulate role/soul differentiation, it's like teams of persons with another name.


@chris Thanks a lot for your input. This is the level of specificity that I was looking for. Now the next step for me is to process this tension.

As for the number 7 is concerned, not aware of any requisite requirement there. They are physically sitting together on desk islands, so maybe that is it. Would be interesting though to see if that number will change if the circle structure changes.  

Nico Trinkhaus

We're facing a similar issue, having 12 role fillers for one role. 

It's a trade-off. Having all partners as core members in the circle, slows down Gov and Tactical meetings a lot.

Excluding them and having them represented in the meeting by just one partner, makes the meetings more efficient, but results in fewer tensions being discovered/resolved by this role. 

With us, the system evolved so far into:

  • Role XY (each Partner is assigned to one of 2 groups/teams)
  • XY Facilitator with Purpose: XY are realizing and resolving their tensions
  • XY Representative with Purpose: XY stays up to date with changes in circle; XY's tensions are resolved

XY Facilitator is chosen by the LL of the circle, XY Rep is elected by the team. Both are at the same time also role fillers of Role XY.

Each team has a weekly or bi-weekly short meeting to "bring up all tensions".


However, that's all work in progress and due to fewer tensions being discovered/resolved, we're not entirely happy with it yet and are looking for the next step forward


Hi NIco, 

Thanks a lot for sharing your 'app'. Do you have any hypothesis why there are fewer tensions being disovered/resolved in this set up, and is this a problem?


Nico Trinkhaus

Hi Marco,

I think with us this just has a bit to do with "Holacracy Maturity". We're not fully there yet when it comes to individual tension resolving - and any step between like going through a rep is making it a bit easier to tell yourself "probably that tension is not that important..." and leave it unresolved.

I observe the same in when it comes to sub-/super-circle issues, so the "app" might work and we just need time to grow into it.

For us, it is a problem, as this role basically is the core of our business (Imagine that role being "Lawyer") and it's crucial that tensions are resolved.


Paul Walker

Yo, [@mention:486850353354280140]!

I work at Zappos, so I can provide you that insight you requested. Be forewarned that my suggestions are probably not the normal best practice when it comes purely to Holacracy.

In my experience, you'll see most of the same struggles regardless of how you structure. Zappos has hundreds of call center agents, but we've tried every structure you can imagine - dozens of individual teams, one gigantic team, layers and layers of Circles, two big Circles, etc. While the Governance structure certainly plays a factor, there are some far more important things at play that need to be the priority:

1) People need to feel safe bringing up Tensions. They aren't going to bring up anything if they think they could lose their job/position or will be shamed/humiliated if it's an unpopular idea. It's a huge problem to tackle, but it's the only way to actually get people to start bringing up impactful Tensions.

2) Reps need to have some degree of relationship with everyone they are supposed to be representing (whether it's the Rep Link or a rep into a Circle because they are excluded from meetings). Lots of "representative" systems fail because the reps aren't proactively reaching out to see how they can help, and the other team members don't know who the rep is or don't know them well enough to be comfortable reaching out and asking them to take on their problems for them.

3) There must be top-down support, guidance, leadership. With large Circles, it's inevitable that there will be a lot of duplication of work, people doing the same work in different ways, etc. This must be remedied by creating alignment that is constantly emphasized from the top-down. "Here is the Purpose of our Circle, and here are the specific things our Circle must do." As long as that message is clear, everyone will be doing the appropriate work regardless of structure. On the same note, if the head of a department is the one saying, "We want you to bring up Tensions. We want you to fail and make mistakes. We want you to make changes." AND their actions and decisions reflect that process, it will have a bigger impact than any structure change could have.

4) Make sure people have the authority/education/confidence/trust to solve their own problems. To combat duplication of work, make it clear whose responsible for what and give them authority, and they'll likely handle it themselves. If I am a coordinator, and 7 different people from 7 different Circles reach out to me for the same thing, that's a burden on me, so I'm going to take it on myself to pull all 7 of them together and figure out a better way to structure the work (which might result in all 7 Circles deleting that Role and simply going straight to me for their needs). Having any sort of expectation to go through a certain process (i.e., taking Tensions up the chain to then disperse it back down the chain) is going to be slow, cumbersome, and cause more problems then they'll solve. If I know I can, and should, go straight to someone, I'm going to do that.

Those are the few things that come to mind right away. If those aren't tackled first, you may find yourself restructuring over and over trying to find the "right" way to structure.

Hopefully that helps! If you ever have any other questions, feel free to PM me here or hit me up on LinkedIn.

Bernard Marie Chiquet

Love your comment [@mention:451241754031062437] I think a key insight here when it comes to design structure is to pay attention, take care of employee experience. Which should be common sense as Holacracy is really a tool available to employees, i.e. at their service and not the other way around. Structure design should be guided by human experience.