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

Cold Feet? Or due diligence?

I am helping a charity move toward adopting Holacracy, and the CEO just sent me this message:

‘Given the fundamental shift Holacracy will engender for the organization, I’ve been wondering about this problem: “If the person working to a job description is not competent they do not become more competent just by shifting them to a role.” In fact, it seems to me that competency is even more important in this shift to roles because, as the lead link, I will no longer manage that person. We have many people in part time roles, with varying degrees of competence and very little formal accountability let alone line management (no performance reviewing, and some only responsible to another volunteer on a steering committee). Just how well are we positioned to be handing off authority. Do you see a way in which Holacracy addresses this?’

Now I know that Stendahl says that, in order to have a forest, you have to plant all the trees at once, at that this is a good way of thinking about implementing Holacracy. However, changing to Holacracy right across this particular organisation (which operates in more than half a dozen countries, using a lot of part-timers and volunteers) reminds me of another growth metaphor - Rome wasn't built in a day!

So part of the answer is to make a start with an Anchor Circle for the core (paid) staff, and use the processes to evolve the organisation, so that it can reliably extend out into its various constituent elements over 6 months to a year. Another aspect is that a person's competence or not may turn out to be different under the freedoms experienced under Holacracy. Less seriously, I could ask the CEO how managing people the old way is working. We both know it isn't!

Anyway, I would be really grateful for advice on how to develop and deepen my response to the CEO, who is otherwise very committed. I see his question as due diligence, and I want my response to be as good as it can.

I look forward to hearing your views.




2 Replies
Brian Robertson

Holacracy makes that reality easier to manage, not less, compared with management hierarchy.  Here's a simple thought experiment to illustrate:  If it really makes sense, you could create one role, named "Manager", and another role, named "Subordinate"; give the Manager role an accountability for "Directing the work of the Subordinate", and give the Subordinate an accountability for "Doing whatever the Manager says"; you've then recreated a very similar structure as a management hierarchy, all within Holacracy's ruleset - and that's completely valid to do.  Holacracy doesn't prevent you from doing things like that when they make sense to do; it's just that they rarely make sense to do, and what Holacracy does is force you to clarify the structure and evolve it to make more sense over time.  If it really does make sense to have something closer to that in part of the company, fine - have something closer to that.  Or if it really makes sense to have a "Mentor" role or something to focus on helping people develop competencies, fine, have that.  Or perhaps what makes sense is an "Expert" role combined with a policy that says no one may make certain major decisions without sign-off from Expert, but are otherwise free to lead their roles as they see fit.  Again, the point here isn't that any of these specific solutions are necessarily a good idea in your case, but just that any of them are possible, or just about anything else you can dream up (or evolve into).  Holacracy is just a framework to clarify how work should work and evolve it over time; you can define nearly any power structure within that framework that makes sense for the business.

Ian Forbes

Illuminating and a bit of a relief, thanks, Brian. This is great. I can now see how to reassure him (which is a big part of it), as well as show him how the tools can work for him, so he can see and then experience how he and the organisation can move beyond existing challenges.