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

Definition of Policy

Folks - 

Hopefully it's in the mix for next constitution update - but I am continuing to experience tension about the lack of definition for Policy - specifically that part which indicates it cannot require new accountabilities as clearly specified during the HolacracyOne practitioner and coach trainings.

Does anyone know of a location or document that contains previous definition?

Without something to point to, any NVGO objection has no teeth - or more specifically in my case, the tension/desire to un-do a handful of Policies that we wrote that require new accountabilities for all circle members.


12 Replies
Jean-Michel Gode

Hi Keith,

Have a look at this Glossary.

From my perspective, a policy is a kind of "rule of life" adopted within the circle like
• "Expenses refund: Expenses will be refund on the 2nd class fare"
• "Clients information update: Clients information has to be updated on the main server".

If you expect a role doing a specific action, then add an accountability to the concerned role(s); i.e.:
• Updating clients information

Hope that helps. Regards,

Paul Walker

Yo, Keith!

As Jean-Michel pointed out, Policies affect what authority you have (either by giving you more, putting restrictions on it, or taking it away). A Policy allows or limits action, while an Accountability expects action. Thus, if a Policy is requiring me to do something, it is NVGO.

So, if a Policy is put into place, it only affects something specific if I choose to take action. A way we normally explain it is that I should never break a Policy if I sit there and do nothing. If a Policy says, "All Circle Members must do X", that is putting an expectation on me and requiring that I do something, thus it would be an invalid Policy.

On the other hand, Policies can restrict what's allowed, so a Policy could say, "You cannot hold a Role in this Circle unless you do X", because that is technically just restricting my authority. I can normally choose to hold whatever Role I have been put into, but this is limiting that authority by putting some extra restrictions in place. I wouldn't personally recommend this route unless it's 100% necessary for all Roles to do this.

Simple solution - Ask the Secretary if they think the Policies worded as they are require action/set expectations. If so, it's NVGO. If it's absolutely necessary for everyone in the Circle to be doing that work, create a Role with everyone in the Circle filling it, add it as an Accountability on that Role. If necessary, you can also add a Policy that says, "In order to hold any Role(s) in this Circle, you must also hold the X Role", with X being the aforementioned Role.

Hopefully this helps!

Brian Robertson

Hey Keith - See the definition of Policy in §1.4 - it's not compatible with a demand that someone definitely go take an action, as that wouldn't meet the definition of a "grant of authority that allows others to control or cause a material impact within a Domain", nor of a "limit on how others may do so when otherwise authorized"...

Flavio Souza Ratzke
Paul Walker posted:

A way we normally explain it is that I should never break a Policy if I sit there and do nothing.


Keith Jarvis

All helpful, thanks - and not quite what I'm looking for. I do like the Glossary, I refer folks to it a lot, I just wish it said what it cannot be to remove the socialized conflation of the term policy to mean rules that *can* require action.  

If 1.4 is the sole constitution-provided definition of Policy I think it needs greater clarity and expansion re: what a Policy can and cannot do.

I love the coaching tips and the comparisons - and I get it and got it at Practitioner and then Coach training - I personally know what a Policy 'ought' to be.  

What I don't have is something written - in an official document like the constitution or addendum - and is something concrete that I can point to for justification to strike invalid governance or propose replacement of policies that exceed these informal definitions that says clearly that which all the coaching and comparisons say.

"Why do we have to replace all these policies (that require action not captured in work agreements, legacy policy or role accountabilities)?"

  - um, because that's not what a policy is supposed to be.

"Where does it say anywhere that a policy cannot ____ ?"

  - um, well - it doesn't exactly say that anywhere. It's inferred perhaps a little over here in the bit about Authority Over Domains - and if you'd attended either of the trainings you'd have seen a slide that says policies can't require action and heard lots of discussion that said they can't - but it's not explicit in the constitution. Oh - and of course if you were on the CoP you'd see all the smart people agreeing that it's invalid governance."

Examples of what I'm talking about?  Sure, look at how screwed up we are - why not? Somebody made a decision at some point to turn our Glassfrog account public so have a look - I have a nearly endless supply of shame available so why not? Many of the policies at our anchor circle concern me but have a look specifically at these four:

https://app.glassfrog.com/policies/642608  'will provide'
https://app.glassfrog.com/policies/7802 'wil contact', '[will] enter their absence'
https://app.glassfrog.com/policies/7608343 'shall each have' which is understood as 'will provide/is required to provide'
https://app.glassfrog.com/policies/6856 'will each communicate daily'

All of those items occurred post-adoption or I'd say they could be bundled as legacy policy.  Brian suggested @ coach training to work them into a work/employment agreement, have all concerned sign, then strike the governance.  That is the tentative plan - but in addition to anchor facilitator trying to audit governance I hope to also coach - and would like more WHY.

That's why I'm looking for more from the constitution on Policy.

and yes - maybe I'm intimidated by shadow power structure and trying to socialize a WHY prior to just being a Ferrari and acting on tension

and, I'm human.

Brian Robertson

Hey Keith - I'd say it is already explicit in the Constitution; a "Policy" is defined as a grant or limit of authority.  Are those things you linked to grants or limits of authority, or something else?  If something else, they are definitionally not a "Policy" as the Constitution defines it.  You don't need to rely on any instruction or anything else outside of the Constitution to take that stand.  You don't even need to say "Policies can't require action" - just that "a Policy is a grant or limit of authority; if this is not one of those two things, it's not valid as a Policy given the definition in the Constitution"...

And by the way, this one does look like a valid Policy to me (maybe not a good idea, but it is a grant of authority for one circle to cross link into another):  https://app.glassfrog.com/policies/7608343

Hope that helps!

- Brian

Fred Magovern

So would this be a valid GCC policy?

If you're the last team member to leave the office, you must turn off the TVs.

Or would it need to be phrased like...?

You cannot leave the office until the TVs are off if no other team member is in the office.

It's constraining your authority to normally leave the office as you please.

Brian Robertson

Even that rephrasing has questionable validity - I'd argue it's governing the person and not a role or the organization's property.  In other words, what gives the organization the right to tell someone they can't leave in the first place?


Fred Magovern

So how do we make sure the TVs get turned off by the last person leaving?  

Brian Robertson

You could have a policy that says no one may use the office unless they agree to turn off the lights if they're the last one leaving...  That's governing the organization's property (the office), not the people, and requiring a voluntary agreement from them if they choose to use the office space.

Keith Jarvis

Very interesting and thought-provoking stuff, thank you all.

The 'policies' in reference are intended as required actions of circle members of our anchor circle - not of all Partners in the part of the org using Holacracy (we're still hybrid and Holacracy still working its way through a predominantly volunteer organization).

With that understanding of Partner, the only possibilities that I've come up with are each pretty kludgy in different ways.

  1. New policy: If a Partner in MKP USA Support Services accepts a position as core circle member of the Lead Operating Circle, that Partner agrees to act in accordance with the LOC Guidelines as detailed here. [link to external doc combining the former policies re: daily messaging, absence calendar, initial response]
    1. This seems the easiest to enact but I don't know if it would in itself be NVGO - it has a 'conditional' but might not qualify as valid. AND, then after enacted I think we'd have to each re-accept our membership in the circle... and what if/when one Soul says no?  eek.
  2. New Role as LOC Member - seems simple but has yuck factor, Brian reacted like fingernails on the chalkboard at coach training. Role: LOC Member. Purpose: Reliable engagement and information about partner status and availability. Accountabilities: xxxx [reduxed versions of each of the 'required actions' buried in the NVGO policies.]  THEN: Lead Link assigns all current circle members to role LOC Member.
    1. Similarly 'easy' in some ways, but seems like an end-run to process somehow - and again couldn't a Soul accept a Role in the circle and be an official 'core circle member' but refuse to accept the LOC member role alongside? eek.
  3. Voluntary Group Agreement / Work Agreement / Employment Agreement / Volunteer Commitment. To somehow condense these required action into an opt-in agreement - can't easily say it'll become part of employment agreement, b/c LOC is mix of employee and volunteer. 
    1. This might work? I guess it might seem like a sort of retroactive legacy policy and I haven't figured out that time travel thing.  (when I do, I'll let you know yesterday). Being separate from Governance might make it slightly less 'governing the people instead of the property/asset' like in Brian's last comment?
  4. Completely scrap policies and requirements about these things. Find some other means to encourage/reward/bring about the intents - advance absence planning and recording, availability/status communication (daily) and rapid initial response.


At times, this whole 'fixing out crappy governance' thing seems a bit of a dog-and-pony show. With all the possible 'fixes' above, some Soul could refuse. And then we're back where we (and most humans) are at - with the difficulty / impossibility of changing the behavior of other humans.

I suppose that's really at the root of all of these controlling behaviors - that some Soul(s) might not do the thing(s) that are expected of them.  So a rule is made to point to and say 'look - there - you're supposed to _____ and didn't.'

Many of these arose due to poor personal/professional communication skills - or a lack of responsible planning regarding absence and travel - and the impact of this on rest of team or individuals within.

General comments about changing other humans (guffaw) appreciated - but specifically some votes from experts for 1, 2, 3 or 4 above or some other option not yet conceived.


Brian Robertson

Hey Keith - I'd go with option #1, or maybe a slight variation like "No role may assign a partner into roles within the Lead Operating Circle until that partner has agreed to...".  And you're right, that leaves open the question about what happens if current Core Circle Members don't want to agree.  But that's reality: if it happens, you'll need to decide what to do about that (e.g. remove them from roles?), and hiding that reality in an NVGO policy statement isn't actually going to make it more likely that people will follow through on the desired agreements...  So I'd go with a policy for new members, and then consciously ask the current members to agree to it, knowing that they could say "no", and that would then lead to a question about what to do with that no.  These are behavior changes you want, as you point out, and that's got to start with people consciously agreeing to them or the uphill battle is a lot steeper...