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

Do you keep roles acting inside of their circles? If they act outside of their circles, how do you think about their cross circle collaborations?

We have a number of circles and we are finding some challenge in how to think about the interactions of roles across the circles.  For example, we have a role in the general company circle called "opportunity explorer" that looks at new product lines, rfps, or service offerings that we should consider.  If they find a product that meets our criteria to develop, they need to have a meeting with a rep from our development circle (a sub-circle nested within another gcc sub-circle) as well as  with our finance folks in the ops circle (which is also a subcircle of the GCC but parallel to the circle that the Development circle is nested within) to see if the work is viable.  How do your teams think about those interactions?  Do they happen inside of tactical meetings or outside of them?  Do people codify their cross circle interactions with policies and domains.  I kind of expect the answer is "it depends".  If so, does anybody have some tips for how to think about interactions between roles across circles.  I appreciate your brainpower!

4 Replies
Fritz von Allmen

This was one thing that worried me when we started with Holacracy. Interaction between the circles and how people work together across circle-boundaries - since I think Holacracy behaves "hostile" for matrix-organizations. What we observed:

1) we had lots of cross-link-roles. After short times, those roles died quickly wherever the collaborating was not regular and intense.

2) people started to act outside of circles and meetings and just work together in the background - which worked well. Collaboration is strong in our companies DNA, organization model doesn't affect that this much

Cross-link-roles don't work well for us. People tend to create new roles inside the circle or they form new circles. And most of between-circle-interaction happens in the background.


Sam Burnett

Thansk Fritz,

I agree that I don't think that cross-links are the solution.  I don't see an issue with the cross circle interactions but just wondered how people think about them.  It sounds like your organization and mine view things similarly. 


Does anybody else have differnet approaches?

Gerald Mitterer

Hi Sam,

I typically try to avoid cross-linking in early implementations. I have often seen tendencies to link each circle with every other in order to overcome the pain the org experienced in their former structure: lack of information flow, bad sync on interfaces, power games who ultimately rules...etc.

A few thoughts on how I experience it/coach in practice: 

1) High need for cross-linking might be a good marker for a structure that is not the most requisite regarding the orgs current needs. Rather than "circling" former teams/departments ask which work needs to live close in order to have the most cohesive bundle or work in a circle. So use the "tension" of need of cross-linking to reflect on your setup. 

2) Instead of cross linking you might ask which additional perspective the circle needs to better express its purpose? E.g instead of cross-linking you could create a simple role in your circle that brings in a specific lens (filled by people holding relevant information due to other role-filling in other circles). This is sometimes enough and replaces the initial need for cross-linking. 

3) The most important thing to me in practice - having seen struggles with cross-circle navigation: I frame Gov as a way to continuously create/establish clarity of where acc and authority reside. Once roles are clear (continuously beta) you can "disregard" the structure and use role clarity for highly-efficient role-to-role interaction. No matter which circle they are in. In "mature" practice the aspect of "harming" circle boundaries by walking up to roles directly becomes less relevant IMHO.  

May that triggers some thoughts.

- Gerald

Sam Burnett

HI Gerald,

Thanks for your thoughtful response.  I appreciate the nuance of it. For your points 1 and 2-this sounds like how we are thinking about things at the moment (even if we haven't articulated it as well as you) .  For #3.  I think that we were feeling this way but hadn't clearly figured out how to articulate it and also if others might have a different perspective on how that relationship adheres to the rules of the game.  I think we are interpreting things the same way you are (again without having articulated it as clearly).  

It fascinating to me how much of this practice is having a general understanding the rules and then getting ongoing affirmation of your team's interpretations of the more subtle/nuanced/complex ways that roles  and circle interact.  

I appreciate the community for this function. Thank you!