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

Experience in Holacracy

Our organisation is relatively new to Holacracy. Our GCC has been using the meeting formats since April 2018 and I signed the constitution in November.

I am curious about how the expertise and experience previously held by manager/team lead/director type roles can still be brought to bear on decision making.

If a newly empowered role comes to ask an ex-manager whom they previously turned to for their experience and expertise then the problem doesn't exist.

However in a meeting (particularly Tactical) where an ex manager/director/team lead might hear someone planning to go ahead with something which they know from experience is fruitless it's hard to see how that experience or expertise can be brought to bear on the subject.

If this is the case then we are wasting one of our most precious resources.

7 Replies

Staying in the meeting structure, the former manager might decide to put the same item on the agenda for himself.

Then just share information (not tell the role-filler not to do something) on the subject so the role-filler can make up his or her mind on if they still want to move ahead. They can still decide to move ahead as they have the distributed authority and seem to have the accountabilities in their role.

The person that acts as facilitator can help, by keeping the energy in the sharing of information in that exact position. If the information is clearly moving towards the former manager acting as a manager (i.e. telling the role filler that they are not supposed to do something) then ask the secretary to show the role of the initial role-filler. If there is nothing about not being able to do something unless... make clear that the role filler can do with the information whatever he or she wants to do. Towards the former manager you can even clarify that it seems like he is sensing a tension that he might want to take to governance. 

Jeff Kreh

The former manager can raise an objection. That objection will be tested for validity. It should be that every team member values input from others, even those with experience...

Ivan Matosyan

[@mention:577633875651499938] Good topic. 

As a former manager I realised that it is often an ilusion that my expertise and experience is valid for all the cases coming. It may be for some time, but not for all times. And that it is where Holacracy comes in, and help to adapt to always chaning enviroment.

It may be true in your case, that it make sense to get an opinion of a senior person with expertise and experience. If you care about it, then there are a lot of you can do, Holacracy is not limiting you, it gives you explicit pathways. And even though you do not control/manage a role filler, you can cast a lot of influence on him and change governance to address your tension and move company one step forward.

Tactical approach:
- share info on tactical meeting,
- request info about the project and its reasoning,
- ask what is relative priority of this project to other projects, why, 
- meet person and give more info,
- ask a lead link to prioritize for that role.

- propose a domain and a policy conected to that matter (policies can be complex and itroduce a system for decision making, e.g. for hiring and firing partners),
- propose to make accountabilities of a role to be more clear,
- propose disbanding a role to one or more new clearer roles.

Hope it helps and would like to hear back from you about approach you took and consequences.


Thanks for all of the good thoughtful and practical advice. Much appreciated

Chris Cowan

[@mention:577633875651499938] Great question. 

First, Pitch. Meaning, the ex-manager should use the word, "pitch," or otherwise make it clear that they have a strong opinion about this, while also being clear that they aren't mandating or requiring them to agree or do what the ex-manager suggests.

The other key thing on this is to explain why. The ex-manager shouldn't just assert their opinion, they should explain the data or experience they have that leads them to this opinion. 

Finally, consider whether or not the decision or action is easily-reversible (or, "Is it safe enough to try?"). Some decisions aren't worth spending too much time on. Even if they're wrong. That doesn't mean let them walk off a cliff, but more that the ex-manager (or anyone in a similar position) should keep this question in mind. 

So, for example, "Tom, I'd like to pitch you on doing something different here. It's your decision to make, so let me be clear about that, but I tried what you're suggesting with a customer, and they ended up feeling unheard and frustrated with us. We had to spend a lot of time repairing that relationship and we almost lost their business."   

One of the problems I see with new Lead Links is that they pull-back too much. Since they can't "manage" they assume that means they can't share strong opinions, which is probably a good intuition to have because it would be easy for everyone to fall back into old patterns, but it isn't strictly true. What Lead Links actually need to do is add some new phrases to their toolbox. Things like:

  • "I don't have the authority to make this decision for you, but here is what I suggest..." 
  • "I think that's a bad idea. Now, let me be clear, it's your decision to make, but here's why I would go in a different direction..." 
  • "Are you asking for my permission, or just my opinion because you think I have some experience in this area?" 

Again, those are just some examples, but I hope that gives you the gist. Even small little things like saying, "I think..." before sharing an opinion can make a difference. For example, notice the difference between, "That's a bad idea," and, "I think that's a bad idea." 

Second (if needed), Require. Now, there may be some occasions in which a) the decisions are not easily-reversible (i.e. not safe enough to try), AND b) there is a PATTERN of the role-filler failing to integrate that advice. In those cases, the role-filler could be coached by the Lead Link, removed from the role by the Lead Link, or some new governance could be proposed. Two top-of-head examples: 

  • Add an accountability to the role like, "Integrating objections from [X Role] to potential investments for improving development capacity, before committing to those investments." Or whatever the specifics are. The key here is that the ex-manager fills the X role, which provides some sort of advisor function, and that "objections" in this sense is used colloquially.  
  • Adding a policy like this one we have in HolacracyOne: "In any role, before you implement a decision that could have a substantial impact on the organization and where it will be substantially difficult or expensive to undo that impact, you must first share your intent to do so with any partners who you believe could have useful information to inform the decision, or who fill roles likely to be substantially impacted by it. You must then delay your decision for a reasonable timeframe to allow those partners to consider the potential decision and have time to try to address any tensions triggered by it. You must also respond to any clarifying questions they ask, and consider any reactions they share, before you implement the decision."

There may be other concrete ways to appropriately integrate some constraint on one's decision-making, but in general you shouldn't need these. 

I hope that helps!


Thanks Chris - super useful. I'm guessing this may affect various members of the team at some point but right now it's me as founder and ex-CEO! When I heard everyone talking about 'powershift' issues in our Amsterdam training I naively hoped I would manage to avoid most of them. Hah! 

Although I'm seeing lots of positive green shoots across the team as a result of our adoption of Holacracy (which really make me smile!) I'm also hitting a trough with the personal challenges. Somehow it feels like my reaction to these challenges are making me manifest as a more traditional CEO than I was prior to Holacracy!

Chris Cowan

[@mention:577633875651499938] I think what you're experiencing is completely understandable and you just calling this stuff out means you're already doing a damn good job. Brian often says he feels like he has MORE control in Holacracy than he did as a traditional CEO, and while I can't speak to that with my own personal experience, I can also easily see how it's possible.