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

Failing To Object Out Of Fear

More on the 'Human in Holacracy' - how to coach/assist a practitioner who expresses having felt great anxiety and fear of conflict and/or reprisal if they object?

This isn't about an overly timid person but also a challenging environment that seems to reinforce the idea that objection is personal, based on reactions and charged emotion.

13 Replies
Tom Mulder

Hi Keith, I always explain the Objection Round as the round where the Proposer invites the other Partners to help him/her to see if the Proposal will cause the Organization no harm. So raising an Objection is a positive thing that invites the other Partners and the Proposer to have a critical look at the Proposal as is. This so we make sure that the Proposal will contribute to the evolving organizations Governance.

So by changing the mindset from an Objection to an Invitation I try to avoid the personal feeling of objecting. 

Bernard Marie Chiquet

To add on [@mention:523162737680436711] with early practice, I would even not ask for objection and take time by asking "Do you see any reason why..." - The word Objection creates some barrier with new practitioners.

Xavier Boëmare

As [@mention:449833773917801859] I also try not to use the objection word. I focus on the potential harm. If harm does not ring a bell, some other words like risk, negative consequences, etc.

My opinion is that the "objection" word can be felt as personal even if it's not the intent. 

Chris Cowan

[@mention:454478741268114544] I also think it's hard to effectively coach a single practitioner on ways to feel more comfortable in an environment whose norms reinforce, "objections are judgments." 

So, instead I think it's more of a facilitator intervention. Especially when it comes to testing objections and how they respond to invalid ones (do they show any hint of glee when they tell the person it's invalid?). Ideally, the facilitator shows gratitude for anyone bringing an objection, valid or not, thereby making the distinction less meaningful. 

A facilitator also has the most leverage to push against those norms by continually referencing the objection round. Like if someone is trying to help in Present Proposal, "Wait. It's not your space, but if you still think there's any problem with the proposal, please raise an objection [intentionally not mentioning reaction round]."

Or framing Clarifying Questions, "This is just for questions, if you understand the proposal, but don't like it, then you'll have space to get that off your chest in your reaction, or better still....raise an objection." 

There are tons of ways to do it, my point is simply to make raising objections something that I, as facilitator, want to see happen. They don't need to worry about validity. That is what you figure out together through the questions, and so what if you encourage people to raise invalid objections? They'll just get more experience learning the difference. 

So, I think it's really more of a process-level, or group-level intervention that's needed. It's a lot to expect one individual to push against the norms of the group, no matter how good the coaching might be. 

Sam Burnett

@Keith Jarvis I am noticing a lot of conversations about tone and intent when dealing with objections.  Chris did a good exploration of this here (you have likely already seen it): https://blog.holacracy.org/a-b...eetings-c0929f1ff90f

One thing we talk about in our organization is CAPE. Compassion, Acceptance, Partnership and Evocation.  It is the spirit of motivational interviewing—a practice developed for working with hard to reach healthcare populations.  I think that approaching the conversation with that lens helps the person to feel like they are part of the team that is creating an improvement-rather than a bump along the road for someone else.   

Keith Jarvis

There is much help here and I appreciate it.


I believe that there is much to consider regarding the "Human in Holacracy". 

There are people for whom Holacracy may be more challenging than for others.

  • some personality types, perhaps 'introverts', 'emoters', 'relation-oriented'
  • those who've been systemically oppressed, multicultural target groups
  • even just those who have spent their lives having to suppress opinion in order to stay employed/survive/advance/achieve

Above and beyond whether they can effectively offer Objection during governance, these types of Holacrats may struggle, or even find it nearly impossible, to process tensions with other practioners who don't follow the constitution or governance.

Don't take what I'm saying as an argument against Holacracy. We're 3 years 5 months into this thing and just expanded our implementation to the point that it would likely take some catastrophic failure and emergency for my organization to rescind its adoption. This is the only game in town, and I am bound to play this game and adhere to its rules. I also find the concepts and processes fascinating and psychoactive - although often terrifying as someone fitting descriptions noted above.

The struggle for me, and for some others, is reconciling our human natures amid the game and its rulebook, when the rulebook is the only safety net present and a truly level playing field is imaginary until/unless all players self-discipline, self-educate and completely embrace responsibility to know and operate within that rulebook.

"Colleague once again not processing messages? Your peer is prioritizing role over circle again and again? Got a tension about that other human not doing the accountability they're responsible for? Someone impacted your domain against your express permission? Others on team are so poorly educated in Holacracy they routinely conflate concepts and terminology - and won't do avail themselves of study resources? Lead Link assigned role to someone without skill, capacity, time, energy resource to fulfill more than a token presence? Circle re-elected someone who can't remember the steps or even follow summary cards? Others routinely violating governance?"

"Well - all of that is on YOU, because YOU are the one who has a tension about it. And if you don't process your tension, YOU are in violation of 1.2.1."

"Buck up, snowflake. Pull yourself up by those bootstraps."


I know that Holacracy is designed to manage the work, not the people... and I believe that the expecation is for people to be adults and work all the rest out in some sort of self-regulating processing towards equilibrium.

I'm just not sure that people (I'm a people too) are mature, self-aware, dedicated, responsible, humble, and compassionate-yet-direct enough.

Please direct me to any resources that proves my uncertainties wrong!

Brian Robertson

As I often say in my trainings, you can have the perfect role structure and the perfect constitutional rule set adopted, but if you assign six year olds to fill all your roles and govern the organization using those rules, you're going to have a disaster, not a high-functioning organization.  Sounds like you might have some adults acting like six year olds there - even if for lots of understandable reasons.  Every company does of course (most of us act like six year olds at least sometimes), though I do think you need a certain ratio or critical mass of adults-acting-like-adults vs. those acting like six year olds to avoid that becoming a huge bottleneck.  I'd be curious how a conventional management hierarchy would deal with that situation too though, and if it'd enable any more high functioning than Holacracy would (perhaps it would, or perhaps not, and likely it'd be a big bottleneck either way).  All that to say: you probably have an issue there regardless of your organizational framework, and Holacracy is not designed to solve that issue any more than management hierarchy is; whichever framework you use, you probably need other tools on top of it to address those issues...  And I know that's not very helpful; if I had a tool to offer you I'd share it, but as a business leader in both management hierarchy and Holacracy, my solution to the issue of adults routinely acting like six year olds has been fairly crude and simplistic (although effective): fire them quickly and find someone else to do the work instead.  :-)

- Brian

Chris Cowan

[@mention:454478741268114544]: Yeah I hear you. Helping others see and/or understand the truth regarding the ways practice might (but actually definitely will) test some of their tightly held assumptions is a nuanced topic, but one of my favorites.  

Afterall, it's perfectly fine for an organization to consider the growth and development of its partners as a part of its purpose. 

Two resources immediately come to mind: training on non-violent communication (NVC), and any number of different practices mentioned in An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO).

Connie Davis

I work with Sam Burnett (above) and want to put another plug in here about humans and holacracy. I think it is very important to help the humans adapt to the change of holacracy in respectful ways. Certain things may push anyone's buttons in any way and in any work structure. Having a change imposed or being too forceful in communication can generate resistance to change. Being clear and respectful (and indeed compassionate) as people experience change builds a strong person, work team and environment that can weather the ups and downs of everything we experience in our work life. 

Part of our organization's mission is helping others with change at personal, organizational and community levels. There is much to learn from these fields that can help with holacracy implementation.

Brian Robertson

I also find that helping humans adapt to this change is generally a better strategy than "fire them"... and, it sounds like some of the issues Keith is wrestling with may be beyond the normal change stuff, and may be indicative of more business discipline/rigor needed for the organization (with or without Holacracy at play).  That's often the case with many non-profits in my experience; they tend to be better than most at building a culture that offers emotional support for the people, and worse than most at building a culture that offers business discipline/rigor for the organization.  That may be completely off in Keith's case - and I didn't actually read his original post, so I'm responding solely to his last post above.  But that last post left me with a hunch that what his organization needs most may not be better emotional support for struggling humans, or even Holacracy coaching of any sort, but just more traditional business/performance focus and discipline.  Keith, does any of that resonate?

Jeff Kreh

One lingering challenge for constitutional forms of governance is a reliance on the people to protect their rights, which requires understanding the blessing of those rights. We at Likewise College are developing a college level, discussion based course that explores the reasons for constitutions and the reasons for failure during the past 50 or so centuries. I believe a lite version of that course could help h Holacratic teams better understand the need to object in order to protect everyone involved and to get to know one another while developing self-leadership capacity.

Christel Hofman

Very interesting discussion and right on the spot where I think the Holacracy coach as an unexperienced change consultant will lack tools to first understand the problem going on and second to do something with it. Ok, it is not in your role as a coach but it would be of great help. Organizations that don't start from the scratch with Holacracy already have a history and culture that may or may not be helpful. The old system will always pull back, the single individual can't change that. But Holacracy can be a good help to change it (as mentioned already above). What I advise the Holacracy coach/facilitator to use yourself as a tool and try to find out if somewhere in yourself you can feel the same kind of anxiety or fear as the practitioner mentioned by @Keith Jarvis. Use this feeling as a tension at the agenda, ask information: Does anyone recognizes this feeling now or in the past? There probably are more circle members having experienced this anxiety. From there you can start to build a solution, f.e. extra training, coaching, ...

Keith Jarvis

This is very useful. I specifically like the resource references.

I think it may be important to recognize that people who are systemically oppressed do not always have the capacity to bridge the additional gap created by cultural systems of privilege. 

Also aware that some personality types need a bit more adaptation to function in Holacracy than other personality types.

How can we support humans in Holacracy that do not have a level playing field due to disadvantages not of their own making.