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

Implementing Holacracy in an organisation which uses volunteers

Hi. I am helping and international charity with a small staff group (less than 20) spread over 4 continents. To deliver our services, and to support our operations, the charity uses volunteers. My question is about how to fit that reality into the Holacracy approach. Is the way to go about this to have a Cross Link Policy, generate special kinds of circles, and go the Linked Entity route.

Would love to know if there are any charities with significant volunteer input in relation to service delivery out there who are in the fold already and making this work.

Thanks,

Ian

24 Replies
Ian Forbes
02/12/2018

I think I have found the answer to my question. The Partnership system is a great model to use, with its different levels of member. I see that a volunteer is akin to a 'Community Member' on the relevant pages on the GlassFrog site.

There is sooo much to learn!

Ian

Pam H
02/13/2018

Dear Ian.

I have similar challenges as you do. What is the Partnership system? Whose system is it? Thanks. P

Ian Forbes
02/13/2018

Hi Pam,

I found the Partnership approach among Holacracy apps. It has a 'commnuity member' tier, which is the equivalent to a volunteer in the organisation with which I am working. Its a great template to use. Here is the link...

https://www.holacracy.org/wp-c...ship_app_-_v1.01.pdf

Best,

Ian

Keith Jarvis
02/14/2018

Ian - 

I don't see 'community member' in what you've shared. I see 3 tiers of partners 1) Regular Partner, 2) Tenured Partner, and 3) Core Partner.

Can you explain the 'community member' piece and where you've found that?

Pam H
02/14/2018

Dear Ian. Thank you for the link. I also am having the same trouble as Keith Jarvis. I'm not quite sure that any of these: Regular, Tenured, or Core partner quite match a volunteer? Regular Partner seems to be anyone agreeing to follow Holacracy and further the Organization in its goals, which could be volunteer or paid employee. Tenured could apply to volunteers who had been there longer but the $15k investment would have nothing to do with volunteers. Core partner seems like it might match a dedicated leader within a volunteer organization, but not really an average volunteer necessarily. What did you mean by 'Community member'? Thanks. P

Ian Forbes
02/15/2018

Dear Keith and Pam,

You are right! Here is the link to what originally aimed me toward the 3-Tier Partnership App:

https://app.glassfrog.com/roles/17498

It covers the way that Structure and Process define the Purpose, Domain and Accountability in relation to partnering, and Community Members are their third kind of partner. From this I went to the more formal Holacracy App, and downloaded it, with the intention of taking into account that schema too, so that,  with the appropriate tweeks, I can produce a system which would fit my organisation.

Best,

Ian

 

Keith Jarvis
02/15/2018

Confusing.  There is much here that may be of value to us but with the difference in terminology I'll have to set aside time to compare the two.

I also have quite a bit of qualitative response to share but haven't found the time.

Our organization has @Partners who are Employees, Volunteers, and even a few Contractors. The vast majority of the volunteers have sporadic and intermittent, or event-focused interaction. Most of the rest also have a limited focus to their engagement that is either local or programmatic in orientation, and have little real interest in the operational needs of the 'middle' or 'center' of the organization.

The idea of attempting to bring any of those individuals into the Holacracy structure is something I've vigorously advocated against. I've been a volunteer in both of those contexts in this same organization many years ago - and from my own experience and my experience working as an employee in the 'middle' informs me that they barely have the time/energy to handle the commitments needed on the local, event, or program issues they give their time towards.

Carrying the additional 'bureaucracy of Holacracy' for this type of volunteer, with the obligations inherent (being bound by the duties and constraints of the constitution) and the learning curve, is not in the organization's best interest.

Instead, the Holacracy organization is the central core, and is comprised of employees and a select group of deeply committed volunteers who invest time on the level of employees, and a couple unusual-case contractors.

I can't say it works great, at least not just yet. We're still cleaning up some of the messy boundaries and shining light in the gray areas here.

But maybe it can work over time.

More as it's useful...

Ian Forbes
02/16/2018

Hi Keith,

Very interesting points. I am working with an organisation which relies on volunteers, and have experience too of working with the British Red Cross in an advisory as well as volunteer capacity. The point for me is that our volunteers help us put on trainings in life skills and personal development, and that means we deal with people who can have of vulnerabilities, from being mildly annoyed with their home or work life, to having more serious and long-term issues.

So, responsible organisations can't just let volunteers loose in these situations, and let them do what they think best. The Red Cross, for example, only lets people volunteer in key support roles after they have been properly trained. Even fundraisers operate under clear guidance. At a serious level, organisations like these operate within strong legal frameworks. Safeguarding is just such an issue, not just for volunteers, but for staff who work with volunteers (eg, the Oxfam situation in the UK right now).

Hence, I am looking for a way to ground our volunteers in our values and purpose, and to have roles and accountabilities which can be given as well as removed, while at the same time bedding-in a way of acknowledging and accessing the tensions as well as the energy from our community. I see the partnership model as a way to conceive of short-term, task-specific distributed authority arrangements, that last as long as an individual person is taking on a key volunteer role (where they become the role, not the person).

If there was no need to meet legal and ethical requirements with vulnerable groups, and if my organisation didn't have the vision and values it does, then I can see how volunteering could be much more free form. Definitely horses for courses, I guess, which is what I see as a strength of the Holacracy approach.

By the way, thanks for drawing out my thinking on this!

Best,

Ian

Sam Burnett
02/16/2018

Great discussion.  We work with contractors and have struggled with how to incorporate their voice effectively in the holacarcy system.  Our contractors fill roles like "trainer" but in a "piece work" type model.  With that in mind it is challenging for us to expect that they would take part in governance given their sometimes peripheral involvement in all of our meetings and "organizational clarification/restructuring" exercises. In the past we have had a "rep for a multi filled role" that was responsible for listening to contractors in their given role.  The challenge we have found is that we are unclear if contractors are seeking out that rep. We have also invited contractors to meetings (tough because it is unpaid work).  In both of those examples we have an assumption that a contractor will reach out to express their tensions. Lately we are leaning toward creating a "contractor liaison" type role whose job it is to actively engage contractors about their tensions and then to process them on their behalf.  It is not ideal but it helps us to ensure their voice is head without putting an unreasonable burden on them to learn a new system.  I expect we would do something similar if we had volunteers. We have not implemented this process yet but it is where we are moving.  

 

[@mention:577211662873788485] reply is great because it contrasts the level of commitment that people might have in various roles.  It sounds like you have a cadre of willing, motivated and extremely committed volunteers who are clear on some significant expectations in their role and have signed up for those expectations. [@mention:454478741268114544] might have similarly committed volunteers but this is a new expectation that has not been clearly defined at the beginning.  Then the question is one of priorities.  Aside form their role (or as part of it) how important is a knowledge of holacracy?  In our case, it is probably meaningless to some of our contractors and tangentially interesting to others.  That is why we are begging to feel like they don’t need to be directly engaging with holacracy processes-rather we need to adjust our processes to engage them (by reaching out and having routine check-ins). This means the liaison role translates their needs and wants into tensions to be processed and reports back to them.

 

 

Pam H
02/17/2018

Thanks to [@mention:577211662873788485], [@mention:550889693769022824] [@mention:454478741268114544]. I like the idea of Liasons so people would not have to learn Holacracy. If they wanted to learn it and were capable of learning it then great, but if not, a Liason (Role) could be checking in with them, gathering their Tensions, and then processing those Tensions with the group actually practicing Holacracy on a regular basis.

It sort of covers all the possible bases. I agree with Ian that certain volunteers with high expectations set upon them might need to do organizational training and maybe it would make sense for certain organizations to have that include Holacracy, whereas other organizations wouldn't need to. The word "volunteer" can range from someone helping informally once with one task to Peace Corps type people who commit themselves and move to another country for several years at a time.

Ian Forbes
02/17/2018

It's great getting these ideas and work-arounds using Holacracy principles in ways that serve the greater purpose! It is showing me how the approach can be flexibly applied with a lightness of touch, when appropriate, moving up the levels where and when necessary to the full gamut of disciplined methods.

I agree that not everyone needs to know Holacracy to be a valid (and validated) volunteer. In the More To Life organisation we have Trainers of different kinds, and each of them has accountabilities (in the pre-Holacracy sense of the word). I am gradually building up a picture of how we can turn past practice - some of it ad hoc - into future Holacracy Roles, Accountabilities and Policies which serve everyone, as well as our vision.

Best,

Ian

Jeff Kreh
02/20/2018

Is there a way to setset up a separate glass frog General company Circle strictly for volunteers and have that gcc represented in organizations operational glass frog GCC? That way there is not the same expectation of involvement, as well as an additional layer of privacy for volunteers. Perhaps glass frog needs to advance a way to cross-link organizations?

Rachel Hunt
04/04/2018

This thread is fascinating to me.
I have a small (for profit) business in which my customers sometimes want to help out. It is great that they are willing to donate their time and resources, but it can be frustrating trying to manage them. I don't want to hurt their feelings or reject their valuable help, but they seem to expect my attention and support whenever it suits them, since they're doing me a favor. I'm often pulled away from other tasks to answer their questions, make minor decisions, or approve minor expenditures. And these are often for tasks that are low on my list, but are obvious/important to them. Can holacracy principles help me to utilize this resource without it driving me crazy?

Pam H
04/04/2018

@Rachel Hunt - With respect to Holacracy, you may want a particular Role managing the volunteers so that they have to go through that person... You could also require  x amount of notice that they will be coming over to volunteer or only in certain hours.

Whether in Holacracy or not, one thing you can do is have a written policy that you hand them or that you point to that they need to read or watch first. A lot of free online softwares even do this. For example, they remind people how many users are using the whole network, average response time to answer a request, that paid users will be triaged before free users, and they tell people to please be courteous and patient with the staff. They may even say to avoid using words that would be construed as "yelling" such as using all capital letters or underlining or !! and they may say something like these will be ignored or these can get your account terminated.

It can be helpful to remind volunteers that you completely appreciate their valuable help AND that in order to keep your doors open and continuing to give people good services, you need to prioritize certain paid work first. 

The more you can sort of automate it by having clear simple instructions in writing or on video, the less staff time you might have to spend. It may not solve all the problems, but it should hopefully reduce the number of them.

Rachel Hunt
04/05/2018

[@mention:570596049456243355] -- Thanks for the feedback. It's all about clarity and expectations, isn't it? The more we communicate both, the better -- and not just in Holacracy proper. 

Pam H
04/06/2018

@Rachel Hunt - Yes exactly. No tool can completely solve human politics and beliefs in their limited points of view, not even a tool as amazing as Holacracy.

Ian Forbes
04/22/2018

I am beginning to think a little differently about volunteers as this discussion develops. I notice that I have been thinking of volunteers as specific people, but I suspect I need to change my thinking around.

If I start with clearly-defined accountabilities that capture what it is that the organisation wants done, then I can more easily distinguish those sets of accountabilities which will be the responsibility of paid staff in the relevant roles, and those things which can be done by unpaid staff. This offers clarity (to ensure that people can choose to contribute but are not in effect 'working' for nothing), by putting responsibility on the organisation for securing or resourcing what is functionally necessary, rather than getting unpaid staff to fill in any gaps.

This makes it easier for me to see volunteering as a role which may or may not be assigned to a given individual. The conditions as well as expectations are clear, and there do need to be specifiable benefits to the person choosing to accept the volunteer role. The volunteer role will be what we choose to make it, including having a purpose which meets the needs of the organisation, or aspect of relevant service delivery, as well as the needs of the person, who wants to be of service and make their contribution. 

In other words, the previously tacit understandings associated with volunteering become transparent parts of a formal agreement between the organisation which offers volunteering roles, and the person who offers to accept the role, with all that it clearly entails.

This is pretty similar to the more clearly contractual arrangement outlined by Brian, which is an arms-length, time-limited association with and conformity to an Holacracy-based organisation of a much tighter legal and financial kind.

I am imagining a sub-circle dealing with volunteering support for the organisation's overall purpose, to give enough space for the specification of differing kinds of accountabilities and therefore roles, and the possibility of evolution of this particular relationship between the organisation and the outside world, including appropriate representative links.

Rachel Hunt
04/23/2018

All this talk about volunteers and "roles" reminds me that I already know of a type of organization that has been using both for over a century -- community theatres.

In my experience here in the United States,  a live theatre is generally set up as a non-profit organization with an (unpaid) board of directors. They sometimes have paid staff, but most or all of their performers are volunteers. Actors literally play "roles" (or characters) and work under the direction of, well....a Director (who is often paid a stipend, but is sometimes a volunteer.)  The organization gets money in two ways :direct tax deductible donations solicited through a variety of fundraising efforts, and ticket sales. The public pays for tickets to see the shows in just the same way that they pay to see a professional theatre, regardless of the fact that the actors are not being paid. 
There are other parallels. Actor's roles are pretty clearly defined, as are the responsibilities of other contributors such as designers, stage hands, and ushers.  Often an individual person will fill more than one role, both in the Holacracy sense and in the theatrical sense. For instance, I often fill several Holacracy style "roles" such as directing, choreographing, and performing in the same show. More than once I've had to act as "lead link" and fill in gaps when a person was unexpectedly absent or some last minute task came up. In the theatrical sense, it is quite common for a single actor to portray several minor characters in the same evening, changing costumes and make up as needed. My point is that actors are quite used to the idea of separating "role" and "soul" and to some extent are already used to addressing one another in terms of role, rather than as people. 

On the other hand, in some ways, the theatre is just as autocratic as the traditional corporate structure. The director is sort of a dictator, but must answer to the board. More than once, I've seen directorial decisions changed or reversed at an inconvenient time by an edict from above. Directors can fall in to all the same traps as traditional autocratic managers, and playing politics -- drama, if you will -- happens just as much in the theatre (if not more) than at other companies. 

I don't have enough experience to know if this is helpful in any way. But it seems that the parallels could shed some light on the subject.  

What do you guys think?

Ruth
04/25/2018

This is the most incredible thread.  I am so grateful for all your thoughts.  I am dealing with a similar issue.  Working in a startup that's just getting off the ground - trying to determine who gets equity and who is a volunteer and how to use Holacracy to manage all of that.  Any suggestions or support would be greatly appreciated.

Ian Forbes
05/01/2018

The community theatre example is a great one for a number of reasons, Rachel. Most notably, it points to the relevance of the social architecture of power within any organisation, no matter its stated purpose and good intention. The term 'community' in your example promises much but by itself can deliver little, except perhaps disappointment and frustration. Nothing wrong with power itself, but it matters enormously how it is distributed, boundaried, that its exercise is made transparent, accountable and subject to constructive challenge and amendment. That is what I am seeing in the Holacracy approach. Kind of a living architecture of power...

Rachel Hunt
05/01/2018

I thought of another parallel with community theatre. The actors with more stage time and more prominent characters are called "leads." They are often more experienced actors and are sometimes looked to as leaders, although officially, they have no more authority than any other performer. Some lead actors abuse this "shadow power," demanding that their whims be catered to or disrespecting those with smaller roles.  Of course, there are wonderful lead actors who wear their influence with grace and integrity, never asking for special privilege and even standing up for those with less of a voice. 

Sam Burnett
05/02/2018

[@mention:580449087370309526] i like the comparison--its a helpful way to describe how people might use power.  The final sentence is also an example of "shadow power"-just one that is more positive form the outside.  

Rachel Hunt
05/30/2018

[@mention:570596049456243355]
Thanks for your suggestion. I wrote out some protocols for student volunteers and gave copies to my most active students as well as posting them in a prominent place. It has made things easier. I no longer have to stress over how to tell a well meaning student that their actions have been unhelpful or even detrimental to what our studio is trying to accomplish, knowing that they were only trying to help. Now, the best way to contribute (for those who want to) is clear and accessible and I can point to that any time there is a question or a problem. 
I also invited my most committed student volunteer to attend our staff meetings so that he gets to have all his ideas heard and he knows how his actions can best support the studio.  He loves it. He gets to feel involved,  and I don't have to answer a bunch of questions from him later about how he can help. 
Next step -- get everyone to start writing down their tensions and bringing them up at the appropriate time rather than just blurting out things whenever it occurs to them.

Ian Forbes
05/31/2018

Very creative and sounds effective. It is coming across as good way to provide clarity about expectations, set boundaries, and enhance confidence for all, including the volunteers. It is really good to hear that inclusion for the volunteer is paying off, too.