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

Medium moving beyond Holacracy - Lessons ?

Hi, all:

Just found this article on Medium. In this article, Andy Doyle of Medium wrote that they are now dropping Holacracy. I thought it would be a good idea for us to find out a little about this and get some lessons out of it, that, if valid, can be used to evolve Holacracy better in future versions.

Perhaps someone here has first hand or inside information that can be shared to shed some light ?

The "challenges" they were feeling are as follows:

  1. "for larger initiatives, which require coordination across functions, it can be time-consuming and divisive to gain alignment"
  2. "More importantly, we found that the act of codifying responsibilities in explicit detail hindered a proactive attitude and sense of communal ownership."
  3. "In recruiting, this became a problem — particularly among more experienced candidates, who worried that they were being hired as “bosses” in a boss-less company."
  4. "For us, Holacracy was getting in the way of the work."

 

I'm not very clear on challenge number 1, and can't really see how this is due to Holacracy. In the article it seems to imply that because every  circle has a goal and because they work autonomously, that it becomes a challenge to align all of them.  In our organization, we use outputs of strategy meetings to align and cascade all goals and, though alignment is always a challenge, I wouldn't attribute it to Holacracy. Has anyone else experience this problem ?

Challenge number two is something that we've experienced.  We were worried that making everything explicit will reduce the sense that everyone should help everyone out regardless of role. To overcome this, we currently coach people that it is not expected that people stick only to the roles they have.  When needed, and when it is something of higher priority to the organization and they can help,  they should help out, even if it is out of role. The role's explicit domain and accountabilities are there to prevent confusion and lengthy discussion to reach a decision, not to limit what one can do when needed.  Have others experience this as well ?  What do you do to overcome this ?

We haven't encountered challenge number three yet, but can see how this might become a problem.  Holacracy (or any other self organization systems) is something that is different from the mainstream, and a lot more people are trained in the conventional hierarchical way, which means the pool of available talent that is "ready" for Holacracy is really small. How do you resolve this problem ?

As of right now, I dont't think Holacracy gets in the way of our work. It is something that needs to be trained in parallel to doing the work, and takes a lot of time and effort.  This time could have been used to actually do the work, and in some sense it does get in the way of doing the work, but this is true for anything new that we want to implement.  I wonder though, if others have experienced this, and perhaps can share what was done to overcome it ?

Thanks.

 

19 Replies
Bernard Marie Chiquet
03/06/2016

Hi Dien,

Fully agree, there are lessons to be learnt here...

Dennis Ross
03/06/2016

It will be interesting to see what is next for Medium.  

Paul Codd
03/06/2016

I'd love to get the inside track from the H1 team that were closely involved with the Medium implementation. Obviously with Medium's consent I'm sure H1 have valuable insights to share with the community.

Durwin Foster
03/06/2016

It would be a huge step forward for most companies to even try such an approach!

Bernard Marie Chiquet
03/06/2016

When I read this in the article, I'm wondering....

Every job to be done requires a role, and every role requires a set of responsibilities. While this provides helpful transparency, it takes time and discussion. More importantly, we found that the act of codifying responsibilities in explicit detail hindered a proactive attitude and sense of communal ownership.

I am wondering if they were practicing pure Holacracy. You don't have to provide a set of accountabilities or to code responsibilities in explicit detail. You code what is necessary only when you sense a tension. No overdesign in Holacracy if you use it properly, which is my 7+ years of experience in practicing it everyday in iGi Partners.

Bernard Marie Chiquet
03/06/2016

And we have bosses — people who have the experience of scaling companies, leading through hard challenges, and developing teams.

I would like to understand further the purpose of this. Does it mean that pre-req re Fit for Holacracy were not included in the hiring process - or that they have hired too many seasoned ex-bosses in short period of time to be able to accompany them making their internal transformational shift?

Stephan Jenner
03/06/2016

I remember them discussing the level of accountability detail they were dealing with at a coaching course a few years ago and one of the things they were struggling with was too much detail in accountabilities I guess they were not able to get past that. 

Ruben @ Springest
03/07/2016

I wrote a bit lengthier response on Medium from our perspective.

Paul Codd
03/07/2016
Bernard Marie Chiquet posted:

And we have bosses — people who have the experience of scaling companies, leading through hard challenges, and developing teams.

I would like to understand further the purpose of this. Does it mean that pre-req re Fit for Holacracy were not included in the hiring process - or that they have hired too many seasoned ex-bosses in short period of time to be able to accompany them making their internal transformational shift?

I find the reaction of many highly productive people is that they are often intuitively interested in Holacracy but that they already feel too busy trying to achieve challenging stretch goals for the business, and anything that distracts from that is "in the way of the work". Holacracy is probably not something that can be learned purely intuitively but requires specific dedication of time and effort to acquire the new knowledge and skills to be able to do the subtle and important work the these highly productive people are engaged in. Therefore I find that some people simply put it in the freezer thinking they'll get around to it later, so they can focus on getting things done, something they are very experienced and good at already. Clearly they will be almost completely blind to the downsides caused by the level of organisational stress their less explicit way of working, or of the potential benefits that can be achieved by mature adopters. In short, their cup is too full.

In the beginning an owner or CEO's passion, charisma and effort may be enough to convince most of the organisation to give it a go. But after the initial push to convince, then boot-up the new processes, it must be sustained and deepened.

If Medium's hire processes or onboarding/coaching processes are/were not adequate, or of the culture new hires were coming into was not sufficiently mature in its adoption of Holacracy, over time skeptical experienced managers will resort to type to get things done.

In my opinion it is exactly these kinds of leaders who take responsibility for ambitious organisational development goals that Holacracy can help the most. But it seems clear that there is a disconnect in the way these people are currently being engaged.

Let's consider Holacracy adoption from the point of view of those who have been exposed to a miriad of other "change programs" such as those in any complex traditional organisation implements every few years. Top managers are often consulted and help shape the change, bottom level workers just have to do what they're told and often don't have to worry much about how the new and the old are integrated, and it is invariably left to middle managers to integrate the requirements of the day to day running of the business while interpreting and implementing the new changes.

It is easy for people used to this way of working, and used to poorly thought through grand strategies and management fads, who have learned coping mechanisms that allow them to get things done regardless of this, to develop a thick skin when it comes to new great ideas coming from above.

Could H1 and the community of Holacracy adopters and practitioners be doing more to support the onboarding of such people?

For instance, much of the material available currently is aimed at the top managers deciding whether or not to implement Holacracy. But assuming the decision has been made, the conversation may be framed differently. It is about getting up to speed quickly, about minimum distraction from getting things done while simultaneously ramping up Holacracy practice. And it's about communicating practical paths to quick wins.

I'd be interested to know what others think support for busy "middle managers" could look like.

rob thorpe
03/07/2016

I think you can pick this apart in countless ways, because ultimately, all of these tensions could probably been solved by some governance sessions.

What I gain from this is that to sustain Holacracy over time, organizations need a set of "champions" and "drivers" of Holacracy. It's about more than promoting use, educating, and training... These leads need to help show the rest of the org the 'light' on how to reshape governance to face current needs.

I think it's easy to let governance get 'stale' and have it seem like too much overhead. You need the Holacracy champions to come in and re-architect governance (of course using the IDM process)... but folks need to be actively looking at roles and doing clean-up and making sure it is relevant to the organizations current state.

One thing that helped us to keep our Governance relevant was adopting the attention points system. This made us take a closer look at existing roles and helped to clarify/clean up things.

Dennis Ross
03/07/2016

@Rob Thorpe - I'd like to hear more about the "attention points system" mentioned in your post.  What is the system and what tension did it address.

 

Paul Codd
03/07/2016
rob thorpe posted:
but folks need to be actively looking at roles and doing clean-up and making sure it is relevant to the organizations current state.

... something which almost never happens in traditional orgs and around which most people have no habits or senses. Tactical meetings have metrics and checklists to get people to sense into their tensions. Governance doesn't have an equivalent process to plug people into the problems they might want to use the meeting to solve.

One thing that helped us to keep our Governance relevant was adopting the attention points system. This made us take a closer look at existing roles and helped to clarify/clean up things.

Your attention points system sounds intriguing. Can you share any details?

Eric Babinet
03/07/2016

Paul/Dennis - I'm not sure if it is the same approach that Rob is using, but H1 has an attention points system described here: https://glassfrog.holacracy.or...icies/3628?locale=en

-Eric

 

rob thorpe
03/07/2016

@eric that is correct. The attention points policy can be accessed here: https://glassfrog.holacracy.or...icies/3628?locale=en

In a nutshell, lead links of each circle allocate a number of 'attention points' to each role. A full-time role equivalent = 100 attention points. For example, if I hold two roles that take 50% of my time each, then I would have 50 attention points assigned to each role. Lead links are responsible for allocating attention points, and circle members must work with lead links in the event they want more/less points to a role. The GCC Lead Link sets the attention point budgets for sub circles, in which the sub circle lead links assign them in their respective circles. The goal of attention points is to allow lead links to set priority and allocation of peoples time. For example, if we are doing a recruiting push, maybe all of my attention points will be shifted towards my recruiting role, and other roles will get less focus. It may sound a bit 'dictating' but I've found that it really isn't. It makes it more clear how you should be spending your time, and expectations on that role. 

So why did attention points help us in this scenario ? In assigning attention points, it becomes more clear what roles are insignificant/redundant/stale when you are reviewing how much time a person should spend in them. It forced us to re-think and re-tool our roles to make them more relevant. Since adopting, we have made a lot of governance changes. They weren't forceful, and I found that most people agreed with the clean up proposals.

It put everyone in a mindset that as a team we should be regularly reviewing our roles, and roles we interact with, and to propose changes if it will be beneficial. 

rob thorpe
03/07/2016

With all that said, attention points aren't needed to do role review. I think that encouraging practitioners to regularly review their own roles and roles they interact with is best practice. And it can't just be a handful of people, everyone should be doing it, and comfortable with making needed changes.

Kevin
03/08/2016

I'm most interested in the Medium post's comment about communal ownership.  As quoted by @Dien:

"More importantly, we found that the act of codifying responsibilities in explicit detail hindered a proactive attitude and sense of communal ownership."

I believe we have at times struggled with the same issue.  While I appreciate how Holacracy drives great clarity by eliminating the idea that "we" get work done and instead forces us to define a role that owns a project/action, an unintended consequence at times is that others feel as though they do not have shared responsibility.  A simple example, for New Project A:

Old world.  Manager says New Project A has just cropped up and it's important.  Hands it to three people and asks that they get it done.  They may suffer from some of the challenges Holacracy seeks to avoid -- lack of clarity about who does what, work distribution that is unclear/unfair/inefficient, and so on -- but they maintain a sense that they all achieve or all fail to deliver on New Project A.

New world.  New Project A comes into the circle and we determine that Role X is accountable for that work (due to an existing accountability or a new one).  Role X can tap other roles to assist based on their accountabilities, but if none of the preexisting governance directly supports Role X in completing New Project A, Role X may be on his or her own until the governance changes -- which is often after New Project A needs to be done.  At least when New Project A clearly falls within Role X's accountabilities, Role X may be solely responsible, with limited shared sense of ownership among the team.  With Role X solely responsible, are others staying late at the office to see how they can pitch in outside of their roles?  Are others feeling a sense of excitement when New Project A is a huge success, or a sense of personal disappointment or guilt when New Project A does not get done?

@Dien, it sounds like you have experienced this issue.

Have others also had this experience?  How have you addressed it?  @Ruben, I'd be very interested to hear your take -- I greatly appreciated your post in response to that of Medium, but I don't think you touched on this aspect of the Medium announcement.

Brian Robertson
03/09/2016

Hey Kevin - I've been swamped and so haven't had much time to contribute to this thread, but you've seduced me into sharing a thought with that awesome question...  :-)

Sounds like the organization would benefit from both of those worlds, and I don't think they're incompatible.  Holacracy's focus on each individual having clarity and ownership of what outcomes (projects) they're trying to achieve is just to encode a basic GTD practice.  It doesn't preclude multiple people owning and driving toward that same outcome in the same (or different) roles, or that outcome being a small step towards a larger outcome that many roles are all collectively owning and driving towards as well.  You can simply use project requests to capture all that, or in many cases a Strategy might really help get the result you're looking for too.  You can also have a project held by the overall Circle (since it's just a role in the larger circle), and just make that transparent as a circle-level initiative that all roles are requested to support as makes sense to them.  And finally, to get people helping each other even beyond their roles, you could consider how you can encourage more Individual Action in the culture - i.e. people acting outside of their own roles to help with those circle-level projects and Strategies.  At H1, we have a badge people can earn for taking Individual Action outside of their normal roles to help with a significant larger initiative.

Hope that helps!

Oh, and one broader thought on Medium in response to some of the other questions here:  I think they're a good example of the "Stopping Short Syndrome" I wrote about in my book, as one common pattern seen when implementations don't stick (and maybe at least something of an example of both of the other patterns as well).  As one data point there, when I visited them last year, they were looking at Lead Link as a full-time job, and it was a high-status one in their culture, which they celebrated when people earned - both of those are big red flags.  I think they were running parallel power structures - management hierarchy and Holacracy - and I don't think that's a stable or sustainable state.  I'm surprised they lasted as long as they did like that...

- Brian

Kevin
03/09/2016

@Brian - Thanks for the reply.  I think your suggestions regarding Strategies and whole-circle ownership are both things we have done a good job of using informally but a bad job of formalizing and making clear.  That deficiency probably makes the process less repeatable and harder to learn from.  We'll have to see what we can do.

Ruben @ Springest
03/09/2016

@Kevin / @Dien, on shared feeling of ownership, I see 2 angles:

  1. The Circle often has this "shared" feeling, people do tend to feel connected to its purpose and not just their own roles. Our OKRs (the way we define strategy) also help here.
  2. Projects are often "shared" by multiple roles. Indeed with clear governance supporting that (or easily created, we do weekly governance meetings), and almost always a project is split up in projects per role with clear outcomes that support eachother. These projects are also part of a mother project that either act just as a handy overview or is really owner by a role too, so you can have a "sub-project"