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

Partner Relationships Domain?

I understand that Governance in Holacracy is about organising the work, and not the people. 

I have always found the domain of 'Partner Relationships', as well as Governance such as policies which relate to people and partner relationships confusing. Such as this policy from HolacracyOne's People and Partnership Circle. 


I'd appreciate anyone explaining how this is a valid policy as it seems to be organising the people, not the work?

I can understand it if you say 'Yes, and part of the work is organising the people to be able to do the work'. 

But then what meaning does the definition of Governance as organising work and not people have? 

8 Replies
Brian Robertson

Hi Nick - I have a lot of thoughts on that - but they're both too many and too nuanced to convey effectively in writing here.  I'm scheduled to host one of our coach's office hours soon; if you'd like to join, perhaps we can chat about it real-time?  I bet the topic and some distinctions I could offer around it would be really useful for others too.

Of course, don't let me stop dialog from happening in this thread here too in the meantime, if anyone has thoughts to share!

- Brian


Hi Nick,


I just want to give a though on this: the Anchor Circle has by default the domain of Partner Relationships (per constitution article 5). In case of H1, it has been delegated to the GCC so the GCC can govern the Partner Relationships, define policies, etc..

I would love to have the complete answer from Brian, this is a tricky question. Could you record the webinar as I won't be able to attend? Last time, there were not enough space to record it on Bluejean...



Dianne Dickerson

I'm really happy to see this thread as I have been struggling with this, but less articulately than Nick.  Looking forward to more discussion and the coaches hour!

Thanks, Dianne

Sally McCutchion

Looking forward to hearing Brian's response to this too. Can the coaching call be recorded and posted on You Tube to share? Great conversation!

Olivier Compagne


One element of answer I have to offer is that the organization can only govern its own people processes, not the people themselves. The domain of "Partner Relationships" really means "how the organization will relate to the partners".

A relationship is a two-sided affair; you cannot control the other person, but you can control yourself and how you agree to engage in a relationship. If the other party doesn't want to engage in a relationship with you under some terms that are for you non-negotiable, then it's a sign that you shouldn't enter or sustain the relationship. 

I understand the relationship between the organization and its partner in the same way. So it's completely fair for the organization to make decisions (e.g. policies) as to how it's going to relate to its partners. These decisions then become conditions that the partners have to agree to if they want to stay in relationship with the organization. (And of course as in any relationship, if the organization has any interest in keeping those relationships healthy, it's generally a good idea to check with the partners first before implementing any radical change, vs. imposing a change...)

I know there is more nuance to your question than what I'm answering — e.g., what is appropriate to decide via governance vs. via a partnership agreement outside of governance, etc. But at least, in the specific example of H1's Partnership Structure policy that you use, I think this distinction is helpful.

Nick Osborne

Thanks for the responses so far. I'll endeavour to make it to the live coaching call to explore with Brian, but in case I can't make it, here's a request for Brian to give this question some attention please. Thanks.  

Karilen Mays

My short answer is that part of the work of the organization is figuring out what agreements are needed of partners, and what roles, policies, etc. are needed for the organization to enact its purpose. There is a question for each organization to continually answer of what is the work of the organization in terms of "people" stuff...I see partner relationships as the boundary of people and the organization.

People still choose to opt in to that relationship, give input into the processes and set their own boundaries, so the organization can't actually force itself on anyone.

The policy is constraining/permitting by saying if a person chooses to enter a relationship with the organization, these are the conditions at the pattern level...or constraints of engaging as a partner...would love to hear if you have additional questions or critiques of this policy Nick. 

I think this (how to set up appropriate roles and policies and processes without conventionally trying to "manage people") is a very rich conversation.

Stephan Jenner

I possibly see this a little too simply but it's specifically that the organisation is purchasing services just like it purchases products and as such needs to define the process's around this.

To assist in the best possible transaction and result for the organisation to achieve its purpose the organisation needs to maintain the relationship we have roles around vendor relationships just as we have roles around partner relationships.

We also have roles around ensuring quality of products received the same as we have roles to ensure we are getting the energy we purchase in the human capital transaction.

Of course there is more complexity in the human transaction and the energy vs capital transfer is more than just dollars for time as we all understand the ideas of engagement etc that just adds to some of the complexity required on the policies and roles required to effectively handle this input to the organisation.

Some of these concepts may seem brutal to evolved organisations but from purely the organisation space this is what we are dealing with. How you convey this to your coachees is the joy of being a coach and personally it depends on the organisations culture. The organisation has every right to effectively process its investment in energy purchase