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

People Happiness circles and projects - is it OK in Holacracy?

In one company I came across a "People Happiness" circle with purpose "Make sure we have happiest team members ever".

Expressing that purpose, People Happiness requests projects (actually suggests OKRs) to all other company members considering their happiness and wellness like "Read 5 books this month" or "Visit a gym 8 times this month" or "Stop eating sweets".

To my mind it totally contradicts Holacracy ideologically. I'm very curious what you think.

10 Replies
Brian Robertson

I see nothing contradictory at all about a role requesting anything whatsoever to serve their purpose, including this.  And if a role requested something like that from me, I'd tell them "no, that's none of your business, go away".  Because they're clearly requesting that from me as a person and not in a role, they have absolutely no right to expect I'll accept that project or do anything with it; there's no harm in requesting, because someone can very easily say "no", or just ignore the request entirely and not respond.  Now, if you somehow have some expectation at play that someone will definitely accept those kinds of project requests, then you probably have an issue...

Xavier Boëmare

[@mention:499799321313210508], but still people can agree "to read 5 books this month", but it's not gonna be a project within one of their roles. Usually when it's about happiness or even personal development, it's out of the Holacracy grid.

If you attended a PCT, you might remember that graph about "Processing stuff with role clarity" => Your role does not care, nor another role, your circle or the organization. But if you personally, process it but leave the org out !

Artem Serdyuk

[@mention:449693036223847456] "People Happiness" circle, based on their circle purpose, feel entitled to request projects from people, not from roles actually.

Other more or less similar example I can think of, is compensation.

I wonder how this situation (when a role asks for something from a person), is usually handled in Holacracy. Should they bring in "Partner" role and create a "Partners" circle?

Artem Serdyuk

[@mention:491495232183315418] thanks for reminding that pathway! But in that company this type of interactions is somehow codified in Governance via "OKR policy" and People Happiness circle. It implies that these interactions will happen regularly.

Shouldn't it be somehow reflected in Governance? If we must keep it out of Holacracy frame, then what kind of structure should we use?

Xavier Boëmare

It sounds very weird to me to imagine that someone would expect me to do something in order to be happy (according to the one asking).

So in Holacracy having a "People happiness" circle proposing events, actions, support, etc. is fine. But as said Brian, I don't see how you could expect any role in the organisation to take action or project on that matter, as it probably does not serve any accountability or the purpose of the role being asked.

As I saw in some organisations (like HolacracyOne for instance), creating one circle (and sub-circles) dedicated to the operational work of the company, and another one for anything related to the partner (HR, Compensation, Happiness, etc.) might be a good lead ? Maybe worth to try ? That's what we did in my company. But no Happiness circle :-)

Dennis Wittrock

Hi Artem, 

I see "People Happiness Circles" and constructions like that as an expression of a confusion about what the practice of Holacracy is truly in service of: the purpose of the organization. If the purpose of the organization isn't coincidentally to "make people happy" (which it rarely is), but something else, then I would say it is trying to hijack the practice to process non-work-related tensions.

"People happiness" is similar to "profit" in a way: it is an important metric to track in order to be able to better express the purpose of the organization, but it is usually not a real organizational purpose in and by itself. 

The tensions driving the creation of such circles are totally legit - outside of the container of the Organization. We at encode.org devised a different container for people to be able to process their personal and interpersonal tensions. We call this container or context ASSOCIATION. In Association space you are free to create all kinds of for-fun, fitness, self-development or what-have-you guilds, meetups, or whatever and anyone who wants to join is free to do so - or NOT. But there is no implicit expectation held to participate (thereby meddling in the private life of co-workers and infringing upon their freedom) - especially none of the kind that is unspoken and an artifact of the employer-employee shadow power game and class-division that often still persists even under Holacratic practice. 

So there is the ORGANIZATION context / container to organize around the purpose and get the work done. Here Holacracy rules.  Then there is the ASSOCIATION context / container to deal with our various needs as human beings. Holacracy is not the law of the land here. Instead we created an explicit Association Agreement, where we encode the values and norms that we want to be holding as this specific collective of Purpose Agents. 

Thirdly, we at encode.org created a container to address the above-mentioned tensions that result from having to hang on to the outdated employer-employee relationship and associated legal constructs. We created a COMPANY container / context in which we all show up as partner/ members / co-investors, which circumvents the twisted, anachronistic employer-employee relationship and replaces it with working, earning, living peer-to-peer and for-purpose. 


This construct transcends and includes Holacracy and places it in a context that adheres to similar principles (see five markers of the new world of work ) and extends them to its surrounding structures in an attempt to solve for evolutionary tensions that the successful practice of Holacracy creates in the first place. 

My answer got a little longer, but maybe it was helpful nevertheless.



Andrea Faré

Correct me if I am wrong (I only have public records at my disposal)

Even H1 uses a cross-link role to gather tensions from partners, so the human part of it seem to be left out of the equation. They bring it into governance at a higher layer of abstraction.

So the two alternative strategies I see at play here are:

Encode: everything that's partner related is out of governance only stuff that's relevant for the operations serving the purpose directly via GCC or stuff realated to the Anchor were cross links are gathers to glue the various spaces (Encode got rid of the circle representing the association space, which it had in the past if I remember correctly)

H1: bring everything to governance as soon as  the slightest nuance of a role definition is theoretically (EDIT: sorry not theoretically but practically since everything is still tension based)  conceivable.

Both approaches have their trade offs in my opinion. H1 requires you to be a "Ferrari organization in holacracy"  (and if they are not I wonder who should be) Encode's approach is probably safer for a beginner organization provided the alternative tension processing pathways are well defined (and if I get it correctly, that is part of their offer model too so it makes sense) 

Did I get it right?



Dennis Wittrock

Hey Andrea,  

yes, we recently moved out our Association Operations Circle out of the organizational holarchy and have a separate glassfrog structure for that: 


And here is the rest with Anchor Circle


Both are linked via crosslinks. The Anchor Circle is the integration point between the various contexts. 

Within the Association space we created a template of an Association Agreement with some ground rules in place. We keep it very light-weight. Apart from that, we are currently experimenting with and evaluating practices for conflict resolution, feedback, different practice guilds that are nested holarchically, typologies, etc for the Association and hope to be able to give good recommendations for other aspiring For-Purpose Enterprises soon.

Stay tuned! You can subscribe to the encode.org newsletter here.


Artem Serdyuk

[@mention:457856795977603624] Dennis, thanks for sharing! Looking forward to find out more about Association space on Encode workshop in Amsterdam.

Are Company and Association spaces' rules and tools codified somewhere (like Holacracy rules and tools in Holacracy Constitution)?

Dennis Wittrock

[@mention:499799321313210508] Great that you signed up for our Amsterdam workshop. 

We've codified the Company rules in the Operating Agreement (OA) and the rules for Association space in our Association agreement. The OA ties together the Holacracy constitution with the legal and financial structures as well as the rules for the Association. We intend to make those documents open source at some point, so that others can follow the For Purpose Enterprise model as well. 

We are also working on digital tools to help individuals and organizations navigate these new complexities so that they can maximally focus on purpose.