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

System Knowledge & Power

It seems self evident that someone with more knowledge and experience of an operating system gives them the potential to be more powerful inside that system than someone with less knowledge and experience.

As a result although Holacracy may be trying to distribute a voice and the opportunity for leadership across a team, in practice it will still be those people whom choose to become effective 'operators' of that system who will wield more power whether consciously or not.

Brian is the ex CEO of HolacracyOne. However he is also a defacto expert on the use of Holacracy, perhaps THE defacto expert given his ongoing involvement if not total immersion(!) in developing it.

I wonder if his experience of powershift issues is significantly different to many other ex CEOs as a result i.e. he has swapped his old powers for some new ones in which he excels whereas there may be many ex CEOs for whom there is a much bigger gap between their old powers and their new ones as team members within a Holacratic system.

I'm curious to hear from Brian and other members of HolacracyOne about their experiences and thoughts on this issue.

Of course the simple answer is for every ex CEO to ensure they become experts in the new operating system of their company but if that is the only solution then it should perhaps be brought into the training programme or maybe there should even be a workshop for 'budding ex-CEOs'! An intention to share power across a team has the potential for redistributing it but not in an equal way.

7 Replies
Brian Robertson
02/23/2019

I do think those who know the rules and how to use them effectively have more power to lead their roles in service of the organization's purpose.  I'm not sure I'd say they get more personal power to meet their own personal goals; perhaps that too, but only to the extent it doesn't hurt the organization, assuming you have a decent overall Holacracy practice at play.  And I think it's worth noting that Holacracy was never intended as a tool to redistribute either of these kinds of power, nor one to make everyone equal in them.  It's rather intended as a tool to remove the structural limits on how much of these kinds of power people can claim and use.  Or, said another way, the goal isn't to remove power from the top and distribute it; it is to increase power throughout the system, so everyone can claim and use as much power as they're individually capable of.  Trying to make everyone equal in this regard, or somehow cap the power of the ex-CEO (or anyone else), would be quite limiting to the organization's purpose, and the whole point of Holacracy practice is to free people to lead so they can better express that purpose.

Hope those additional distinctions are useful!

- Brian

PS:  Just for the record, I'm not the ex-CEO of HolacracyOne; I held that title in my last company before HolacracyOne, but I've never held that title in this organization, because we started with Holacracy from the beginning and never centralized power in a CEO role in the first place.

Brian Robertson
02/23/2019

(So, to your point:  I agree, it definitely seems useful for the ex-CEO to develop a really deep capacity with the rules of Holacracy, so they can wield lots of power.  And of course the same is true for everyone else too.)

Bernard Marie Chiquet
02/23/2019

I fully agree with Brian's comments and I would add that one of the key success factors, if not the most important, is that the CEO masters the use of Holacracy in all its nuances as quickly as possible to deal with all the tensions he senses in relation to the needs of the organization he is able to detect, both to serve the company better (and the use of Holacracy gives him much more power over the organization than he had before) and to model by example and thus allow all other employees of its company to dare to treat using Holacracy's power all the tensions/needs of the organization that they are able to identify.

davidlp
02/24/2019

Thanks Brian

I wasn't really thinking about it from the personal power/personal goals point of view or at least not in the standard understanding of those words.

As the founder of an organisation with a strong purpose it seems pretty likely that you will have a strong drive to serve that purpose and hopefully quite a bit of experience and expertise to offer that purpose. Even if it has evolved in a more shared way since, the original purpose presumably comes from your inner most feelings about the world and your desired contribution to it.

So far as I can see, it is of paramount importance that any founder or ex CEO becomes one of the de-facto experts in the use of Holacracy to ensure that they are able to contribute what they have to offer to the organisation and if they don't, especially in the early stages of adoption, there is a significant risk of 'mission drift' and/or the dilution of what they are able to offer.

Of course in an ideal world I would hope that everyone across the organisation would master those same tools in order to magnify their contribution but in our relatively early stage of adoption my sense is that this may not be how things unfold. Some people are 'systems' people and some people just aren't. Although I think that even those people who don't become masters of Holacracy will still be able to offer more than they could in a conventional setup it is unlikely that they will have the same leverage as those who put time and energy into understanding this new framework of operation.

[@mention:449833773917801859] - thanks I've just seen your thoughts as I'm writing this. That all makes good sense.

Malachi Rempen
02/25/2019

Isn't though this the point of good facilitation? You can't expect everyone in the organization to become holacracy masters, but you don't have to because if a facilitator is doing their job well, they make it their business to help people find the pathways to solving their tensions, whether they're the ex-CEO or the coffee stocker. As long as the org partners are comfortable bringing up their tensions they'd learn pretty quickly all the options available to them. A more experienced person might propose bolder changes but a good facilitator could make bold changes one of the pathways for a less experienced person. Isn't that how it should work?

(I'm in [@mention:577633875651499938]'s org and we are definitely in medium/early days so it could be I don't fully understand all the nuances)

davidlp
02/25/2019

I think being helped by a facilitator is a good second option Mal. But if you think about the huge range of proposals you have made yourself in the last few weeks there is no way that someone without your understanding would even bring these things to a meeting for a facilitator to then help them process items.

Brian Robertson
02/27/2019

So far as I can see, it is of paramount importance that any founder or ex CEO becomes one of the de-facto experts in the use of Holacracy to ensure that they are able to contribute what they have to offer to the organisation and if they don't, especially in the early stages of adoption, there is a significant risk of 'mission drift' and/or the dilution of what they are able to offer.

Totally agreed David; except if they don't, I think the far more common result is them rejecting Holacracy to avoid mission drift or dilution of their contribution...

Malachi:  A good facilitator/coach definitely helps, but it isn't sufficient in my experience.  A typical CEO has far more expertise in the business than a typical facilitator/coach can figure out how to channel into Holacracy's pathways; so it's imperative the CEO learns how to do so themself, lest they effectively be constrained by the facilitator/coach's business expertise.  (On a side note, I think this is a key reason why I've seen the best facilitator/coach's are most often former CEO's or others with substantial business-building experience.) 

- Brian