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

Third Party Contractors - Partners?

Howdy Holacrats - 


We're wondering if/how/when any of you have incorporated contractors (vs employees) as Role-fillers or otherwise as Core Circle Members.  At present in our organization, we have Souls differentiated as Employees, Volunteers and Contractors and have until now only treated Employees and Volunteers as 'Partners' - individuals who can fill Roles.


I tend to foresee the idea of Contractors in Roles as problematic due to a more direct supervisory context defined in contracts.  I have concern that a contractor (who may be less vested in the super-circle or anchor-circle purpose, for example) may not responsibly execute their authorities... but one colleague isn't so sure that we need to have such differentiation and that a Partner might be any of the 3 identifications above, as long as there is great clarity and any potential conflicts-of-interest are transparently addressed.


Your input heartily solicited!!  (I hope this was at least a little less prosaic!)

11 Replies
Tony Wood

That is a good point.. We are getting some contractors to work with us soon so will feedback with experience soon.

For now I would say you need to add the Holacrary terms to the contract.


We have a role responsible for third party suppliers and that seems to be working. Happy to talk more.

Frederik Fleischmann

We had a similar question in our organization where I answered as follows:

1. Whether or not we include freelancers is a decision of your best judgement. Do you think the person should be involved with our entire organization and be able to interact with other roles frequently? Then this person should have a glassfrog account. Will this person regularly participate in the Tactical and Governance Meetings? Then too should this person receive a glassfrog account.
2. If the person doesn't necessarily need an account: A solution could be to create a role which coordinates with freelancers. Let's say your circle uses several freelance designers. They maybe don't each need a glassfrog account. Instead it could make sense to create a role which is responsible to interact with these designers, negotiate contracts, monitor results, etc.

Koen Veltman
Hi Keith, i would just ask: is it safe enough to try? Or what would be safe enough to try. As with any other proposal.  Eg take one contractor and see if it changes the energy he gives etc.

Hi Keith,


Holacracy is for people working in an Organization for its purpose on a day to day basis. A volunteer working only 1 or 2 days per week is not a real partner and shouldn't be assigned to a role - meetings takes a lot of time already.

A contractor works for another company and is not contributing to the same purpose. We had the experience of both and giving them a role (full authority), including them in governance and tactical meetings doesn't make sense and doesn't work. You can't give full authority to someone external.

The right move would be to assign a partner to a role and then leaving him/her the choice to ask a volunteer or to call a contractor for some projects. He then process tensions directly with the volunteer/contractor.

For instance, I have a graphic design role but I am not especially good in design, I just hire a sub-contractor, deal with it normally. 

Brian Robertson

Hey Keith,


I think a lot depends on how close the relationship is; if the contractor is long-term and very close to the organization and its purpose, then I think it'd be really interesting to experiment with making them a partner.  Of course be careful - Margaux's experience is a fair warning - but I have a hard time believing it can't possibly work, and it seems like there are some real benefits if it does, at least if the contractor knows or learns how to use Holacracy to help drive change effectively...


- Brian


Hi Keith, Brian,


We've experienced it with a long-term contractor and the main reason it didn't work is because the person was bringing tensions that had nothing to do with our company but she was trying to process her own company's tensions. And the second reason was because we couldn't modify the roles as needed from tensions we've faced because the contractor would object that she can't do it or we would need to pay more... At the end, we thought of having this person has a part time partner but it didn't make sense neither so we went back to “role-filler manage the relationship with this contractor directly”.

Brian Robertson
Hey Margaux,

Yep, those are definitely the challenges I’d anticipate. Yet, they are as much about maturity of boundary-management skills as they are about the contractor relationship structure. Many new full-time partners also wrestle with bringing proposals into governance that are really about serving their personal goals/needs vs. supporting the organization's purpose. I think a contractor relationship can make that even more challenging to navigate (how much probably depends on the contract terms and compensation system at play), yet someone with the right level of boundary-management skill should be able to do so just fine, even in a contractor relationship...

- Brian



Thank you for your answer, I understand and agree

Keith Jarvis

I am grateful for the responses and in-depth dialogue here.

I think in the instance the Brian describes, trying it out with someone that was in long ongoing relationship, that THEN was made a Partner through role assignment, and necessitate training in Holacracy, and attendance at meetings... would pretty much set the stage for that person to become an employee.

I'm thinking as much about the IRS rules about definitions of contractors vs W-2 employees as I am thinking about whether an individual who is contractually providing project or service-under-direction (like data entry) ought to have Partner authorities or not.

I'm already leaning my opinion against, re: the authorities bit, and the more I think about training in Holacracy and meeting attendance, the more I lean against due to the definition of contractor part.

One last comment about Margaux's comment about volunteers - we are a very unique situation who as a nonprofit have a number of committed part-time and nearly full-time volunteers energizing roles in our anchor circle.  That is unlikely to change - and the authorities they carry in Role as Partners is we think more aligned than with contractors.

Great stuff, very very helpful!


Karilen Mays

I think de minimus role assignments for contractors and some onboarding for the close partners is my quick answer, though I appreciate Margaux and others have weighed in...

Keith Jarvis

So I know there were more recent instances of a topic like this, but thought I'd update what we changed our Partner Definition to back in January.