Deborah: Welcome everyone. I’m Deborah Boyar, Host of HolacracyOne’s Community of Practice, and I’d like to introduce you to our conversation partners in today’s call on the Partnership Circle.
Mike Williams, President & CEO of the David Allen Company, brings 22 years of training in leadership development to his many roles at DavidCo, which include Lead Link to both the GCC and Partnership Circle. With a long track record of developing organizational talent, Mike previously served as an executive at GE Healthcare, where he led major efforts in employee engagement. He also developed a curriculum for teaching GTD® to children. Welcome, Mike, it’s an honor and pleasure to have you with us!
Our other guest needs no introduction to our regular listeners, but for any new folks tuning in, I’m delighted to introduce you to Tom Thomison, co-founder of HolacracyOne and Lead Link to our Application Circle. A seasoned entrepreneur with over 27 years of organizational experience, Tom helped grow several startups and founded four companies. He has a unique capacity to clearly language the complex insights gleaned from his extensive work in the trenches with organizations adopting Holacracy. That’s in fact where he and Mike met, right as the David Allen Company began implementing Holacracy over a year ago. It’s an honor to work with you, Tom, and I’m happy to turn the call over to you & Mike now.
Tom: Thanks Deborah. Really appreciate that. Mike, welcome! Glad to have you with us on this Community of Practice call.
Mike: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
Tom: Yes. We’ve spent a lot of time practicing together over the last two years. We’ve been working with David Allen Company deploying Holacracy for almost two years now, not quite. And you joining just shortly after we started our implementation initiative -- from GE. So you’ve got a really deep background in organization design, human resources, and organization development. Maybe just by way of introducing yourself, you could share with folks your background, what brought you to DavidCo, and kind of where you are with things, and we can pick it up from there.
Mike: Sure. Well, first of all, it’s a pleasure to be participating in the Community. Thank you for inviting me here. My background is I spent 22 years in the healthcare IT industry. Within that 22 years I've had the opportunity to participate in many different kinds of roles and positions from consultant to project management, to program management, to being part of an executive team, to being part of a private company that grew up into a larger private company that made the decision to go public. Then that public company grew - acquired a public company and then we grew – and then we got acquired by GE.
Tom: I love those kinds of pathways. [Laughter]
Tom: The GE way, right?
Mike: Exactly. So just by spinning around in my chair, I found my contexts changing. But within each context change, there was always a learning opportunity waiting there for me. So, prior to joining The David Allen Company, I was with General Electric for about six years. I ran into David Allen’s book probably in 2004 and GE acquired us in 2006. So the Getting Things Done® methodology first and foremost was a methodology that once I read it, I recognized it was the missing link in what I needed in my own personal management system. What I loved about David’s work was – it was a closed-loop system, but it really focused on the nitty-gritty kind of dorky stuff like, “What’s that piece of paper on your desk and what are you going to do about it?” As well as taking care of structural things, as well as working on behavioral things. When you think about – at least when I think about GTD® - it is a methodology that encapsulates key behaviors that we all do in a very common way. I mean we can all do these behaviors, add them to just very simple structural things that you can do and then what comes out the other end is a practice. Because even though they’re common behaviors, they’re not commonly practiced. Even though you have common structures, they’re not commonly used in a best- practice way. So that really resonated with me, and then I started my practice of GTD®.
When David approached me about an opportunity with The David Allen Company, one of the first things I did as part of the vetting process was attend a Holacracy training in California. [Laughter]
Tom: I remember that!
Mike: So again, what I saw in Holacracy was very similar to what I saw within Getting Things Done®, which was a practice that had some simple rules, and by doing the practice, some very interesting things showed up through the process of doing the practice. So I've got basically -- here’s a martial arts term -- two dojos that I enter into everyday as soon as I wake up: my personal dojo, which is trying to do the Getting Things Done® methodology; and then my organizational dojo of doing the work of the organization through the practice of Holacracy.
Tom: Yes. I love how you frame that. That’s exactly how it feels for me as well. Practice on both ends; practicing individually my own personal productivity and getting clarity around my commitments -- things that have my attention -- and then being able to bridge that right into an organizational practice for manifesting an organizational purpose and lending my time, talent and energy towards that. Then the dance between the two is really cool. I love that both of these are practices, grounded in concrete things you can do; concrete things to help process tensions as we call it in Holacracy.
Talking about changing contexts while sitting in your seat, I mean you come over from GE and you're brought in by The David Allen Company to be the Chief Executive Officer. One of the first moves is to show up in a Holacracy training where we change all that [laughter], and now you're, in Holacracy speak, Lead Link from the Board to the GCC, right?
Mike: That’s right. Actually, I’m filling the role of two Lead Links: Lead link from the Board to the GCC, and Lead link from the Board to what we call our Partnership Circle.
Tom: Yes, which brings us to our topic for the day, which is talking about that Partnership Circle, which also hangs off the board. This is kind of a really interesting one, and I'm happy to have this conversation with you because of all your prior background in organization design and human resources, and professional development. And, you’ve lived now in Holacracy for nearly two years, and have been wrestling with the people issues and the organizational issues around how do you shift conventional ways of holding people, employees, and start looking at how they show up in this distributed authority system called Holacracy. That brings us to the Partnership Circle itself.
Maybe a little bit of framing on what the Partnership Circle is, and what gave rise to it. It was a tension within Holacracy One, looking at organizations struggling with and wrestling with what do we do about the people? We are really clear that Holacracy is about organizing not around the people, but around the work, and we’re really clear that there is the separation of role and soul, where we are defining roles in Holacracy and then we have these role-fillers, humans, and there’s a clear separation between the two. Yet, we still have all the classic things about where do we find these humans? Where do find these role-fillers, these energizers? How do we manage the relationships with the human side of things? Actually, that’s what gave rise to the Partnership Circle construct. Oftentimes, there’s a misnomer around the Partnership Circle. That it’s at first blush thought of as a circle of the partners or a circle of the employees, or a circle of the associates. That’s actually not true. The Partnership Circle is just like any other circle in Holacracy. It is a functional group that’s there to do some work. And in this case, the unique purpose of the Partnership Circle is to manage the people, to manage acquiring people, to manage the intersection, as we language it, between the organization and the partners that energize the organization. So, the Partnership Circle is unique in that it’s dealing with people issues, but it’s also very much like any other circle. It has a purpose, Mike, as you said, as a Lead Link from its broader circle. In this case, the broader circle is the Board, and the Lead Link carries the purpose down into the Partnership Circle, and the work begins all over again; unpacking that purpose, defining what roles and accountabilities are needed to do the work of that circle; to manage the intersection of partners in the organization, and the game’s afoot. Then we’re figuring out what work needs to be done. And we get to reframe all the conventional classic ways of holding human resources and staffing in a Holacratic frame, from a dynamically steered standpoint and from a separation of role and soul standpoint.
So there are really some interesting opportunities to reframe things. I know you guys have been hard at that for the last many months, and reframing some of the very conventional human resource work issues in the Partnership Circle.
One of the first things I think that comes up is this notion of role and soul separation, and it gives rise to a couple of things: the notion of fit for role, and then fit for the organization. I think this is one of the first moves that the Partnership Circle begins to wrestle with, because we have clarity that the Lead Links of each circle are accountable for finding good fits for roles. So they’re looking at role fit, and maintaining good role fit and removing folks that aren’t good fits for roles. So we have clarity on that. But again, where do these individuals that are energizing these roles come from? And what does fit for the organization look like, as something distinct and different from the fit for the role? I know you guys have been spending a lot of time with that, Mike. Maybe you could talk a little bit about your experience there, what you’ve been wrestling with, and where you’ve landed.
Mike: Sure. So for me, I’ll speak first of all from a personal standpoint, as I came from a traditional environment that had a HR system and mechanism set up; you’ve probably heard of the GE process of succession planning and performance reviews and all of that stuff. So, much of that I had to suspend, but I always gauge against that as I'm trying to seek understanding with the Holacracy system. Every system is built on a particular mental model that is being pursued. So just becoming conscious of the different types of mental models, one of a distributed authority system like the Holacracy system; versus what I would call a more traditional system, maybe a command and control system, like many standard corporate cultures, was the first thing I had to really become aware of as I tried to work through these things.
So, with that as the backdrop, as we launched the Partnership Circle, one of the first separations that we started to work on and explore and understand, and you really start building your understanding as you process your stuff through your Tactical meetings is the separation of fit for organization and fit for role. So we, on the David Allen side and the Partnership Circle, we own the fit for org piece. So what we did to further clarify what we meant by fit for org is we defined the competencies that we think are needed for a person to be successful within the David Allen Company and within a Holacratic environment. So we defined specifically about eight competencies that we use in our hiring practices because once you take on Holacracy, you’ve got two things: You’ve got your existing employees that like me, when I get acquired, have to kind of do a 360º in their chair and say, “Hey, a new operating system just showed up,” and then you have each new role that you hire becomes an opportunity to select into the organization those that will be a good fit for org, and also I think in our due diligence, we want to clearly communicate the type of person that’s most successful in this kind of environment so they can make an informed choice on signing up for our company. So that step that we made has provided a lot of clarity. It’s improved the rigor in our hiring process. It’s improved the rigor in our offboarding process. If we found somebody who wasn’t fit for org, now we have a clearer way to help them see where the gap is, and help them correct it and if they can’t correct it, then say, “Well, maybe it’s not a good fit,” which is something that we need to do in business sometimes, but do so with clarity on why, from a business perspective.
Then on the fit for role side, we are still earning and taking it case by case as fit for role questions come up within the company - what is the cross-circle partnering that happens between the Partnership Circle and the Lead Link of that circle who thinks that they have a misalignment in fit for role and then declare it, put it over in the Partnership Circle, and see if there’s another fit for role opportunity within the company. If no, then perhaps offboarding is one of the consequences or another is to find another role within the company. So those are the real things that show up in business. They showed up at GE just as much as they showed up in Holacracy, but we just have a better set of rules and languages to help us work through the situations.
Tom: Yes. I love how you frame that, Mike. These are not new issues, of course, and I just think that Holacracy brings a different lens, a different mental model of looking at some of these very traditional tensions, issues, and opportunities. So I think the distinctions that Holacracy brings around fit for org and fit for role are really key. It is the distributed authority system where everyone has a voice and we want to attract to the organization - in fact, maybe better said the organization wants to attract to itself - those that are a good fit for the organization.
With Holacracy in play, I think we have more clarity now. As you said Mike, these are very traditional problems. These have existed forever. How do you find and retain and attract good people? Well, it’s that good people thing. It’s like what David says, “What’s that piece of paper on the desk?” What does “good people” mean? What’s that?” We want to get really crisp and clear about our meanings and what we’re looking for, and I think by separating out and making a distinction between fit for role and fit for organization, we have that opportunity, and I think you guys at the David Allen Company have done a great job. The Partnership Circle’s done a great job in sensing into both the subjective and objective measures that indicate are good markers for fit for organization.
I always kind of go back to the generic intrinsic motivation that Dan Pink wrote about in Drive. I think those are great markers. Intrinsically motivated people show up with a capacity to do well with ambiguity, love and embrace change, love to have control over their talent, their time, and the techniques they use to get their work done. I think Holacracy aligns in spades with those that are intrinsically motivated, because circle members/partners have the ability to control most of that, because they have a voice in how all the work that’s structured and what circles they’re showing up in, what roles are being defined, and what are the authorities and the accountabilities of those roles. So I think Holacratic organizations, one of the general markers that we’re looking for in fit for org is around those that are intrinsically motivated. I know you guys have put together several markers for fit for org out of the Partnership Circle. Maybe you could explore a little bit with this what you were looking at, and what kind of tool sets maybe that you landed on and how you dealt with the fit for org question.
Mike: Okay. Very good. So one of the things that we did as far as Dan Pink’s research and intrinsically motivated people - for the purpose of this conversation I did want to let folks know that we did carve out between two groups of folks within our company, which is sales folks and non-sales folks. So we have folks on an incentive plan and then others that are not; just that’s where we’ve landed today on that topic. So my comments are mainly going to be focused on fit for org. We want everybody to come into the organization with a fit for org, and then intrinsically motivated or how they’re motivated is actually something that, through this selection process, we hope that they show up within the company and are eager and engaged learners. So some of the competencies that we selected and we used as far as tools for helping us select competencies, there is a company, Lominger, that has developed – it’s one of maybe a handful of companies that has done some really good competency research across hundreds of organizations across thousands of people to distill down into a book 67 competencies. Then the idea is you select the five to eight competencies that are most important for a role, and then use those in your interview process, your coaching process, your self-evaluation process. So we did that, and when we did that, we imagined the successful person come into the org. What kind of Holacratic player could we select?
So one key competency was informing - the ability to bring information into a circle setting, share information in a very constructive way. Two is the ability to deal with ambiguity; this is another competency that we felt was important. Another one that could be a David Allen kind of thing, but we wanted them to have a good sense of humor, in that a little lightness in the conversation is always helpful as well. I’m trying to think off the top of my head, Tom – actually self-knowledge was another one that we selected as a key competency because one of the things that we learned as we progressed in our Holacratic practice is the ability to be open to and receive instant feedback that can come though a Holacratic Tactical meeting or a Governance meeting and just the ability to get comfortable in that kind of setting because it’s something that you’re going to find yourself in quite often. Even as I – I’m a pretty seasoned business guy and when I enter my Governance meetings, I get a little bead of perspiration coming down like, “I wonder how this is going to be received.”
Tom: Yes. You and me both. I think that’s just part of this practice. It always illuminates the difference between our own needs and the organization’s needs.
Mike: Right. So those are, as far as fit for org, Lominger was a methodology that we used to get down to some key competencies. Those key competencies again, are things that we use as just kind of a guide to help people understand if they’re on track or veering off. If they’re veering off, the other nice thing about that tool set is that it gives you remedies and things that people can work on.
Tom: Yes. I love the work that you guys have done there in the Partnership Circle. I remember having conversations with several members of the circle as you were exploring different tool sets and different approaches and I loved the subset of six or seven markers or traits, and I love the theme about having the ability to embrace ambiguity that we talked about, being a constant learner, just being exposed to new ideas, loving to assimilate new things, and just having learning embedded in how you show up. The lightness is so, so important. I definitely see it at the David Allen Company, having worked with you guys now for a couple of years and I think Holacracy brings the opportunity to bring lightness to our work. I will never forget David’s quote, “Life is deadly serious with a wink.” It’s both of those things. We are creating new and novel things in the world through our organizations, and doing wonderful and marvelous work by manifesting organizational purpose, and that is serious, serious work no doubt, and there’s a lightness to it, that everything’s going to be okay and we’re lending our talents and our energies to the best of our capacities trying to make all this show up and figure all this out and with that, there’s a lightness. So I think I find that in a lot of Holacratic organizations, being able to dance those poles of seriousness and light, and I love that play and I see that shine through in so many elements at the David Allen Company. I think that’s really, really cool that that’s now part of your search criteria for good fits for this organization, and I think it’s a good model for other Holacratic organizations that are instituting a Partnership Circle: What are your markers? What are the markers that indicate a good fit for the organization that you’re associated with? I think this is a really interesting question to hold and it changes everything. Just like Holacracy shifts so many different things in subtle ways, this is another one of those that’s a subtle shift, but a really significant one.
I think it even goes to how we hold the Partnership Circle. Holacracy One is legally grounded in Holacratic principles. We have a legal operating system, an operating agreement that is grounded in Holacracy, which allows us to use partners. We are an all-partner organization. We have no employees legally. So, Partnership Circle absolutely works for us, and it may not work for everyone because there is a range in a continuum, a spectrum still, of how folks are showing up in organizations and everything from a partner status to maybe a member of the organization is another way to frame it, or an associate of the organization comes up, very common. Some folks call it the people circle to make that distinction, and then all the way down to employee, but employee is exactly what we're pushing away from. There is still the legal reality of course that we are legally employees in 99.99% of all of our organizations. We have a legal agreement with the organization, an employment agreement. There are legal labor laws governing that employment relationship and we must be in compliance with those labor laws, no question, but Holacracy’s distributed authority system and Holacracy’s Constitution shifts the notion of employee relying on employer for certain things and guidance. In a distributed authority system, everyone is participating in governance. Everyone is participating in the structure and the authority of building and distribution of the organization. So, employee just doesn't quite fit beyond the legal constructs. It just doesn't really fit in a Holacratic organization and here is another opportunity.
So if that doesn't fit, what does, playing the spectrum? Is it a member, is it an associate, or is it a partner and how do you kind of dance that. I know you guys started with Partnership Circle and you guys are still wrestling with this question as well. What should the circle be called, and what about the members in the organization? What should they be called?
Mike: Right, so right now, we're still using the term partner and we're wondering if that's the right term for us, but we're on the search for the right label, maybe it's people but right now it's partner. You said something that was interesting and I remember as I worked through it, I actually drew a series of diagrams to help me actually explore the who, what, when, where, how of this relationship between fit for org (Partnership Circle) and fit for role, and I remember I shared that with you Tom. But that was a really good exercise for me to separate and really study what Holacracy was getting after. If you look at the GCC side, it's really getting after what's the role needed, what are the accountabilities. If you look at the Partnership Circle side, what we're trying to do is bring people into a pool of people that can be selected from, and by bringing them into a pool of people that can be selected from, the roles become - fit for a role becomes a subset of that. So, fit for org comes in and then the Lead Links can go shopping for role holders.
One of the things that we did to help with the shopping piece which was a relatively recent thing that we did with our company is we have an internal database where people can start articulating their aspirations, what they would like to do in the future as far as professional development roles and responsibilities that they would like to have as the opportunities become available so we call that our career and aspiration database. That plays a role in that when a Lead Link in the GCC is looking to fill a role, they can go there and scan and see if somebody has an interest for that particular role or that type of role, or maybe they just ask a question, "Hey, are you interested in this?" Which is interesting to watch that build and transform as part of our ecosystem within Holacracy, which is focused on role fillers. We're a matchmaking service in finding people for the org and then a matchmaking service in finding role fillers for roles.
Tom: Yes, I love that notion of going shopping.
Mike: For the rest of the community, I think that's been really positive so I would say maybe a third of the company has entered in their aspiration and goals, and so it's been a very positive thing and some of those folks have gone on to get new roles within the organization based on that level of awareness and understanding of where they’d like to go.
Tom: Yes, I think that's another great example of using the Partnership Circle as a repository for all the talent, all the potential role fillers and leveraging it to mimic what we might have conventionally called stretch goals. How do you professionally develop folks in a Holacratic environment? You do so by providing visibility and transparency across the system, both with potential role fillers and those roles that are filling roles with those potential role fillers, and creating a marketplace, an exchange where you can go shopping and it's safe to do so, because you can balance the resource allocation tensions and the other tensions through the pathways defined, but it allows each and every individual to promote themselves. That's what I really like. It allows for self-promotion, unabashed self-promotion. It's like “These are the things that I'm interested in, these are the things that juice me, these are things that I have aspirations to pursue”, and I love that you guys have created a repository to make those aspirations visible and transparent to the rest of the organization so that the role fillers, the role-filling roles, the Lead Links, can tap into that knowledge, that collective intelligence about what's available for the organization, to find good fits for roles and to stretch folks and to maximize, from a business standpoint, you maximize resources. You get to optimize folks that are really energized about doing some such thing, and take advantage of that by filling them into a role that they might not have been aware of - an entirely different circle about something that is tangential to the bulk of their work. It gives them an opportunity to stretch into something new, and I love that this can become the work of the Partnership Circle and how you guys have framed and held that. It's great to hear that you got such good participation too. I'm really encouraged to hear that. Have you received any feedback from those that have been promoting and pitching themselves?
Mike: Yes, so two points of feedback on two separate lines of thought here. Those folks that have gone in and participated and found new roles, I think they're entering those roles with a high degree of enthusiasm, with a higher degree of clarity certainly because through the practice of Holacracy and the role and accountability structure, you know exactly what you're signing up for, which is beautiful. Then on another side, as I mentioned at the beginning you have those that are in the company when you make the transition to Holacracy, and those that you can select from the outside. So those that are in the company, when you make the transition, what I’ve noticed is there is a recalibration that needs to happen. It will either happen unconsciously or consciously. The best way to have it happen is consciously, but if people unconsciously don't connect to the new Holacracy process, what I've noticed is a need for - they have a need for people to reach out to them and to give them feedback, to invite them in, into - to make sure they are participating in the process. As far as change management with Holacracy is concerned, I would say for a period of time, there is probably that need to say "something has changed, here are the new rules, here is the new system and how this works within this system", so if people are used to having a high degree of political savvy within an organization to know how to work people to get to outcomes, and you go to a Holacracy model, that kind of fades way into the background, and the Tactical and Governance meetings are where the new reconnection points are. In my experience at The David Allen Company, those that have embraced Holacracy, that need diminishes for people to go out and check on people because they're always checking in, but we've seen some people drift away and the further they stay away from Holacracy, the more noticeable it gets. Some of the behaviors come back to who's my leader, or who's going to reach out to me and notice me. So I just say that in the spirit of learning, that you need to pay attention to some of your outliers and encourage them to engage, so they don’t drift too far afield, but at some point they're going to reach a point where they need to make a conscious decision on what they would like to do and what kind of org structure works for them because even within General Electric or a big corporate company, people opt out of the big corporate culture too. So it's not a new dynamic. It's just what I always encourage people to do is really become conscious of the game that you signed up for. Understand the rules, and corporate cultures have a game; Holacracy cultures have a game. If you're conscious to it, it really helps.
Tom: Very well said, Mike. I love that being conscious of the choices we make. I think that's one of the cornerstones that Holacracy is bringing to organizational space. It's the same with GTD®, right? Being conscious of the commitments we make, and how we keep those commitments in alignment with our current reality, moment to moment. So, that’s another place where our practices, Holacracy and GTD® are so principally aligned. I love that.
I also love that in the Partnership Circle we have now a two-step process, and you beautifully framed what it's like to transition, to have Holacracy arrive in your organization and then you are faced with spinning in your chair and faced with the lights coming on, right? The illumination, the transparency now, the visibility and where authority lives, and how authority decisions are made, where our connections points are as you point out and how that has shifted. That can be shocking – jarring folks absolutely.
Mike: For me. [Laughter]
Tom: Yes, for me too, of course. I think it's one of the biggest shifts, this inertia of what we're all accustomed to in terms of where authority and power and leadership lives, and Holacracy begins to shift all of those things. We talked a lot about those but to experience them is quite another matter. I think this is again where the Partnership Circle can come in. Now with better clarity about what are the markers and characteristics of good fits for this organization. We can now have a more conscious, illuminated dialogue with those that are struggling and then make another conscious choice. Is this the right ship for you? Should you be pushing this rock with us together, as another one of our clients said. I love the metaphor. The getting on the bus and getting off the bus. There are many different ways of languaging it, but to make conscious choices around that I think is key. With these lenses and with these distinctions we're able to make better conscious choices collectively so that something doesn’t happen to you, you are participating in the discussion of where you want to guide your career, where you want to lend your time, talent and energy. You as a member of the organization are able to make a much better, more conscious decision with that regard instead of being a victim and having things done or happen to you. I love that about this distinction of partnership, and humans and the sacredness of the human as something separate from the organizational side or the operational side, I should say, of the organization, and keeping those two things distinct and clear.
Mike: Yes. There is an interesting paradox in the humanity of a very mechanical process. What I mean by that is Holacracy, the Tactical meetings and the Governance meetings can be very mechanical. So some of the feedback that you can get from people is that it is very mechanical, very impersonal -- but it's in the mechanics of it that it is the most fair that it can be for the individual. It's almost like if you're driving down the highway to get to a destination, the act of getting on a highway, getting in your car, getting on a highway and getting to the destination is very mechanical. There's just permanent structure that’s set up there, and you know the rules of the road, and you know how to get to point A to point B. There might be a couple obstacles to work around but you know how to do that too. Very mechanical to allow you to get to your destination, and nobody's screaming about that, but when you apply it to behavior and decision-making and you get it down to the core essence of the decision-making process, and allow it to be mechanical to allow you to arrive at a conclusion - once you embrace that, then it transcends becoming mechanical and will be human.
Tom: It does. Interesting paradox. It is a funny thing to experience that. You can talk about it, you could share that with others but until you live it, it is really hard to grasp that you paradoxically get what you seek by stop seeking it.
Mike: The thing to examine is I feel - as you move from a non-Holacratic to a Holacratic organization, the question is “What's your trigger? What triggers you to reach for something?” Then what I found is that something wasn't there in Holacracy, so I was like, "Okay. Let me go back and examine my triggers because I have to reset." The trigger will be the same, but I have to reset my behaviors within my routine that I used to get to the reward that I'm seeking at the other end.
Tom: Yes. Again I love how you language it. What I heard was, processing your tensions, your triggers, through a different rule set and how does this rule set, this practice, re-inform or shift in certain ways, those very same triggers. I think that's a really mature way of approaching this practice.
Mike: I’ve got one more story to share, Tom if we have time.
Tom: Yes, absolutely.
Mike: I wanted to just let the community know that we recently, at The David Allen Company, took some of the organizational tensions that have been maturing over time and reached the conclusion that, "Hey maybe there is a better way to structure our circles." As part of the Holacratic process, we literally within 12 hours of meeting time, were able to take our organization from 8 circles down to 4 circles without really skipping a beat. As I exited that process, I was really intrigued by what just happened to me, because what was absent was the game playing and the politicking and the maneuvering. What was present was clarity on accountability, authority - well, not authority, but well yes accountabilities with it come authority, and making sure we got those right. The ability to actually re-org your reorganization within 48 hours, and then as you exit that and say you go to a new leader, but you're hopping into a structure that says, "Okay here's our Tactical meeting, here's our checklist, here's the projects, what tensions do you have?" The rhythm didn’t change, which I think from an operating system perspective was very intriguing.
Tom: Yes, that was a fascinating experience with you guys as you restructured the organization, and I've done this with other organizations as well and have had similar experiences. I mean we've all been accustomed to the classic reorg, right? There's a lot of angst and a lot of tension and there's a lot of politicking before, during and after. There is almost a cessation of the work. Everything comes to a halt until the politics get reshuffled - who has power and how does that personal power get deployed and all that kind of stuff. We've seen those cycles over and over again. Some organizations I know are addicted to that -- about every 18 months they habitually reorganize and everything comes to a halt. What I noticed with you guys when we were doing this work, and I’ve noticed with others, there is an inertia about the work of the organization that continues on. There is a safety in that these practices, we can relax into the practices that we’re familiar with, and in a certain way nothing has changed because we’re still processing organizational tensions to get the work done in pursuit of purpose, right? We’re just doing so with, now, more clarity and understanding about what structure best holds that purpose and that work.
I think this is directly related, too, to the Partnership Circle because we have carved out all of the people issues and we acknowledge the sacredness of the human that is energizing these roles, and we’ve carved out the work of managing the human resources: the human dynamics, the compensation systems, the assessment systems, the performance management systems. All of those things are safe in another area of the organization. So when re-orging, I think it’s a completely different experience to re-org, Holacracy-style. In fact, one might say the organization is constantly – always reorganizing itself. [Laughter] In some moments more radical, more dramatic than in others, but it’s always sensing into what needs to shift and change.
Mike: Yes, this is more akin to pruning. Sometimes you do a little pruning and then sometimes you’re like, “I don’t need that branch. I’ll lop off that whole branch.” [Laughter]
Mike: But it is a practice too. It is a pruning practice and I think we reached version one where we took our knowledge at a point in time and dumped it all into Holacracy, and I would almost call this version two.
Mike: Now that we’ve been practicing, we’ve been illuminated in that we understand this a bit deeper and we can go back and evaluate the wording of our roles; the wording of our accountabilities; the inputs and outputs and make sure they’re lined up.
Tom: Yes, absolutely. I don’t think we can say that enough too that with practice - and DavidCo is now about two years in, and is now using the practice to do the restructuring to institute the Partnership or people circle and now has the freedom to play with structure, play with roles, play with authority, with the safety, that it’s okay to do so. And I think the Partnership Circle is a critical part of that. Once you get the people issues, and the recruiting issues, the compensation issues where that is something separate. I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve carved out partnership matters as something separate from the operationalizing of the purpose - operationalizing the purpose; because what that does, it frees you up in the operational side of the organization to make decisions around organizing around the work - optimizing around the work, free from all of the politics and the personal issues because those are addressed elsewhere. And we kind of have a safety net that we can process tensions on both sides of that coin: on the personal side, the human dynamic side, and on the organizational and the operational side. I think the Partnership Circle really helps to make all of that move fast and all of that feel safe to do. So I applaud you guys for your work. I know you’ve got many, many roles. I love some of the roles that you created in the Partnership Circle like Talent Sleuth. [Laughter] It’s kind of that lightness, too, of looking at what accountabilities are needed to go find good partners well-suited for The David Allen Company. I knew you’ve got some compensation roles in there, some training roles as well. So you really fleshed out the Partnership Circle and really gotten clear on what the work of that circle is.
Mike: Probably one of the most important roles that we added recently was a GCC liaison role.
Tom: Oh, tell me more about that.
Mike: The tension behind it was increasing the communication between the Partnership Circle and updates on what’s transpiring with the GCC, which contains the Lead Links. Through the development of the Partnership Circle, we do see a very important relationship between the Partnership Circle and the role of the Lead Link, because the role of the Lead Link, in order to make fit for role calls, and allocation of resources, there’s a certain degree of business acumen, support, and rigor that a person needs to do that work successfully and have the business maturity to do that. So we’re examining that intersection between our Lead Links – fit for role, Lead Links, the Partnership Circle; fit for org.
Mike: This really gets exercised when you have somebody who’s saying, “I don’t have a fit for role.” My background was, “Okay, what are the technical HR things that you need to take care of in that kind of situation just to do a nice, fair practice?” It’s all about being fair in the end to both the organization and the individual as much as you can. So part of this relationship is exploring that space on, “How can we build our practices so they continue to be conscious, fair?”
Tom: Yes, yes.
Mike: We have good fundamental processes in place so they’re not bolted on but they’re baked in to just how we do business and how we monitor the organization, and process our tensions.
Tom: Yes, I think that’s another great example of integrating tensions across circle boundaries and practicing and getting clarity on what roles have the authority to do that integration and providing those channels. Beautiful. Just another maturation of the Partnership Circle taking it to the next step. We could spend probably another couple of hours at least on all the various components. We didn’t touch on compensation at all - a big and rich topic. Performance evaluation assessment, a big and rich topic; professional development - there’s just so much that goes on in the Partnership Circle. We have just scratched the surface but it’s been a real pleasure, Mike, having you with us on our community call sharing your real world experiences, your real wrestling with this beast we call Holacracy and distributed authority from your personal perspective. We’re really honored that you have spent the time with us to do that. Really appreciate it, Mike.
Mike: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure being here.
Tom: Well, good. We’re bringing this conversation to a close on the Partnership Circle. I am sure we’ll have more on partnership matters going forward, no doubt; and I’m sure our COP host, Deborah, will get that scheduled as demand dictates. So thank you everybody for participating and showing up, and I look forward to being on a future COP call. Thanks.