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

What are criteria for a circle to be a circle?


Our client has some circles that are under re-structuring, and this question came up, "What are criteria for a circle to be a circle?" 

This question is not about and different from how a sub-circle is created. The client knows that a sub-circle can only be created through GM. Rather, they want to explore, "What makes a circle a circle?" because of various ways a circle can be formed. 

My thought is that a circle is defined by its clear boundary that could be defined by either function or purpose. When it is defined by purpose, it really is dependent on how the super-circle defines the purpose. What are Holacracy best practices in this area? 

Many thanks,






6 Replies
Jean-Michel Gode

Hi Lily,

Just a few pragmatic milestones:
• Roles within the same Sub-Circle work toward the same purpose,
• There is a strong cohesion (a lot of roles in relationship) between the different roles included in the Sub-Circle,• Global working time in the Sub-Circle represents at least 3 full-time jobs.

Hope that helps.
Looking forward other inputs,


Ruben @ Springest

Could you clarify what you mean by "various ways a circle can be formed"? I think there is only one way: governance.

Also, AFAIK there is no difference between a circle and a sub circle (eg. every circle is a sub circle of the general circle, etc)

To add, IMO a circle should always be formed around a purpose (although you could propose one with just accountabilities), and "function" is just one of the grouping possibilities. Might just as well be "target group" or anything else. 

Lily Truong

@JEAN-MICHEL GODE: Thank you, Jean-Michel. That was helpful, especially a note on global working time. Could you elaborate more on that point? 



Lily Truong

@RUBEN @ SPRINGEST: about "various ways a circle can be formed", I meant criteria to group existing roles into sub-circles to maximize cohesion and efficiency. 

I agree (and the client knows) that circle is created in GM. 

The situation is that an organization slowly deploys Holacracy in different parts (previously departments) of the organization. Now an existing department starts implementing Holacracy and becomes a circle in the GCC. However, because there are existing jobs that are slowly transformed into roles, it becomes challenging to define sub-circles in that new circle.

Other variables are the organization has regional offices, and each regional office has similar roles performing similar functions, just in different markets. 

One of the ways they consider grouping sub-circles is based on the region these roles perform and interact (cohesion, and pattern of interaction). This seems to work, especially when dealing with meeting scheduling and maintaining sub-circle cohesion. So each sub-circle has similar purpose and work toward that purpose in different region. Those sub-circles have similar roles with similar accountabilities. The challenge is there is a lack of flow of information and cohesion between roles doing similar functions in different sub-circles (in different regions) and between sub-circles within the super-circle. (This starts to sound like conventional satellite offices set-up). The Lead Links of regionally focused sub-circles represent those sub-circles at the super-circle level. Is this the good way to go? How's about those similar roles in different sub-circles? Shall they be grouped in a separate sub-circles so that they can have regular TM and GM to evolve their roles and the organization or can this simply be teams which have separate team meetings?

Another way they consider grouping a circle is to group roles that have closely related functions or purpose and have multiple multi-filled roles with different focuses in 1 circle. 

I guess there are many possibilities to address this real tension. I am curious to hear more suggestions and what Holacracy's best practices would look like in this context.



Jeff Kreh

[@mention:508243854762339714], I could be wrong since it's been a while since I read it, but doesn't [@mention:449693036223847456] cover this in his book?

I seem to remember reading somewhere that if you're doing a company reorg, then the existing structure informs subcircles and their roles. If you're organization is a startup, as ours was/is, then mimicking an existing organization can be helpful up to a point. Following a more organic and ’just in time’ process, we have roles that multiple individuals energize with a specific accountability stressed (e.g., in "Finance" we have someone responsible for daily records, someone else for regular review, etc.) The role is simple enough and the organization young enough that this makes sense for now. As Likewise College grows, this role may or may not need to become a subcircle. If the need does arise, then the role stewards should raise that tension when they sense it. From there, the governance process takes over.

There may be other ways to approach the creation of subcircles, too. Our organization’a best results are coming from defining and energizing the minimally necessary roles, adding people to roles until enough people are energizing them that a subcircle can function (i.e., enough for LeadLink, Facilitator, Secretary, & RepLink core roles), and protecting the tension-driven movement of the role to become a subcircle when absolutely necessary.

Lily Truong

Thanks, JEFF KREH, for sharing examples of your organization. This was a great explanation, too!