We’ve been implementing Holacracy for 8-ish months at Undercurrent, and I’m certain we’re not going back to our previous way of working. I still find it a bit over-engineered (complicated versus complex) but there are four things that stand out as core differences from traditional ways of working:
- Rule of Law
Members of the organization agree to abide by a set of rational guidelines that supersede all others. This is a big one for most small or new organizations, most of which have no rules at all, instead relying on tradition, charisma, and culture to guide the work. For what it’s worth, I’m not necessarily referring to the Constitution here, but rather to the rules and roles that the group creates.
- Continuous Participatory Reorganization
Most companies are reorganized on some multi-annual rhythm, according to management diktat*. Monthly, local reorganization based on sensed data (data being the plural of anecdote) makes most changes safe and gives everyone a consensual say. Two sub-points here. Frequency makes things safe: if a structure sucks, it can be changed next month, after we know that it sucks from experience. Togetherness makes things stick: things we used to decide top-down weren’t adopted; things we decided to do as a group have stuck.
- Structured Decision-Making Process
The Integrative Decision-Making technology inside of Holacracy is fantastic. It feels arduous, inhumane, and just plain slow at first, but it’s clear that when compared to previous approaches for decision-making, it makes huge issues easier to tackle as a team. Have some data? Propose a change. Consider the change thoughtfully, but without discussion (that’s key). Edit it with feedback. Before committing it to the record, ensure that the change won’t cause harm to the organization.
- Defined Output Format
By providing a rudimentary pattern language – roles have XYZ properties, accountabilities are phrased in this way, etc. – more people are able to participate in the structuring of the work. Without this definition, I believe self-governing systems require representatives: it’s too hard for a random fellow off the street to learn how to participate in Congress, say, so we elect reps to learn the system for us. In Holacracy, everyone’s able to participate because the output is (relatively) constrained.
There’s a fifth one that I’ll leave off for now because it feels so different: bullshit-less project meetings. Most status meetings that we observe (and that we used to run inside UC) were vague blends of doing the work and dividing the work. In a traditional system, project updates lead to interminable discussion. Better meeting facilitation leads to swift updates, more clarity, and very little wasted time.
*Diktat! I finally used it in a sentence, 20-something years after having it in a spelling bee study book.