In March 2020, it has been 5 years since Voys started Holacracy. What is the current situation and what have we learned from the organization model?”.

Diederick Janse is co-founder of and co-author of the book ‘Getting Teams Done’. In 2015 he supported Voys with adopting Holacracy as an organization model. In this part of series “5 years of Holacracy” he answers the 10 most frequently asked questions about Holacracy. In the first part of the series (in Dutch), Mark Vletter talks about leadership and management in a self-managing organization.

1. What is Holacracy?

“Holacracy is a framework that provides tools for organizations to self-organize within teams and (especially) entire organizations. The method is characterized by a focus on structured meetings and explicit rules, which can be found in a constitution. Holacracy was developed by Brian Robertson, an American programmer and entrepreneur who experimented with all sorts of innovative methods within his own company. In addition to Voys, it is estimated that a few hundred companies now work with Holacracy in the Netherlands. – continue reading what is Holacracy

2. Why should you opt for self-steering as a company?

“Nice that you say “self-steering”. We choose the word self-organization because it fits better. The words are often used interchangeably. Often to say the same thing, but there is a difference.

With self-organization, the team chooses the goal itself. In self-organization, the goal of the team or circle is derived from the goal of the organization. You could say that in self-organization, forming a circle is simply a useful tool to fulfill the mission of the company, while in self-steering teams the team itself is the goal.

Back to the question ‘why should you choose?’: There are many reasons why companies opt for self-organization, but they all have one thing in common: a belief that the usual management hierarchy does not or no longer fit with the culture and ambitions of the organization. For example, because managers are looked at too much and employees feel and take too little ownership and responsibility. Or because the organization must be able to adapt much faster and more continuously than is possible in a management hierarchy. Or because organizations want to put more control and autonomy in the hands of the people who are most in contact with customers. Or because entrepreneurs were tired of having to be their managers and want to stimulate entrepreneurship of employees.

As you can see, there can be many reasons for choosing self-organization! ”

3. If you choose self-organization, why do you choose Holacracy and not another form?

“In many companies, self-organization is practiced the same way as street football: without rules and without a referee. That is nice as long as it goes well, but when a conflict arises about the rules of the game, it becomes difficult. In street football, it is then the one with the biggest mouth who wins, or the most friends, or the person whose ball is. This is how it works in organizations and the existing power structure remains intact. If you really want to change that, you have to replace it with a new power structure with clear rules, a level playing field and trained referees (not the managers). The advantage is that you don’t have to reinvent that wheel with Holacracy. The disadvantage is that you have to acquire a method that has a considerable learning curve (or rather, the reversed learning curve). Holacracy fits well with organizations and with people who see the value of structure and rules. If you are less comfortable with that and you want to play (street) football in freedom and full of creativity, then don’t choose Holacracy.”

4. That self-organization works in small organizations makes sense, but what about larger companies?

“In larger organizations, the management hierarchy is often more formal and more firmly rooted in the culture than in small organizations, which makes the step to self-organization more difficult. The advantage of a methodical approach to self-organization (such as with Holacracy) is that it is a lot more scalable. We are therefore slowly seeing larger organizations (with hundreds or thousands of employees) taking the step towards self-organization.

What you notice in larger organizations is that all kinds of management processes such as appraisal and rewarding, budgeting and setting goals are much more formalized. Making these types of processes suitable for an organization without managers is a greater challenge than for small organizations, but… some companies are experimenting and more and more inspiring examples are emerging of how things can be done differently, even within larger organizations!

In fact, we mainly experience that the enthusiasm and perseverance of the initiators is crucial, regardless of the size of the company.”

5. Who is the boss of a Holacratic company?

“Everyone in a Holacratic company energizes one or (usually) more roles, and if you energize a role then you are fully authorized to make decisions within your role. In that sense, everyone is in charge of their roles. If differences of opinion or conflicts arise in priorities, you do not fall back on a manager, but on the assignment (purpose) of your roles, of the circles to which you belong, and ultimately of the organization as a whole.

So, in the end, the mission is the boss, not a person.”

6. Who decides what to do at a Holacratic company?

“You! If you have a role, it always includes an assignment (purpose) and responsibilities. No one tells you exactly how to implement it or what decisions you need to make. That is good and bad news at the same time because freedom also means responsibility: sometimes it is very exciting to take on your role and to make a decision. What if it goes wrong? What will my colleagues think?

In order for self-organization to succeed, you must at the same time work on a collaborative climate in which people feel safe (enough) to take ownership and take risks. ”

7. Who makes the decisions within a Holacratic company, who makes the decision?

“The most appropriate role!

In Holacracy, roles are more than a fun job title, they describe exactly what your assignment is, what you are authorized to do and what your colleagues can expect from you. This gives them a lot of guidance for explaining how decisions are made. In a management hierarchy, decisions can always be “overruled” by people who are higher in the hierarchy.

In Holacratic organizations, they lose that right with the signing of the constitution. What they can do, just like any other employee (level playing field), is making a proposal to review the responsibilities and powers of roles. These are “meta decisions” about how decisions are made, and that happens in a role consultation (per team) in which all team members have a vote.”

8. Is it true that there is no hierarchy within Holacracy?

“Yes there is! With the word “hierarchy” in organizations, we usually refer to the management hierarchy, where you have more power if you’re higher in the ‘tree’.

Holacracy also has a hierarchy, but not one of positions and of power, but of mission (purpose). This means that roles and circles are organized around a joint assignment and that there is continuous exchange (in traditional terms: top-down and bottom-up) about what roles and circles need from each other. Compare it to the body, which consists of small parts (molecules), each with its own mission and at the same time being part of a larger whole (organelles), again with its own mission and also part of a larger whole (cells) ), etc. Who’s in charge? The body does not have a “CEO cell”, but a natural hierarchy of autonomous processes and structures.

If you play a role, you operate in such a natural hierarchy, with a lot of autonomy and freedom, but also within a clear framework and in continuous coordination with your environment.”

9. Holacracy has roles, not job descriptions. What is the difference anyway?

“At first glance, a role seems to be a job description. After all, responsibilities and authorities are often described in a job description. There are nevertheless a few important differences.

Firstly, job descriptions are usually very precisely designed and then secured. In practice, this is seldom or never revised. In this way, a position remains the same for decades without anyone even considering proposing an adjustment. A job description is therefore quite static.

A role is a reflection of a piece of work that is done in the company. It is, therefore, smaller than a position and often employees fulfill multiple roles. Suggestions for roles are made in the circle. They are therefore not invented by someone from HR. Because the circle represents them themselves, the description is based on the work that is actually done and not on work that should be theoretical. Everyone in the organization constantly monitors whether the description of the role is still correct and if not, the role is adjusted and improved.

Maybe you now think that the unique package of roles that someone fulfills is still a traditional job. In practice you notice that it is more flexible: each package of roles can be completely different, roles change continuously and are improved, and can be returned or picked up more easily.”

10. You can hand back your role (s) within Holacracy? How does that work, can you just do nothing or just do something else?

“That’s right! You are asked for roles and you can say yes or no. If you say “yes”, you can also return the role later, without permission from someone. The circle will of course have to look for someone else who does have time, energy and talent for the role.

In practice you rarely see people giving back all their roles. What is more common is that people energize six roles and give one back, perhaps to create space to take on a new role. Usually agreements are made there, Holacracy has the tools for that.

If you were to return all your roles, that would, of course, have consequences. Probably there is at least one role in the organization (probably HR) that will wonder why they keep transferring your salary neatly every month. 🙂 ”

This article was created in collaboration with Voys.