When starting with Holacracy or any other form of self-organization most organizations face resistance. People can see how the work is organized much more clearly and effectively. But the question ‘what about the people?’ is very much alive. Holacracy makes a really clear statement about this. Holacracy is about the work. Not about the people. It’s not designed to address the people side of self-organization. This means that there is endless freedom in structuring your own norms, interpersonal relationships and other people-related affairs. Some would say that’s an opportunity, but it can be hard to start from nothing. Particularly when Holacracy simultaneously brings so much structure to the work.
Christiane and her colleagues have developed a methodology to guide the people journey when an organization steps into the world of self-organization. This tool is named the ‘Language of Spaces’.
“Let’s start by defining the spaces that we’re talking about. When it comes to the work in the organization, first there is what in the methodology is called Organizational Space. That’s where roles do operational work. Next is Governance pace. That’s where you develop the structure of the company.. Both these spaces cover the context of the organization.
We humans energize the roles of an organization and bring everything to life. We form the parallel Context of the People. This is where we live our social dynamics, our relationships, our culture in general and also our individual autonomy, needs, desires, expectations, decisions, etc. This is the space where we need to process tensions that are not organizational. What is lacking is the ability to differentiate the two contexts.. For example, we often see organizations in the adoption phase of Holacracy who have difficulty processing tensions with a personal aspect. That’s where practitioners get stuck. Although everything IS processable, in reality this is where people stop processing tensions.
In role space, during a tactical meeting for example, we learn a “language” to speak from role to role. It’s a dynamic that is comparable to grammar. In a governance meeting, when talking about the organization structure, we use a very well-defined language that includes words like “valid or invalid objection” and the process will make sure that no personal tensions are processed – yet another “language”.. In both these spaces you can avoid using names entirely. It’s simply not about the people.”
An example in role space is: ‘From my Marketing role I would like input from Product Owner about the product XYZ so I can write a product description for our website.’
When we talk from colleague to colleague we do use names and the energy changes completely. The same goes for myself on an individual level. When I talk to myself for example when reflecting inwardly. With this methodology we created a language to support that.”
“In most cases when I coach with Language of Spaces, after differentiating the organizational part of the tension, the personal aspects show up very clearly and fairly small and can be resolved right away in one session. It is a requirement of the practice to define at least one next workable step in each space in order to resolve the tension. That way, after going through the practice you will not only know what to do organizationally, but also how to move forward to resolve the personal aspects of your tension.”
The people journey
“When someone says “Holacracy is impersonal”, that is not criticism but actually a very accurate description. Holacracy may trigger a personal development process, but that is a by-product, not the goal.”
“Language of Spaces creates a meta-frame. Besides mastering the differentiation of the personal and the organizational, it will also support you in identifying both, horizontal and vertical learning areas. This can lead you to improve your skills, such as Personal Productivity (e.g. Getting Things Done) or how to master the challenges of working remotely – just to name two of many aspects that are important for self-organization. And when it comes to vertical learning in the people context it’s about personal growth, purpose, and inner leadership.”
Working with Language of Spaces
“I would highly recommend starting to learn the Language of Spaces together with Holacracy. Because having a better understanding of the differentiation between the people context and the organization context enables you to deal with frustration and tension more effectively.”
“Besides Individual Tension Coaching, the Language of Spaces also offers “Culture Awareness Process”. Through processing tensions in the people context patterns of the collective show up. It surfaces what’s going on and makes it explicit. Through these reflections and patterns in group processes a culture is defined.
Language of Spaces creates a meta-frame. When we talk about horizontal learning in the people context; we have skill training and for example the Getting Things Done method. And when it comes to vertical learning in the people context it’s about personal growth, purpose, and inner leadership.
With this methodology we want to open a field that integrates the polarities of individual autonomy and collaboration. It’s not a contradiction.”