Understanding Holacracy

Halfway through 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with the very smart Steve Lennon, Consulting Principal at Fujitsu. One of the interesting topics that Steve introduced me to was that of the management buzzword of 2014, Holacracy.

“Hola-what?” I said to myself as Steve took me through some of its overriding principles. I have been meaning to get my head around these basic principles for a while now so as to succinctly articulate what it actually means, who is doing it and is it working?

The Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “While we teach, we learn” so – hopefully – if I really do understand the concept of Holacracy, I should be able to explain it. Here I go, however, I will caveat that this is a staged approach. There is a fair bit to take in and I will come back to this subject again later in the year (subject to interest).

What does it mean? In (simple terms) Holacracy is a social technology or system of organisational governance in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organising teams rather than being vested at the top of a hierarch.

Who came up with it? The Holacracy system (http://holacracy.org) was founded by Brian Robertson and incubated at Ternary Software a US company that was noted for experimenting with more democratic forms of organisational governance.

Where does the word derive from? The term holacracy is derived from the term holarchy, coined by Arthur Koestler, a holarchy is composed of holons (from the Greek word ὅλον) or units that are autonomous and self-reliant, but also dependent on the greater whole of which they are part. Thus a holarchy is a hierarchy of self-regulating holons that function both as autonomous wholes and as dependent part. It is important to note that the name Holacracy is a registered trademark of HolacracyOne LLC.

Who is using it? The first high profile, and most publicised, adoption of holacracy is by the billion-dollar online retailer, Zappos. See more at http://qz.com/161210/zappos-is-going-holacratic-no-job-titles-no-managers-no-hierarchy/ and http://qz.com/317918/holacracy-at-zappos-its-either-the-future-of-management-or-a-social-experiment-gone-awry/

How does it work? This is not necessarily the most straightforward concept to get your head around. However, the short video at http://holacracy.org/how-it-workssimplifies the opportunity available under the system. There is even a detailed Holacracy Constitution (http://holacracy.org/constitution).

Is it working? Like anything new, I think there will be a period of let’s see what difference this makes to the companies implementing it. Also, can the Holacracy principles apply to all types of industries and businesses? Not sure. There are going to be the detractors, and more will be written. I am looking forward to reading and learning more.

I think that the Holacracy system should encourage individuals to take the initiative and it will give them a process in which their concerns or ideas can be addressed. Surely this will stimulate innovation. Finally, as a leader, would distributed authority reduce the burden on senior management to make every decision?

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading.


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