Dynamic steering & Holacracy

The company behind this concept that focuses on the systemic aspect of organisations is called Holacracy, which has developed what it calls ‘an upgraded operating system for organisations.’
It has inspired me for a couple of years now, and I managed to implement a little of its approach in Fusion Organic Cafe.
It’s a move away from ‘predict & control’ and ‘hero leadership’ (which I learnt the hard way, is a fast route to burnout) towards being able to ‘dynamically steer’ organisations, with each employee serving as a ‘listening tool’ for the organisation, with the premise that more people’s consciousness on any one topic will achieve far more than one/few person’s ever can, and of course that people who feel listened to will perform far better.
With regards to it’s communication structure, it’s basically an organised way of ensuring everyone in a meeting ‘takes turns’ and don’t hijack each other’s agenda points.
Whilst it completely recognises the need for a hierarchical structure, it also implements a system which ensures that communication flows both ways, with each level of management having representatives in the circle above and below it.
The other aspect it says a lot on, is the importance of accurate & dynamic job and role descriptions, and the importance of developing the role, in tandem, but separate to the person fulfilling it.
It essentially states that by implementing structures that focus on the organisation and its tensions as priority (you are given the space to deal with your own tensions), empowering people to take care of their own areas of work, and ensuring a good flow of communication, organisations can achieve a level of operating that can keep up with today’s fast changing and ever more complex world.
Another way this is said, by Holacracy founder Brian Robertson is:
‘If you jump in and (in effect) violate another’s space by trying to be a good (‘hero’) leader and solve their tensions for them, you are actually shutting down the capacity for the organisation to harness and integrate their tension.’
‘Your job is not to be the hero, not so solve another’s tension for them, but to solve your own tension, and to get out of the way when it’s their turn, allowing them the space to process their tensions.’
It is also a kind of evolved succession plan, that ensures the organisations can be much closer to fulfilling their potential in the future, and be much less dependent on any one (or few) leader(s), however competent they are.

5 thoughts on “Dynamic steering & Holacracy

  1. Hi Melvin, thanks for this article. If you are inclined to share your experience, I would be interested in hearing about which pieces of Holacracy you have implemented in your own company, and if/how it served you.

  2. Hello Oliver, thank you for your comment.
    I first came across Holacracy about 2 years ago, when I was trying to evolve the cafe to the next level.
    What it initially helped me to highlight, is the absolutely crucial need for accurate job descriptions, with clear roles that aren’t tied to the position/title one holds.

    Holacracy was an immediate fit into the ideas I had carried with me as to how I wanted to run the business – empowering people to take ownership of their jobs/roles, and in the context of catering, I wanted to move beyond the typical scenario of the head chef barking at his minions.
    The problem with my ideology at that stage was that it lacked clarity, and what was revealed over time, was the need for a system, integrated with the company’s core vision values & purpose, that facilitated empowerment, yet also prevented people from being able to abuse it.

    The problem with being in a larger organisation that pulled the main strings, was that I could not replace autocratic/authoritarian leadership with a more collaborative style because the system did not support this. This was compounded by the fact that the cafe (a business) was operating with an HR framework built for education, which have very different needs (Fast turnaround and flexibility vs developing routine & safeguarding young people). Also the rewarding system was ill suited for business.
    Of course, interlinked with the need for an evolved and integrated role/job description/HR framework, is the need for a communication structure that supports it, and again Holacracy came along with a big a-ha, offering a solution to an issue that I was aware of, but as yet unable to solve.

    So I then jumped headlong into developing accurate job descriptions with a detailed roles framework, which started with a visioning day with the team, which established the vision values & purpose of the business, bringing staff on board, offering them the chance to become involved in developing and steering the business, and me the tools with which to move beyond leading from the front (as Brian calls it, ‘Hero Leadership’ which again struck resonance with my experiences).
    This also promised to become an evolved performance management tool – without accurate and up to date job/role descriptions, it is very hard to put into context motivational issues and develop strategies to increase employees performance & job satisfaction.
    On a basic level you need your team to simply be aware of their core responsibilities and task duties, so that if need be you can remind them of this (our existing job descriptions were generic for the educational catering department).
    Then if you want people to be on board, you need them to share the vision & values, and for that, again it has to be integrated and carried through into all the core processes and documentation.

    Holacracy had already helped me to build a solid foundation on which to realise the cafe’s ambitious vision.

    I then also took on board some of the basics of how to run meetings, and set up an intranet site to help streamline communication.

    Unfortunately I couldn’t take these much further, because the larger organisation did not have the systems and structures in place to enable it. (and again it is Holacracy that enables me to understand this).

    So, to answer your question, I implemented a few of the core principles of Holacracy – Role/job descriptions, Vision values & purpose integration into core processes, and a more streamlined communications framework), and it served me very well (in fact it actually enabled my survival!). I then came upon a very common organisational stumbling block, and Holacracy again served me in enabling me to see and understand this in a larger & wider context, and see that it wasn’t down to individual or collective competence issues, it was more a case of the need for a comprehensive framework that addresses the needs of organisations from the systems perspective.

    To me, Holacracy seems to promise a fantastic and evolved solution to issues that are in the systems aspects of businesses/organisations, and I will definitely be learning more!

    • Hello Melvin, thanks a lot, I wasn’t expecting such detailed explanation, this is great! I’m really glad Holacracy helped you and your business. Because Holacracy is such a different way or organizing and working together, it’s not always easy to explain its concrete impact on every day activities. So even though you only use some aspects of it and haven’t adopted Holacracy fully, I really appreciate you’re willingness to share the nuts and bolts of how it’s working for you. All the best with Fusion Organic Cafe. Many thanks!

      • Thanks Oliver. I have literally just handed over my baby, and am embarking on a freelance career.
        I am setting up a small catering company in the short term whilst building a consultancy company and studying an Msc in Organisation Development and Consultancy. I will then look to convert the catering company into a social enterprise, and I will be looking to build it on a Holacracy or Holacracy-style framework, as well as of course learning about Holacracy in detail as part of my consultancy training.

      • Cool, in that case good luck with your new endeavors! I look forward to keeping an eye on your blog to follow how things are going. Feel free to reach out for any Holacracy-related support or inquiries.

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