Holacracy- an organisational structure for the 21st Century

 

by Grace Mansah-Owusu

As organisational structures come and go will the beginnings of a new structure – Holacracy – mean a change for organisations as we know them? Centralised and organic structures are common amongst many companies and the bureaucracy of old is organisations being replaced in some organisations. However, Holacracy is being talked about more and more.

GracearticlecogsimageThe word Holacracy is a derivative of holon, Greek for a part and a whole. Organisations embracing Holacracy are characterised by overlapping circles, so that teams can come together to complete tasks.  

What is it?

Holacracy was developed by Brian Robertson, a software engineer, in 2007. Robertson wanted to find a more efficient way of working and developed Holacracy.  The structure is focussed on autonomy rather than defined tasks, job titles or roles. It is also characterised by organisations doing away with job titles, managers and having consensual decision-making. The idea was borrowed from W.L. Gore, who pioneered this in the 1950s at The Morning Star Company, and Holacratic-like structure was developed as an alternative to a top down hierarchical, organisational design.

Instead organisations have an environment with decentralised teams or circles, where individuals work in specific functions or projects. Each circle runs democratically and openly with details and procedures on how things are managed and how decisions are made. Circles are focussed on tasks that need to be completed, drawing on those with particular skills and allowing individuals to be flexible. When a task or a project needs more staff, jobs can be re-distributed or more hires can be made.

holacracycirclesdiagramWithin holacracy everyone is seen a leader. It is expected that individuals become entrepreneurs in their specialist circles and are given the power to change the organisation from the inside. People have clear roles and responsibilities and organisations tend to expand organically. An effort is made to make everything explicit from vacation policies to highlighting key decision makers in each area.

Tension resolution

In holacratic organisations issues are resolved by individuals who identify problems by writing them down and resolving them systematically. This gives individuals a clear working environment to remove extraneous variables so that people can focus on work.  Decision-making is encouraged and concern seeking is discouraged.  Tension is supposed to be removed and ironed out in meetings where a trained facilitator builds a list of problems and individuals identify the next step to problems so they can solve them. The structure is task focused roles are distributed and individuals are assigned and reassigned to jobs when projects arise.

What’s so good about it?

Holacracy is good way of making work more efficient gives individuals autonomy and produces solutions to problems quickly. It empowers individuals to make their own decisions and choices that can positively benefit the organisation. Jason Stirman who works for Meduim a Twitter owned blogging platform feels that ‘Holacracy is like an operating system for your organisation’.

Who’s doing it?

This is not a ‘pie in the sky idea’ which has no practical examples. Stirman’s organisation, Medium – owned by Twitter have embraced this working style, as have Zappos, a shoe retailer. Medium should have the system rolled out completely in 2015.  Zappos should have 400 active circles infusing culture in everything

Why isn’t everyone doing it?

Holacracy sounds like a dream however practically some organisations may feel that this is not something that they can embrace. Many companies cite their large size as a hindrance to embrace holacracy. An organisation would have to start from scratch and reorganise the company to make room for the new style to be used. Also individuals in senior positions would need to give up their titles and embrace circles rather than departments and functional teams which may prove difficult.

Critiques of Holacracy

Not everyone is a fan of holacracy. Some individuals believe that it focuses on work and not people and misses out on the actual individuals and not the tasks that need to be completed. Zappos have adapted holacracy by creating mentorship circles.

In conclusion this is a novel and great way of including individuals and empowering them to be a integral part of the organisation. Maybe in the next few years we will begin to see more and more of this structure being used by organisations. 

About the Author

Grace Mansah-OwusunewthumbGrace Mansah-Owusu is a member of the British Psychological Society and has had 6 years experience working in a variety of organisations in diversity, training, assessment, selection and lecturing. She has recently submitted her PhD which focused on the boundaryless career and its applicability to black knowledge intensive workers in the UK. 

Grace is an active blogger and would like to spread awareness of human resources trends and information to increase organisational effectiveness and employee well being.