intro is a well-written medium-length intro to holocracy.

double linking

Holocracy, like sociocracy, has "double-linking", meaning that each subgroup elects a representative which is sent to represent it in the superordinate group, and each superordinate group appoints, for each of its subgroups, a "lead" which is sent to represent it to the subgroup.


Holocracy recommends that teams have status meetings daily, tactical meetings weekly, governance meetings monthly, and strategy meetings quarterly or annually (according to ). Status meetings are like scrum status meetings (15 minutes, daily, standing, each person says what they've done, what they're doing, what obstacles they face). Tactical meetings are

" What specific projects or outcomes are needed now? , What's the outcome we seek for each? , Is this a project to tackle now or backlog for later? "

more notes about tactical meetings, from

" Weekly tactical meetings are fast-paced forums to synchronize team members for the week and triage any issues which are preventing forward progress. They start with a process of surfacing information, including a review of metrics and other real data to get a picture of the circle's current reality. Then an agenda is built on the fly of specific tactical topics for the meeting, based on what's relevant now that requires discussion or synchronization across circle members. The circle proceeds through each item in turn, with a hard rule that they must finish the entire list within the time allotted, without exception -- and even moderately-skilled circles using this meeting process are able to do so reliably and effectively. The speed of tactical meetings is enabled by the driving focus and key output of the meeting, which is a list of next-actions and the owner of each. Each topic is discussed as briefly as possible to identify what the next action should be, and then the discussion is done and the meeting moves on. This clear and simple output grounds the meeting and keeps it moving. If circle members feel tension about deeper patterns at play, they don't need to discuss them here ­ they can bring them to a governance meeting with confidence that the integrative process will address them. Likewise, questions about larger strategic issues can be deferred to a strategy meeting, without distracting from the speed and focus of the tactical meeting. "

" Tactical meeting - agenda Check-in Same as in governance meeting Lightning round Each person describes (in a minute or less) what he or she plans to work on in the coming week. No discussion. Metrics review Each member with accountability for a metric presents the current metric. Clarifying questions and minor comments are allowed, but discussion is reserved for later. This review is focused on making the data available. Agenda set-up Same as in governance meeting Specific items The group proceeds through each agenda item as quickly as possible, typically using free-form discussion rather than the integrative decision-making process. Closing Same as in governance meeting " --

for status meetings (called "standup meetings") and tactical meetings (the union of these two is called "operational meetings"),

"Although all circle members are invited, rep links may opt out when the topics aren't relevant for them. " --

governance meetings are: " How will we work together? , What roles do we need to pursue our strategy? , What activities will each role own (accountabilities)? , What authorities or limits of authority are needed? , What policies are needed to guide our work? "

also, apparently, a forum for participants to air "tensions". tensions are defined as: "Tension arises when a desired situation exerts an attracting force on the present situation.

 Perceived as a problem, it's
 a negative tension; seen as
 an opportunity,it's a
 positive tension."--

in other words, problems or opportunities; i might call it: ideas that people have about how things should be working differently.

having a way for people to air tensions is apparently an important part of holacracy. In the Emesa case study, it sounded like tensions were "bottled up" and not being openly communicated before the governance meeting.

the superordinate group defines:

" Aim / Purpose Why does this group exist? , What does the broader context need of this group? , What unique function or service can this circle group? "

there are also:

" Strategic Direction (Strategy Meetings) What direction should we head to reach our aim? , What overarching themes should guide our choices? , What big initiatives will we pursue now? "

they also have general tips:

" Dynamic Steering Mantras Shift from Predict-and-Control to Sense-and-Respond At all levels of organization, in all circles (bayle: groups), remember:

Parliamentary procedure

Holocracy Integrated Decision Making (IDM) process: contrast vs. Robert's Rules style parliamentary procedure: basically, Holocracy IDM process is more structured: * proposal is presented (and "underlying tension" that is solves may be noted) * clarifying questions (facilitator is supposed to cut off reactions disguised as questions) * everyone may give their initial reaction (no discussion or replies, tho) * Proposer may amend proposal * everyone may list their objections to the proposal * open discussion led by Facilitatior with intent to amend proposal (except each person is supposed to only present modified proposals that still address the same underlying tension, as determined by the original Proposer, and the person who raised each objection discusses if it removes their objections). when amended proposal is ready, go back to previous step (objection round)

my evaluation of IDM: sounds good to me as a replacement for motion introduction (except may take too long EVERYONE gets to give a long reaction; but mb a short one could be allowed, and encorage ppl to say just "i agree with what Y said" or "i agree with what Y said about ..."). however, i think open discussion via the usual parliamentary rules should be allowed at the end, before actually having the final vote on the motion. also, if online, the "who may speak" rules could be enforced by software, and the facilitator could be eliminated by allowing reactions disguised as questions, by eliminating the rules of open discussion, by providing a way to vote on when to terminate open discussion, and by eliminating the other implicit facilitation in the open discussion.

however, the subjective judgement of facilitators is considered key in holocracy:

" It's important to distinguish integrative decision-making from consensus- based decision-making. In a consensus-based system, people vote for or against a proposal based on their own personal bias or agenda. Individuals can block a proposed action simply because they don't like it, because they don't like the person proposing it or, most often, because they simply don't see its value.

    Holacratic decision-making gives a voicebut no powerto personalfeelings, likes or dislikes, fears and hopes. In Holacracy, people don't use personal feelings to vote for or against a proposal; in fact, they don't vote at all. They may object to proposals, but objections are valid only if they present a reasonable argument for why a certain proposal falls outside the "limits of tolerance" of the system. That is, the objection is valid if it indicates that the proposal will result in a loss of control or dysfunction within some part of the organization. For those who are reading about Holacracy and haven't yet experienced it, this notion of "limits of tolerance" may give the integrative decision-making process a distinctly impersonal tone (actually it aims to be transpersonal, but the distinction is subtle and can be confusing). Impersonal as it may appear, Holacracy actually makes plenty of room for human emotions. Emotions are welcomed during the initial "reaction round" following a newly introduced proposal, but disallowed in the actual decision-making process that occurs in the objection and integration rounds. This means that, while emotions are given a place to be heard, they are not allowed to run the show. Emotions are simply used as information, or data, rather than as the basis for making or blocking a decision. They are clues that might point to an objection that has yet to be identified.

" --

overall agenda for governance meetings:

" Governance meeting - agenda Check-in A brief go-around in which each person gives a short account of their current mindset and emotional state, to provide context for others in the meeting and to help the speaker release any held tensions. No discussion allowed. Administrative The facilitator checks for objections to last meeting's Concerns minutes, and explicitly highlights the time available for this meeting. Agenda Setup The facilitator lists pre-established agenda items and solicits additional agenda items for the meeting, then orders the agenda items by priority and quickly ensures there are no paramount objections to the order. Specific Items The group proceeds through each agenda item using the integrative decision-making process, or integrative elections. The secretary captures all decisions in the meeting minutes. Closing A brief go-around, in which each person reflects and comments on the effectiveness of the meeting and provides feedback for the facilitator of the meeting process. No discussion allowed. " --

" Stick to the process rigidly at first. If you relax the guidelines too early, people may start talking over each other in meetings, or allowing objections that aren't valid, which can damage trust. " --

btw, one random note: the role which is called "chair" or "chairperson" in robert's rules is analogous to the role called "facilitator" in holocracy. imo, the holocracy facilitator, however, has considerably more power than the robert's rules chair (in full session), which could be a problem in highly partisan situations. in committee, unlike in full session, the robert's rules chair is encouraged to take positions on the issues; however, even in committee it is unclear to me if they are encouraged (or even permitted) to restrict discussion to the extent that the holocracy facilitator does.

note that all meetings don't have to be IDM; tactical or special topic meetings with free-form discussion are allowed, too.

evaluation: it seems to me that the gains in efficiency so touted by holocracy advocates can be explained as two twists on the typical efficiency vs. participatory tradeoff: meetings are made more efficient by giving the facilitator autocratic power. the first twist is the same idea that robert's rules has used for ages: create an ethical expectation for the facilitator to act in a neutral manner. if the facilitator goes rogue, robert's rules has the motion "appeal the decision of the chair", whereas on the other hand, i don't see how holocracy would constrain em. the second twist: rather than the way that robert's rules permits everyone to speak (putting the onus to speak up on the participant), the facilitator is required to poll each person (which may help to create an environment of inclusiveness), and i think e is required to resolve objections to the satisfaction of the objector. sounds great for medium-sized meetings where a trustworthy facilitator can be accepted by almost all participants; i'm not sure if it would scale to meetings with more than, say, 20 participants (indeed, on page 31 of , it is implied that a group of 12 is already getting too big for this technique -- if you go much smaller than 12, robert's rules isn't recommended, so perhaps the size ranges where these techniques are appropriate are almost disjoint), or if it would work in high-conflict situations where no one was trusted by everyone. also, as noted above, i'd prefer to add a time where people are free to have open discussion before the decision.

note: the designers of holocracy do claim that not too much trust is needed:

" The integrative decision-making process relies upon trust less than any of the common decision-making processes available. ...Trust is an output of the process, not a required input. It's quite amazing how much personal trust and support such an impersonal process builds, largely by shifting the focus from the personal to the more practical, while still honoring emotions and treating them as important information to be understood and not hidden (Robertson, 2006, p13). "

vs. consensus decision-making

" Seeing the problems inherent in this modern approach, some organizations attempt to replace a hierarchical power structure with a self-organizing system, often with the intention of empowering and engaging employees or giving everyone a voice in decision-making. On the upside, self-organization allows for greater autonomy and divergent thinking among individuals and teams and thus can lead to breakthroughs in innovation. Consensus-based decision-making (often favored by self-organizing teams) can create trust and shared commitment to common goals: "For us, consensus decision-making led to feelings of trustin each other and in the organization. Since we had the chance to express ourselves and discuss the issues at hand, we got to know each other very well as people. This created a sense of cohesiveness, shared commitment and responsibility to the same ideals. When we made a decision, we knew that everyone was completely in support of it." --Mark Birdsall, a former executive in an international organization of progressive independent schools

    On the downside, however, if a self-organizing system does not include anexplicit power structure, an implicit power structure will emerge over timeand this emergent system can sometimes be ineffective or, worse, destructive. That's what eventually happened in Birdsall's school system. A group of teachers with the longest tenureand therefore the most flexible schedulesset up committee meetings, faculty meetings and staff meetings, every day of the week. The meetings went on for hours. "This power coalition wielded its tyranny over those who had the lowest tolerance for meetings," Birdsall explained. "People who couldn't attend all the meetings would defer decision-making power to those who did show up." As a result, decision-making became excruciatingly slow. "We would get 40 people involved for two weeks to make even the simplest decisions," Birdsall noted. Even worse, the school experienced a steady decline in operating effectiveness, depleting an $8 million endowment over 10 years and failing to dismiss several teachers who were underperforming. The overspending continued even after the financial crisis became evident. For this, Birdsall blames the consensus-based culture: "It was the group's mistake, so therefore it was no one's mistake," Birdsall said. "No one was accountable for fixing the problem, so the problem persisted." Birdsall also blames what he calls an "extreme horizontal" governance system for what appears to be a lack of operating effectiveness across all of the organization's 100 schools. "The system doesn't allow for real leadership," he said. "When there's very little discipline and no accountability, mistakes seem to disappear, but actually they just get worse."

" --

the facilitator uses their judgement to allow only reasoned objections:

" It's important to distinguish integrative decision-making from consensus- based decision-making. In a consensus-based system, people vote for or against a proposal based on their own personal bias or agenda. Individuals can block a proposed action simply because they don't like it, because they don't like the person proposing it or, most often, because they simply don't see its value. " --


" In an executive team governance meeting at Ternary Software, a representative from the software-developers circle proposed a policy to explicitly allow cash gifts and incentives from clients. Until then, the company had no policy regarding incentives and clients were, in fact, already giving them to some Ternary employees. Bowers, the chief operating officer, reacted strongly. Her eyes narrowed and she pulled back into her chair, cringing. "What's your objection?" Robertson asked her. "I don't know, it just feels yucky to me," she replied. "I don't like the thought of a client handing a wad of cash to an employee." Robertson nodded, acknowledging her response as a reaction, not an objection. As the discussion ensued, Bowers was able to further articulate her objection. "Cash incentives might discourage developers from working for clients who don't offer them, and encourage developers to work harder for those who do," she said. "That goes against our expressed value of providing top-notch customer service to every client. And it might set up an adversarial relationship between development teams."iv Another team member objected because the proposal specified no limits for the incentives. Moving on, the group worked to integrate these perspectives and within a few minutes, consented to a new policy: "Non-cash incentives are allowed up to a limit of $200; any gifts above $200 must be pre-approved by the general company circle (executive team)." At another meeting, Robertson's own emotions got in the way of good decision-making, and Holacracy stopped him from acting on them. Robertson wanted to fire a software developer because he didn't like his attitude. But the developer's manager objected; he felt that the employee's positive contributions outweighed the negative impact of his attitude. This objection was valid because the responsibility for firing members of the development department lies outside the limits of Robertson's role as CEO. The Board Circle had long ago assigned staffing accountabilities to the department managers. If Robertson had fired this employee, his action would have interfered with the manager's authority to manage his own department, and with the development circle's ability to self-organize. "It was a personal issue," Robertson admitted. "I felt frustrated, but I had to let it go and find other channels through which to vent my frustration. The existing policy kept me from firing this guy. And you know what? Today, he's one of the most valuable people in our organization." As these examples show, integrative decision-making seeks to find what's best for the wholenot to satisfy the needs of or assuage the fears of individual parts.

" --

everything doesnt have to be decided by the group

" One last point about holacratic decision-making: Most authority in Holacracy is delegated, via the integrative process, to another decision- making method, such as individual action. An event planner doesn't need to call a meeting every time he decides to change a menu item; instead, it would be more efficient to assign this person, in a governance meeting, the authority and control to make logistics decisions autocratically within certain budget constraints. " --

focus on metrics

" Get the work done! Individual action is critical to doing the work of the organization. Tactical meetings should not replace execution. Focus on action, tactics and metrics, metrics, metrics. " --

1-, 2-, and 3-loop learning

" This is dangerous because, while single-loop learning (evaluating results against objectives) will tell you if you're on course, only double-loop learning (questioning the objectives themselves) will tell you if it's the right course. And only triple-loop learning (questioning the underlying values and assumptions that led to the targets) will help you to understand the thought- patterns that got you there in the first place, so you can make better choices next time. ... Holacracy clearly answers this call by institutionalizing self-questioning behaviors, integrating multiple perspectives and encouraging experimentation. " --

requisite structure

" Elliot Jacques' work on requisite organizations suggests that, in each organization, ideal structures, policies and processes naturally "want" to emerge (Robertson, 2006). The closer the actual structures are to the requisite structures, the more effective the organization will be.vii "This is not purely an arbitrary choice. For any given organization at any given point in time, there seems to be an optimal answer. Finding it is more like detective work than creative work (Robertson, 2006)." To do this well, a circle must become adept at surrendering to current reality, sensing emergent reality and shapingbut not forcingfuture reality. " --


Holocracy calls groups/teams/departments/(sub)polities/(privilaged subsets of the organization) "circles".

" Language is an expression of our underlying mindset and mental models; it both reflects and reinforces our thinking and meaning-making. Holacracy suggests new ways to think about organization, and consciously practicing new language patterns helps facilitate an underlying shift in mindset. This "subtle language practice" of Holacracy shows up in many ways ­ we talk about integrating perspectives, not debating opinions; roles we fill, not what we are; an organization's investors, not its owners; accountabilities, not responsibilities; descriptive role names, not VP's, SVP's, or other status-based titles; next-actions, not what-by-when's. The list goes on, " --

" In Holacracy, decisions are not made; they are said to emerge through a process of systematically integrating the core value in each perspective. " --

they haven't taken a position on this, but my opinion is that it's fine to speak in whatever language you want, but don't force others in the group to do this too. an expectation to speak in jargon may add to a cultish in-group, out-group dynamic, and in addition makes it more difficult for your process ideas to spread, because it adds a slight bit of difficulty to a newcomer trying to understand them quickly.


Holocracy wants an organization's board to act like a nonprofit board, defining its role in society rather than representing shareholders (according to ).

Holocracy wants an organization's highest goal to be fulfilling a purpose, which is distinct from shareholders' interests, but which is also even distinct from stakeholder interests. Holocracy recognizes an organization as an independent lifeform, and celebrates that:

" Rather than treating the organization as property, even shared property, Holacracy helps it find its own purpose ­ not just a purpose that's "all about the people", but one that is genuinely evolutionary, about helping the world move forward for the sake of the future. This approach recognizes the organization as its own individual living system, akin to a new form of life. The stakeholders and people involved then become stewards of this new entity. Like healthy parents supporting a child's journey, their job is get their own desires out of the way so that the organization can express its unique purpose and deepest creative potential in life. "

" Looking deeper, the possibilities are even more exciting. If it's true that the holacratic process can create a transpersonal state, then individual voices are not only included but also transcended in such a way that the collective intelligence, or as Roberston puts it, the "organization's free will" emerges: ...Taken literally, Holacracy means governance by the organizational entity itself. Holacracy aims to facilitate the emergence of a "consciousness" of sorts for the organization, allowing it to govern itself, steering towards its own natural order. This organizational "will" feels different from the will of the people associated with the organization; just as the organization persists as individuals come and go, so too does this consciousness. Its subtle voice is usually concealed by a cacophony of human ego, though it can be heard sometimes when individuals come together in a transpersonal space (Robertson, 2006). Robertson's description aligns with what Diana Whitney calls "organizational consciousness": We can talk of organizations as having consciousnessas having subjective presence, as having creative choice, that impels or directs the body in its motions, as a knowing that manifests reality... It is the collective capacity of the organization to purposefully sense, know, reflect and create itself and its environment. Organizational consciousness is an active phenomenon that is both a collective state of being and the source of that state of being (Whitney 2004, 136- 138). Holacracy is designed to provide easy and frequent access to that collective state of being. The practices of explicity, staying present in the here-and- now, and integrating multiple perspectivesin essence, the practice of including and transcending the human ego drivescreate a safe container in which organizational consciousness can make itself known. Holacracy asks, `What happens when we get out of our own way and allow our organizations to evolve? What happens when we group together and live beyond our hopes, fears, desires and aversions?' Holacracy does not deny these drives; instead, it allows us to live beyond them, to transcend them, together in a group." (Robertson, in interview) " --

this is rather distinct from my own personal point of view that organizations, while being independent lifeforms, are valuable merely as symbiotes with humans, not ends-in-themselves. This distinction perhaps arises from my focus on conscious experiences as the source of end value (although, perhaps i also value the freedom of conscious agents?), and my belief that organizations are not actually conscious, even if they process information.

Prohibition on hypotheticals?

Not sure if i'm interpreting this correctly, but holocracy seems to discourage reasonable planning for the future, at least in governance meetings:

" 1. Present tensions are all that matter. 2. Any issue can be revisited at any time. 3. The goal is a workable decision (not necessarily the best decision). "

" It's important for the facilitator to make sure the team stays within the limits of the governance meeting. He or she will not allow arguments such as "Yes, but what if...", as they are in conflict with the principles. Such arguments do not refer to a present tension, but instead are based on speculation and assumptions about what might or might not happen in the future. " --


" 1. Present tensions are all that matter (what is, not what if) 2. Any issue can be revisited at any time 3. The goal is a workable decision, not the `best' decision (because that emerges over time, as new information is inte- grated into the decision) " --


" To avoid falling into the traps of predict-and-control steering, an important rule in dynamic steering is to attend to concerns in the present, rather than in the past or future. Expressed tensions (reasons for proposing a change) and valid objections to a proposal must be grounded in the here-and-now. Theories and fantasies about what might happen in the future"it might not work," or "there may be negative consequences"aren't valid, as long as there exists an opportunity to change course. Future-oriented objections are valid only if there's no escape clause, no chance to adapt. For example, if spending $250,000 on a Christmas party would mean risking the ability to make payroll next month, that would be beyond the limits of tolerance. Remember the discussion about client gifts and incentives? Bowers' concern that employees might work harder for some clients, though reasonable, wasn't enough to stop the policy from proceeding because was based on a concern for something that might happen in the future. In Holacracy, a fear-based objection is not paramount; the person objecting is asked to hold the objection until the negative consequence actually starts happening (if it ever does). That's why, in this example, group members didn't object to trying a policy that allows incentives within limits. They knew that, should the policy prove problematic, they could change it at any time. The threshold for holacratic decision-making is a workable, non- objectionable decisionnot the best decision. "In meetings, people devote huge amounts of time and energy searching for the best decision," Robertson said. "But that's like trying to predict the future. With dynamic steering, we need only to find the decision that will prevent us from crashing or keep us upright until we have another chance to steer. Then we adjust when we get more data." In a practical sense, the better decision is the one that can be made more quickly, as Moquin pointed out: "Quicker decisions mean more approaches can be tried and more can be learned about what works and what doesn't work" (Moquin 2007). Pointing to the fact that Ternary has revised its salary system five times in the past year, Robertson added: "the best decision is the one that emerges over time." Guidelines for dynamic steering Experiment, adapt, steer Hold aim in mind Focus on present concerns Get real data The goal is a workable decision, not the "best" decision Any issue can be revisited at any time Short cycles, incremental steps

   One final note about dynamic steering: There are times when predict-and-control makes more sense. Say, for example, an organization is considering building a $10-million manufacturing plant in China. If most of the investment must be made up-front and it will be years before that investment yields a significant return, it would be a good idea to consider the likelihood of success before going forward. In other words, if a particular decision would force the organization onto a fixed path without the opportunity to steer dynamically, then predictive steering may be the way to go. " --

my summary: in most decisions a business faces, the best is the enemy of the good; specifically, the decision can be revisited later and doesn't need to be right the first time -- yet people have a tendency to exhaustively debate the options and try to pick the best one. it's better to quickly settle on an option which is acceptable, and then revisit later if necessary.


" Integrative elections Holacratic circles comprise several key roles (other roles are optional and defined as needed by the circle): · a secretary to record policies and decisions; · a facilitator to run meetings; and · a representative link to the next higher circle. People are elected to the key roles by a process of integrative elections, which is similar to the integrative decision-making process described earlier. Each group member nominates a person for the role and explains to the group his or her reasons for nominating. Members are allowed to change their nomination based on new information and insights that have emerged thus far. A discussion ensues with the goal of establishing a likely candidate, then the facilitator proposes a nominee and asks each group member for objections (the nominee is asked last). Any objections are either integrated, or the facilitator proposes another nominee. The election is complete when no further objections are surfaced. " --

note: this method seems undesirable to me because it sounds like a canny facilitator could take power

roles and accountabilities

" In organizations, people often ask, "Who are you accountable to?" but many times that's not a useful question. Your boss counts on you. Your peers count on you. Your customers count on you. So Holacracy asks a more relevant question: "What are you accountable for?" In Holacracy, an accountability is a specific activity that the organization is counting on. Sets of related accountabilities are grouped into roles. The aim is to clarify accountabilities and roles over time. " --

" Feelings of frustration at work are often clues that we're holding an implicit expectation that's not being met. In Holacracy, frustration is an opportunity to surface the implicit expectation, and then create an explicit role/accountability for it. In fact, a central tenet in Holacracy is to make explicit that which is implicit. This tenet applies throughout Holacracy, but is especially important when discussing roles and accountabilities. " --

method of aligning accountabilities and control

" Misalignments between accountability and control run rampant in organizationsand they can be painful. One of my own clients struggled with this. As a vice president in a large educational institution, he was accountable for his department's performance and for creating the positive organizational climate that would contribute to that performance. But organizational policies prevented him from firing an employee who was poisoning the entire department with her hostile attitude, vicious personal attacks and lack of productivity. Nearly a year later, the employee was fired for extreme performance breachesbut by then, the damage had been done. Frustrated by his experiences in this dominating bureaucracy, the vice president left the organization, too. In Holacracy, any accountability assignment automatically infers autocratic control; in other words, the person has permission to take any individual action necessary to carry out the work. " --

note: this method seems undesirable to me because it sounds like it countenances violating any policy with the excuse "but i had to in order to do my job"

Initially unpleasant growing pains that can be expected

" On June 12th, 2008, the members of the new `Emesa circle' gathered for the first holacratic governance meeting, facilitated by Maes. He started by outlining the goal and the principes of the governance meet- ing, followed by a brief overview of what the circle could expect from the meeting: being cut short by the facilitator, experiencing the first few governance meetings as frustrat- ing, being shocked by the tensions that would start coming up, and taking time-outs in order to have certain points clarified or explained further. The first few governance meetings did indeed need some getting used to, but being forewarned, the circle was able to suspend judgment and give it a shot. These meetings resulted in a set of clear and explicit roles and accountabilities, which were seen by all members as work- able solutions to the present tensions they were meant to address. " --

Other comparisions to Fluid Democracy

Both of then seek to install "a more organic structure of semi-autonomous, self-organizing teams." and to distribute "authority using an integrative decision-making process that gives everyone a voice, without the tyranny of consensus, while still allowing for autocratic control and individual action." ( ).

Both of them distribute "governance across all teams", but only holocracy "adds bi-directional double-links to carry feedback and control across organizational layers.".

Holocracy, in addition to being a decision-making procedure like Fluid Democracy, is also a "process skelaton" and associated cultural memetic complex, which "embeds dynamic steering principles into the core of the organization" and "reframes operational processes around rapid action and dynamic responsiveness in tight feedback loops, with regular tactical meetings focused on quickly identifying next-actions and removing obstacles." and "aligns the organization around a larger evolutionary purpose beyond ego, anchored at the board level and then broken down and distributed throughout the company and its culture.". Fluid Democracy is (at least formally) agnostic about process and culture, except for recommendations about the process of using the formal elements of Fluid Democracy.

semiautonomy of subgroups

although the superordinate group defines goals, the subgroup does this:

" Each circle is responsible for its own leading, doing, measuring and learning. Put another way, using language from Galbreath's Star Model (Galbreath, 2002), each circle is responsible for: · determining its own strategy (which must align with the "aim" given from above); · discovering its own "requisite" (best) structure; · establishing work activities and processes (including learning processes); · defining rewards; and · assigning people's roles/accountabilities.

" --

restorative justice

"What happens when someone breaks a rule? If an individual action causes harm, or if an individual drops a "ball" (accountability) that others are counting on, the system is considered to be thrown out of balance. As a rule in Holacracy, people who take individual action must be prepared to restore the balance. Balance is reestablished through a restoration rather than punishment or retribution. Individuals must first examine their own contribution to the situation and take action to bring the system back into balance; the circles involved determine the appropriate extent of restoration. Holacracy seeks balance for the organization first, and for individuals second. Once restoration is underway, the circles use the experience to learn and adapt by adjusting policies, roles, accountabilities, limits or measurements. " --


" Before Holacracy developed as a formal operating system, Ternary had a unique culture and way of doing business. The company's founders wanted to create an organization that would: · integrate both structure and freedom, rather than seeing these forces as dichotomously opposed to one another · embrace the value of all personality types "techie" types, "people" types, doers, thinkers, feelers, introverts, extroverts, etc. and fully leverage their differences without putting them in conflict with each other · support people to develop cognitive, interpersonal, moral, emotional and spiritual capacities in addition to knowledge, skills and competencies. · consider all aspects of reality, including interior/exterior and individual/collective dimensions. " --

more about ternary

" Ternary's holacratic corporate governance system prioritizes social responsibilities alongside investor responsibilities and gives everyone in the company a guaranteed voice in its decision-making processes. Its open compensation system gives all employees access to the salary structureas well as a say in how salaries are determined. And its unique hiring process doesn't bother with resumes, opting instead for free-form essay questions, extensive interviews and role-play scenarios. " --

holocracy constitution and contrasts to planned PieTrust governance system

comparison of pietrust departmental structure to holocracy:

departments are like circles; department heads are like rep links (but also like lead links in that they take on responsibilities assigned to "the department"; although the seed exec still has that responsibility too).

executives or exec delegates (the "seed exec") choose the seed group for departments in their division. these executive delegates/seed execs are like lead links. however, mb they aren't actually in the departments, like lead links are (but mb they should be?). the double link idea is good if the group is large enough, but in many cases PieTrust? departments may only have one really active member.

the elected department heads are like rep links.

holocracy explicitly allows circles to spawn subcircles. pietrust also allows this (although note: there is a danger of this producing a very unflat organization)

upon initial creation of a subcircle in holocracy, the person formerly holding the role given the the new subcircle is the default Lead, and by default still holds all the Roles and Accountabilities given to the subcircle at the beginning.

holocracy explicitly requires each circle to have an (elected) facilitator and a rep link, each of which must be different from the lead link. pietrust departments are capable of continuously varying between being just one person and being lots of people.

holocracy allows anyone in a circle to call an election at any governance meeting. pietrust uses the amendable code delegate election procedure.

holocracy includes the useful habit of explicitly defining Roles within circles, and attaching a Purpose, a Scope (powers), and Accountabilities to Roles. Not sure if this belongs in a governace system, but maybe it does

holocracy annoyingly has little TMs next to the work "holocracy" on their website (although mb there's some legal reason that will force us to do that too?)

holocracy forces a bunch of stuff to happen only in Governance meetings; we force that stuff to happen via various Amendable Code procedures

holocracy has this:

" Assigning Roles to Non-Members. Whenever a Circle-Defined Role is assigned to a Person who is not a Partner of the Organization, the Lead Link of such Circle shall automatically be deemed to hold an Accountability for “Monitoring for and addressing tensions relevant to the Circle which surface through the work and work processes of non-Circle Members who fill Circle-Defined Roles”. Notwithstanding the foregoing, a Circle may specify an alternate treatment to that specified in this Section 2.4.2 via a policy defined in a Governance Meeting of such Circle. "

holocracy does not allow the same Role to be assigned to multiple people without creating a subcircle:

" Assigning Roles to Multiple People. A Circle-Defined Role may be assigned to multiple Persons only if (a) a process or similar mechanism exists to differentiate and clarify which of the Persons filling such Role shall hold the Accountabilities and authorities of such Role within each specific context or instance of work facing such Role, such that ambiguity of accountability or authority is not increased by assigning multiple Persons to such Role; or (b) the Person duly-assigning multiple Persons to a Circle-Defined Role specifies, along with each Person assigned to such Role, a specific focus, context, area, subset of the Circle’s work, or similar differentiation which such Person shall hold and enact such Role within, such that ambiguity of accountability or authority is not increased by assigning multiple Persons to such Role. "

in holocracy, it isn't clear if the constitution means to prohibit a circle from establishing elgibility criteria for roles: " Any Circle Member of a Circle shall be eligible for election into any Elected Role..."

i'm guessing they just forgot to put "unless the Circle determines otherwise"

cicles can't alter the Facilitator role:

" 2.5.5 Amendments to Structural Roles. The Facilitator Role of a Circle may not be added to or amended in any way except by amendment to this Constitution as provided herein. A Circle may add to or amend the Scope and Accountabilities of its Circle Member Role, Lead Link Role, Rep Link Role, and Secretary Role from time to time in a Governance Meeting of such Circle, in which case such modifications shall apply only within such Circle, provided however that no Circle may remove such Roles or amend the Purpose of such Roles except by amendment to this Constitution as provided herein. "

holocracy governance meetings purposes:

" Scope of Meetings. Each Circle shall hold regular meetings to (a) create, amend, or remove policies which govern operations within the Circle’s Scope; (b) create, amend, or remove Roles within the Circle’s Scope, and Accountabilities of said Roles, including authorizing a Role to expand into a full Sub-Circle as specified in Section 2.6; and (c) fill the Elected Roles of a Circle as specified in Section 2.5.3 (these meetings being “Governance Meetings”). "

in holocracy governance meetings are regular, and also any member may call a governance meeting (3.2 Frequency of Meetings)

holocracy has weird attendence and default quorum rules and agenda rules. non-circle members may not attend circle governance meetings if any circle member objects, and there is by default no quorum. it is prohibited to build a governance meeting agenda beforehand. agenda items must be only a short label referencing the issue or proposal, and may not be explained or discussed until they come up. the proposer of each agenda item determines what is on-topic during that item, and determines how long the discussion goes on (it goes on until they are satisfied). decisions are made by consensus. in the opinion of the person raising an objection, however, that objection "if unaddressed it would degrade the existing capacity of the Circle to express its Purpose" and "is based on presently-known data or events rather than predicted data or events, provided that an opportunity is likely to exist in the future to sense and respond if and when such predictions begin to manifest;" (3.7.4, 3.7.5)

(contrast to pietrust, where we have supermajority voting rather than consensus; this means we can support a huge number of members in any given circle, holocracy cannot)

if the consensus process fails to complete in one meeting, there is another meeting not less than 48 hrs later. if this fails, then the facilitator of the super-circle, assuming they are neither this circle's lead nor facilitator (if they are, then the super-circle's rep link, then their secretary, then the longest-serving member of the supercircle who is neither this circle's lead nor facilitator), facilitates a third meeting. if this fails, a Significant Deficiency is declared on the circle by the super-circle Facilitator. (3.9 Decision-Making Failure)

the Facilitator of the supercircle, much like the AmendableCode? Chair, audits the Circle for compliance to the rules and declares a Significant Deficiency if there is a problem. in this case:

escalation: if a Significant Deficiency isn't cured within a reasonable timeframe, the supercircle becomes Deficient! (3.10.2 Escalation of Break-Down.)

deficiencies aren't considered breaches of the constitution from an external viewpoint unless the Deficiency escalates up to the root circle and is not cured. (3.10.3 Process Restoration Considered In-Process.)

holocracy formalizes 'better to ask forgiveness than permission', and if which circle holds a power is disputed, the join circle (on the circle semilattice) gets it: " 4.1 Individual Action. If a Circle Member of a Circle performs an Accountability which has not been explicitly defined and delegated to a Role within such Circle, such action shall not be considered a Significant Deficiency of such Circle provided that: (i) the action is reasonably necessary to carry out work within the Circle’s Scope on behalf of the Circle’s Purpose; (ii) the action was taken in a good-faith attempt to support the interests and goals of the Circle and the Organization; and (iii) promptly after receiving an explicit request or a significant expression of tension from any Circle Member within the Organization, the Person taking such action raises the matter in a Governance Meeting to further clarify and define the Organization’s structure. After such a request or significant expression of tension is received and until such time as the Accountability in question is explicitly delegated or addressed in a Governance Meeting, the authority to carry out such Accountability and make decisions related to such Accountability shall immediately vest with the Lead Link of the Circle whose Scope covers said Accountability, or, if a dispute arises about which Circle’s Scope said Accountability falls within, then to the Lead Link of the lowest-level Circle which includes all of the Circles so disputed. Notwithstanding the foregoing, such Lead Link may autocratically delegate such authority to other Circle Members or Roles within such Circle, provided that such autocratic delegation is used only as a temporary measure until the matter can be resolved through the due- process for delegating authority described in this Constitution. "

holocracy has a concept of "seed partners" who are like our Seed Group, and Ratifiers, who are like the user account creating the perspective.

holocracy's constitution "reaches outside" itself to impose obligations on the Ratifiers:

" 5.3.2 Rep Links to Ratifiers. The Ratifiers shall make reasonable efforts, to the extent practical, to provide the Rep Link(s) elected by the Anchor Circle and the Partnership Circle with visibility and input into matters that are beyond the Scope of the Anchor Circle, including, to the extent practical and requested by such Rep Link(s), access and participation in any general-purpose meetings or governance processes of the Ratifiers. "

the holocracy constitution is a revocable delegation from the Ratifiers, but must be explicitly revoked:

" 5.5 Waiver of Authority. For all matters within the Scope of the Anchor Circle or Partnership Circle, upon adopting this Constitution the Ratifiers hereby waive any authority they may otherwise have to operate outside the terms of this Constitution or to supersede any authority, autonomy, or other governance granted by this Constitution or by the due process described herein, except for the limited ongoing authority provided in this Article 5, including the authority to amend or repeal this Constitution by the due process described herein, and any authority a Ratifier may otherwise have by virtue of serving in any Roles within any Circles of the Organization as provided for in this Constitution.

5.6 Amendments to Constitution. The Ratifiers may amend this Constitution in any way they see fit or remove this Constitution entirely using whatever authority or due process they otherwise enjoy, provided that any such amendment or repeal is promptly communicated to the Lead Link and Rep Link of the Anchor Circle. Without limiting the foregoing, the Ratifiers shall not have the authority to violate the terms of this Constitution or the governance resulting therefrom without first changing or repealing this Constitution accordingly.

5.7 Access to Constitution. The Ratifiers shall make a copy of this Constitution, as amended to date, readily available for review by any Partner of the Organization. "

note: Holocracy appears to disagree with Peter Drucker, who says that few decisions should be made, that decisions should be made on the "highest conceptual level", that decision-makers should always try to see if issues which seem separate are in fact special cases of some underlying issue or class of issue, and to consider if seemingly exceptional issues are perhaps just the first example of a new class of issue. i think Drucker would term the sorts of decisions likely to be made by Holocracy as mere "adaptations", by which Drucker seems to mean, decisions which aren't made on a high conceptual level.

The reason i say that Holocracy's disagrees is that the "INTEGRATIVE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS" specifically constrains any discussion of any proposal to be "focused around each Objection one at a time, about how to add to or amend the proposal to make it a workable option for addressing just the tension behind the original proposal (and nothing more).", and the criteria for raising any Objection includes that the Objectivion be "based on presently-known data or events rather than predicted data or events, provided that an opportunity is likely to exist in the future to sense and respond if and when such predictions begin to manifest"

This fits with the off-cited picture of "visionary leadership" which changes the world (or just "disruptively innovates" on organizational processes or targets, e.g. when large organizations "pivot" or shift markets, e.g. IBM's transition to services, Kimberly-Clark Corp's transition away from paper, Vail of Bell's transition resisting the temptation to "solve the immediate financing problem by issuing whatever security would be easiest to sell at the best price for the next few years. If he expects to need the capital market for the foreseeable future, he invents a new kind of investor and designs the appropriate security for a mass-capital market that does not yet exist.", Vail of Bell's implementing the policy of advocating government regulation of his industry (born out of his feeling that regulation was inevitable anyway), Vail of Bell's implementing the unpopular policy of restructuring Bell so as to reward service to the customer instead of profit, the building of new products such as minivans without market data) as requiring authoritarianess (think Steve Jobs), whereas consensus decision-making is pleasant but incapable of rapid or revolutionary (as opposed to evolutionary) process change. My suspicion is that Holocracy's process constraints on decision-making were chosen to facilitate rapid convergence to consensus, but have the hidden opportunity cost of making revolutionary change unlikely (e.g. how would Vail of Bell possibly have justified advocating for government regulation of his company, or on restructuring his company to reward customer service? Such policies are based only on "predicted data or events" to which "an opportunity is likely to exist in the future to sense and respond if and when such predictions begin to manifest"). This process does not allow one to "skate ahead of the puck", so to speak, at least when skating ahead of the puck involves governance issues (and i wouldn't be surprised if an organization governed by consensus attempted to extend consensus decision-making into other areas as well, ie the "purpose" of circles is a governance issue but also must be touched upon to make a company formerly based on profit into one based upon community service; imo it would be important to highlight that such procedures are only to be used for governance).

OTOH, Jim Collins says " The Myth of the Change Program: This approach comes with the launch event, the tag line, and the cascading activities.

The Myth of the Burning Platform: This one says that change starts only when there’s a crisis that persuades “unmotivated” employees to accept the need for change.

The Myth of Revolution: Big change has to be wrenching, extreme, painful—one big, discontinuous, shattering break. "

LLC operating agreement

holocracy also has an LLC operating agreement. there are no employees in a holocracy LLC -- everyone is a partner.

sociocracy, also known as dynamic governance

holocracy appears to be an offshoot of sociocracy, or dynamic governance:

" The Defining Elements Consent – The principle of consent governs decision-making. Consent means no argued and paramount objection. In other words, a policy decision can only be made if nobody has a reasoned and paramount objection to it. Day- to-day decisions don’t require consent, but there must be consent about the use of other forms of decision-making. Election of Persons – Election of persons for functions and/or tasks takes place in accordance with the principle of consent and after open argumentation. Circle – The organization maintains a structure for decision-making, consisting of semi- autonomous circles (i.e., groups of individuals). Each circle has its own aim and organizes the three functions of leading, doing, and measuring/feedback. A circle makes its own policy decisions by consent, maintains its own memory system, and develops itself through research, teaching, and learning that interacts with its aim. A circle makes consent decisions only in specially formatted circle meetings. Double Linking - A circle is connected to the next higher circle with a double link. This means that at least two persons, one being the functional leader of the circle and at least one representative from the circle, are full members of the next higher circle. " --


"Self-organizing systems have what all leaders crave: the capacity to respond continuously to change. In these systems, change is the organizing force, not a problematic intrusion. Structures and solutions are temporary... experimentation is the norm." -- Margaret Wheatley, Finding Our Way, via

price of training

i expect that a good facilitator would make a big difference, and learning to be a good facilitator is probably not a "book learning" kind of thing. if you have money, there is a one-day intro training for $300 (or $900 for a group of up to 6). After that you can be trained and certified as a facilitator for $4000 (intro training is a prereq for facilitator training).

So the total cost of turning one of your members into a trained facilitator is $4300.

of course, you could try to just wing it, which is probably as far as i'd go, since neither me nor the project i'll be working with has much money. i might spend a couple hundred on this, but a couple thousand is way out of my price range, for now (unless i was planning to be a professional paid facilitator for consulting clients). i'm not saying the price is unreasonable; i bet other organizations charge as much or more for similar training.

lead links

lead links are per-circle. They unlaterally appoint people to roles in that circle. They cannot change the structure of the circle (e.g. adding, subtracting roles) unilaterally, however.

The Lead Link is responsible for anything the circle is responsible for that is not captured by one of the roles in that circle.

links and random notes

" Holacracy is inherently and explicitly hierarchical. There is a Board, whose leader (aka Lead Link) appoints the leader of the company. The company leader appoints all leaders of the next layer of leadership. Those leaders can appoint any leaders of sub-divisions (aka Circles) under them. ... Holacracy has job titles (aka Role names). The most significant difference between typical job titles and Holacratic roles is that a job title typically corresponds to a 40 hour/week set of responsibilities, whereas Holacratic roles are typically much more fine-grained ... Holacracy’s power structure is explicit and clearly visible to the whole company. ... It’s a hierarchy, but Holacracy adds something special to it. For every divisinon head, aka Lead Link of a Circle, there’s a corresponding representative elected by the Circle. This person is the Rep Link, and this role’s purpose is to raise any unresolved tensions up the hierarchy to the parent Circle. This role provides a balancing effect against any domineering Lead Links. Rep Links operate in the parent Circle, just like Lead Links, with the same authority to propose, reject, and process governance. ... Holacracy is autocratic. When a role has the authority (aka Domain) to make a decision, the person in the role doesn’t need to consult with anyone. They can simply, autocratically, make that decision. For instance, Lead Links have the domain to assign people to roles and our Chicago Office Manager role has sole authority over decisions about our office space. This is wonderfully freeing and efficient, because as the late, great Grace Hopper used to say, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Being autocratic requires a couple things: lots of trust, and tight feedback loops between the autocrat and the people affected by their decisions. ... Holacracy feels biological. One of the core features of Holacracy is its tension processing protocols. These happen in periodic (usually weekly) Tactical meetings. I won’t go into the details of how these work, but when facilitated effectively, they can be amazingly effective at processing tensions. It’s helpful for me to think of tensions as food, and our Tactical meetings as our digestive system. The poop is the action items and projects that result from the Tactical meeting. And just to force the metaphor, those action items and projects act as fertilizer, growing us toward the company’s purpose. The work that creates this progress tends to create tension among the team, and the circle of life repeats! ...

My favorite part of it is the autocracy. I love that it lets you move forward using your best judgment without having to build consensus.

The part that's challenging is budgeting and compensation. In my experience, Holacracy doesn't have any out-of-the-box way to integrate with these important pieces to any business. " --

" The primary reason most companies decide to transition to holacracy, according to Robertson, is a lack of organizational clarity. In other words, employees don’t know who is in charge of what. This can lead to confusion, frustration and an inefficient workflow. " --

the previous article mentioned Janice Klein at MIT who studied self-managing manufactoring teams in the 1980s (but not holocracy) for awhile and determined it didn't work:

she was talked to more in and seems to be more open to holocracy in that one

if people need titles, holocracy may not work well:

" The other struggle was that Holacracy is not an easy practice to learn. In fact, the nuances are such a challenge to master that a handful of the participants in my course were on their third or fourth attempt at the same training. At one-week long and $4K a pop, that’s quite an investment. As one of my fellow participants poignantly put it, “Holacracy is like a religion for dedicated monks to practice,” adding, “I wonder what the layman’s version will turn out to be?” I think this is an excellent question that time will reveal. " --

" Meetings

    [Jean Hsu] Jean Hsu in Life at Medium

As an engineer, there is nothing more beautiful than opening up my calendar in the morning and seeing an entirely meeting-free day for coding.

In the past, I’ve sat in meetings that were entirely irrelevant to the work I was doing, as well as meetings that were entirely relevant but ended up down a rabbit hole covering only 1% of what really should have been discussed. Both are incredibly frustrating, especially when sprinkled across the week.

Now that I’ve been at Medium for almost a year now, I’ve come to realize that many of the painful aspects of a “conventional” workplace that people tolerate begrudgingly don’t necessarily have to be that way. Earlier this year, we adopted a new company structure called Holacracy, which is a distributed authority system that uses tensions to dynamically steer an organization. I know that is incredibly vague, but maybe that’s a topic for another post. The new system has affected many aspects of our work, but the one I appreciate most is the structure it enforces around meetings. Tensions

In our meetings, everyone has a chance to bring up “tensions,” which in Holacracy means something that you as an individual feel is hampering the true potential of your work. No one can tell you that a tension is invalid even if they themselves do not feel that tension. As an individual, you have a unique perspective into the company, so if you feel a tension, it is valid and needs to be processed to help the company achieve its potential.

All meetings have an appointed facilitator who is responsible for running the meeting. The facilitator helps the circle members come up with an agenda filled with short phrases; for example, a tactical meeting of the Engineering circle might have an agenda with items like “unit tests,” “style guide,” “deployment,” “hiring,” etc.

During meetings the facilitator ensures that tensions are strictly processed one-by-one and is responsible for keeping discussions (when allowed) on task and quickly seeking resolution of the tension.

The structure of our meetings is really significant for me as someone who feels uncomfortable interrupting other people to be heard, since it gives me explicit space to voice my opinions without interruptions and without having to yell over other people. Rather than being satisfied with the status quo, I feel empowered to bring things to the table that could be improved upon. Processing Tensions in Tactical Meetings

Tactical meetings are usually held every week and are very much about getting the work done, unblocking roadblocks, and resolving practical issues. Because tactical meetings are very different from governance meetings (mentioned later), we use a different procedure to process the tensions.

For tactical meetings, processing a tension means getting to a next action that will address the tension-holder’s tension. It may not be the most optimal long-term solution, but rather a workable next step that moves us forward. If Alice brings up a tension such as “We need more consistent coding styles for javascript,” after a swift open discussion, a next action might be assigned to Bob to “Send a draft of a javascript style guide to circle members.”

But, you can easily imagine meetings where the discussion veers off-track. For example:

Billy: “This is related, but our html and css is a mess, and we don’t have consistency in buttons and our styles are not very reusable. We should do a sweep through the codebase to refactor that.”

This is where things get interesting. In a normal unstructured meeting, this is where two or three people might end up discussing philosophies on technical debt for half an hour, while everyone else sits impatiently until someone gets frustrated enough to jump in and say “um maybe we should move on” but feels like a jerk for cutting the discussion off.

When we process tensions in tactical meetings, the facilitator is responsible for detecting and stopping digressions, possibly even interrupting Billy mid-sentence:

“Well, that sounds like a separate tension, which you can add to the agenda at any point. Back to Alice—what do you need to resolve your tension?” Processing Tensions in Governance Meetings

Governance meetings are more about how we are organized around the work, and can affect roles, accountabilities, and policies. For instance, recently we realized we did not have anyone officially responsible for monitoring developer happiness, so we created a role for this at a recent Engineering Governance meeting.

Processing a tension in governance meetings usually means getting a proposal accepted. As an example, let’s take a look at a tension of “It’s unclear what browsers we should support and who has the authority to make that decision.” I’ll only cover some of the parts of the process, but you can check out this handout for all the steps.

A proposal for the given tension might be “Create a role called Browser Supporter with the accountability ‘Decide what browsers we should support.’” During the reaction round, each person in the meeting has the time to give their reaction to the proposal, to voice all their concerns or opinions about it without any interruptions.

There are very few phases in these meetings that allow for open discussion. While this may seem limiting and unnatural initially, it explicitly prevents discussions that do not address the present tension.

Experiencing a well-facilitated meeting can be eye-opening. I fully expect and trust a facilitator to cut people off when appropriate and help us efficiently process tensions. Since the goal is purely to process tensions, the meetings actually often end before their allotted times, which lets us all get back to work. " --


" the key tenets that Medium (holacracy using company) embraces:

    No people managers. Maximum autonomy. 
    Organic expansion. When a job gets too big, hire another person. 
    Tension resolution. Identify issues people are facing, write them down, and resolve them systematically. 
    Make everything explicit – from vacation policies to decision makers in each area. 
    Distribute decision-making power and discourage consensus seeking. 
    Eliminate all the extraneous factors that worry people so they can focus on work. "

-- (

both medium and zappos have gone holocratic

" In fact, the Medium team has already discovered something missing from the system: praise and feedback. “Managers are usually responsible for giving people feedback, directing them, telling them good jobs, and all of these things are super important to a healthy environment. You need someone to call you out or validate you when you’ve worked hard,” Stirman says.

Even so, the founding team at Medium decided to take a Holacratic approach to the problem. “We created a few roles responsible for giving people regular feedback,” he explained. “This is where we’re starting to skirt the lines of having people managers, because it certainly sounds managerial, but these roles aren’t responsible for people’s work. It’s more of a mentor relationship than a managerial relationship.”

These roles are called ‘Domain Leads’ and are filled by experienced members of various circles like design and engineering. In addition to mentoring, they’re also largely responsible for hiring and firing. They work closely with the ‘Lead Links’ who define and fill roles in their circles to assess performance. “Domain leads are responsible for the people, not the work,” Stirman says. “It’s something we’re trying out.”

To supplement this tactic on the positive end, the company also introduced a ‘High Five Machine’ – a dashboard where anyone can write in and praise a co-worker, streaming throughout the office. It’s an invention borne out of Holacracy, spun out of the unique needs this kind of system creates." " -- (




    "Holacracy is the opposite of the cliché way to run a startup. People think "freedom, no job description, everybody does everything, it's totally flat, and that's cool because we're all down with those rules". But actually that creates tons of anxiety and inefficiency, and various modes of dysfunction, whether we have to build consensus around every decision, or I'm gonna do a land grab for power... People romanticize startup cultures, but I know it's fairly rare that people in startups say "this is it, it is amazing and everybody is super-productive and going along". So in Holacracy, one of the principles is to make the implicit explicit — tons of it is about creating clarity: who is in charge of what, who is taking what kind of decision — and there is also a system for defining that, and changing that, so it's very flexible at the same time."

Later on, Evan underlined Holacracy's ability to harness everyone's capacity in the organization. At its core, Holacracy is a "tension processing system", it can integrate everyone's feedback into meaningful change without requiring leaders to 'manage'. Evan contrasted Holacracy with his past experiences:

    "In the past, as my companies have grown, I've hired these amazing people and I felt like I was getting less and less of them as the company got bigger. Part of that was because they were in a particular area and they had ideas, concerns or perspectives, that were relevant outside of those areas, but it wasn't clear what to do with those. Holacracy provides a very specific way where people are actually encouraged to bring this stuff up. It's called processing tension; it's very efficient and you really take advantage of everybody's perspective and ideas."" --

there's a youtube video on that link too (there's another video at this link, too) says that one of the main motivations for Holacracy is enabling every employee to get anything that they sense 'processed'. An anecdote was given where a guy (the holacracy founder) was flying a plane and the low voltage warning light went on. He looked at the other warning lights and sensors and couldn't corroborate, but couldn't confirm it, so he ignored it. That was a big mistake! Then in business he sensed something important to the business, but his boss just didn't get it; the information was discarded by the organization's systems. Eventually he ran his own company, but that wasn't a solution because even as the CEO, he couldn't get everything he sensed processed because the systems in the his company weren't responsive enough. In addition, he realized that other employees wouldn't be able to get everything they sensed processed.

NOT just having a voice: in consensus meetings, everyone had a voice, but it wasn't enough. You don't want the low-voltage light to be ignored if the other warnings don't agree. Also, consensus took too long in meetings.

" Typically, power and authority in an organization formally rest with the guy at the top – the CEO, managing director, or whatever label is used. Theoretically power is delegated from there, however this process is often extremely fuzzy. More often, most people in the organization have little clarity about who has what authority to make which decisions, at least for many topics. And when decision-making authority is unclear, we see behaviors that make sense given that context but waste time and energy: steam-rollering over others, painfully-slow consensus-seeking, playing politics, etc. – there’s no good answer.

When people are first exposed to the Holacracy system, they’re often wowed by its smooth, efficient, transpersonal meetings, and sometimes think of the method as “really cool meeting processes”. Holacracy meetings may be quite remarkable, however this conception of the method misses the bulk of its shift: the transformation to a new power structure, which clarifies and distributes authority throughout the organization, by regularly processing tensions sensed by all within. " --

" With authority clear and distributed, no one has to tiptoe around an issue and build buy-in, which liberates autocratic action with confidence, knowing that an integrative legislative process has granted such authority. And at the time same, someone with clear autocratic authority is freed to ask for help, input, and dialog, and others are free to give it and pitch their opinions – without any risk of the process devolving to a consensus-deadlock or an autocratic decree from a conventional leader. As soon as the authority-holder gets enough input to confidently make a decision, they can comfortably cut off the dialog, thank those involved, and make their decision. " --

note: the blog post is oft-referenced by other Holacrats

" Personally, I like systems that feel natural and intuitive, so I spent much of the training trying to think through how to adopt the “good” parts of Holacracy and design out the “bad” parts. My conclusion? A half deployment will backfire. Each element of Holacracy feeds into and supports the rest. It needs to be a full commitment from the Constitution on down.


The adaptions that I’m suggesting below still work within a full Holacracy deployment – meaning, that you are still deploying the complete Holacracy implementation for process and structure, without sacrificing some important principles in leadership, long-range planning, and organizational design. I believe that these adaptations will allow you to get the most out of a Holacracy implementation. " --

summary of his 3 suggestions:

" Adaptation #1: Don’t Abdicate the Master Structural Design My experience growing businesses and coaching dozens of other successful growth businesses is that structure is about 85% of the game. That is, get your structural design right and you can create massive organizational transformation. Get it wrong and you don’t have a chance.

Holacracy allows for an organizational structure to be designed from the bottom up. Not only does this “organic” approach take a long time and is prone to egregious errors; it also allows for chaos where you need order and order where you need chaos.


I think that Holacracy adopted its bottom-up approach to structure because it confuses what are really problems with poor strategy, misaligned vision and values, ass-backwards decision-making processes, and poor leadership with problems with structure.

If you go back to the Holacracy critique of the top-down hierarchical “structure” (in which they really mean to say “org chart”), you’ll see that very few items actually relate to structure and none of them to structure alone: painful meetings (accountabilities and process), difficulty to change (accountabilities and process), overwhelm (process and strategy), unclear objectives (process and strategy), misalignment (strategy, vision and values, structure and process), lack of engagement (process and people), rigidity (strategy, structure, and process), politics (process and people), analysis paralysis (process), bureaucracy (process), fear (strategy, process, people), and communication issues (process).

A sound management system will address all of the issues raised by Holacracy and leverage, rather than discard, the principles of sound organizational design. Think about it. The purpose behind a top-down organizational design is not to command and control or to dictate, as its harshest critics would claim. It’s to clarify accountabilities, thus decentralizing authority, and allocate resources. It’s about getting the right style of people in the right roles with the right metrics and providing them the autonomy to flourish. It’s also about allowing new business units to innovate because of — not in spite of — a sound overall design.

So even if you do choose to implement Holacracy, I’d make damn sure that you have the right initial structure in place and that, as the leader, you keep an eye on it to make sure it’s not going katty-whampus and headed off a cliff. You need a structure that supports the strategy and current lifecycle stage, and clearly identifies the metrics, key performance indicators, and style of leader most suitable for each role. This is in addition to the purpose and accountabilities of each role that Holacracy will definitely help you to define.

One way to conceptualize this is for you, the entrepreneur or CEO (GCC Lead Link in Holacracy terms) to maintain control of the overall strategy as well as the master structure to support the execution of that strategy. You could accomplish this as an accountability within the GCC or even create a separate Strategy and Structure circle with those specific accountabilities. This approach would allow for self-organizing circles but within the master design. It’s kind of like being a master planner for a community garden. You lay out the plots (the functions) in the optimal way to take advantage of the terrain and climate and invite the community members to plant whatever they want, while still being accountable to produce results. JUST DON’T? LET GO OF THE MASTER DESIGN OR YOU’LL? SOON HAVE A PLOT OF CRAP INSTEAD OF A VIBRANT ECOSYSTEM.

If you’d like to understand the basics of designing a structure from the Organizational Physics perspective, read The 5 Classic Mistakes in Organizational Structure: Or, How to Design Your Organization the Right Way. "

" Adaptation #2: Don’t Confuse the Tensions for the Cause Holacracy Governance and Operations meetings have a relentless focus on solving tensions held by any role in the circle. So if you were the VP of Sales and had a tension with how Marketing was allocating its resource dollars to lead generation, you could bring that tension to the circle and have it processed.

In order to process the tension, the Holacracy trained facilitator would guide the circle through a series of prescribed steps to resolve the issue in such a way that your tension is satisfied (hopefully) but without harming the autonomy of any other role in the circle. How rigid are these steps? Very. There’s no discussion allowed of issues that might be related. There is only a focus on processing one tension at a time for the role that brought it to the circle. There is a set of rules about who speaks when and what is allowed or not allowed as a valid objection to any proposal. It’s a lot like practicing law in a courtroom.

Processing tensions is important. There’s always a gap between what is and what could be. However, the way the decision-making process is structured in Holacracy actually reverses what’s required for rapid execution. As I describe in Organizational Physics, organizational mass (resistance to change) is a real thing. In order to execute fast, you need a process that slows down enough up front (in the decision-making phase) to gather a diversity of opinions and sufficient data so that you make a good decision with full commitment. Then you can go fast on implementation. Holacracy reverses this model. It focuses on rapid decision making at the cost of rapid implementation. Exactly the opposite of what, in my opinion, a well-run decision making process should do.

To clarify, I’m not condoning pushing off making decisions. I’m also not condoning a poor decision-making process that allows for a free-for-all. The structure and process of meetings is critical to good management. But the right structure and process will support making sound, well-thought decisions that afterward get implemented quickly rather than rushed, half-baked decisions that fail on implementation. (If you’d like to learn more about the basics of a good-decision making process, read The Most Important Process in Your Business: Or, How to Make Good Decisions and Implement Them Fast.

In many later-stage, bureaucratic-heavy institutions like large businesses, governments, schools, and non-profits, I think that Holacracy could be a productive change. In these settings, there’s already a bias towards not making a decision, following the political winds, and covering your ass in the face of a stolid bureaucracy.

In short, these settings already have a high-Stabilizing force at work within them. Holacracy will match the Stabilizing force within these institutions well and, if executed correctly, it will shift the culture towards decision making, accountability, and action — any action. Because the risk of making a bad decision is low in these settings, versus the risk of not making a decision at all, it could be a helpful management practice to adopt.

However, in most expansion-stage companies (the area where I specialize), there’s actually a bias in the other direction. Here, companies usually confuse making rapid decisions with making rapid progress. Rather than speeding through to a one-off decision, they need to cultivate the muscle to find the underlying cause of every challenge. In short, they need to slow down in order to go fast. So be mindful of this if you adopt Holacracy. You’ll need to supplement it with long-range strategic development practices so that once or twice a year you pattern up all the tensions, identify their underlying causation, and put in place efforts to solve them at the root level. "


Adaptation #3: You Can Renounce Your Authority But Don’t Cede Your Leadership If you’re going to truly adopt Holacracy then you, as the CEO, will be asked to sign over your authority to a Holacratic-based Constitution, much as the President of the United States takes an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution.

Is this ceremony? Yes. Is it necessary? If you’re going to make a full commitment, then yes. But even if you do choose to sign over authority, make sure that you’re not also forgoing your own authentic leadership.

Let me put it this way. According to Holacracy, if the CEO just cedes authority to the Constitution up front, then the Holacractic system will take over and the organization will transform. It’s not a requirement for an organization to have great leadership, it’s only a requirement that they adopt Holacracy. Then, by virtue of its “exquisite design,” the organization will begin to transform.

This principle reminds me of Communism, which reads well in theory but utterly fails in implementation. The fact is that bad leaders make bad systems. A poor leader will attempt to execute on the wrong strategy, will allow misaligned vision and values, will disregard the principles of structure and process, or will place the wrong style of people in the right roles. If this is the case, then that business is going to fail anyway and Holacracy, or any other management system, is not going to prevent disaster.

On the other hand, a great leader builds sustainable systems. He or she will take what they’ve got and make any system work well, Holacratic or not. If you look at the most successful businesses in history, the ones that assume almost transcendent, iconic status — IBM, Apple, Ford, Disney, Walmart, Standard Oil, HP, Intel, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Virgin, etc. — you’ll see that while each founder had his own unique approach and management methodology, each also designed their business to be symbiotic with his or her own innate genius.

These visionary founding leaders did what only they could do in the early stages of their business growth and beyond. They consciously designed their businesses around their own innate ability to innovate and made conscious design choices to offset their weaknesses. They influenced the most important things without getting bogged down in the details. They delegated, but with visibility and control. They surrounded themselves with complementary teams and structures. They ensured that good decisions got made and implemented quickly time and again, not by micro-managing details but through systems thinking. These same principles hold true for you.

Can you use Holacracy to create this kind of sustainable business growth over time? Absolutely. Do you need Holacracy to do so? Absolutely not. If you look again to the Organizational Physics map, you’ll see that there are many methods to manage your business, and they all come back to the basics. Set the right innovation strategy. Define the vision and defend the right values. Craft and realign the structure to support the evolving strategy. Use this structure to clearly distribute authority and accountability. Follow a sound decision-making process. Design for self-organizing teams with the freedom and autonomy to execute and backed with clear metrics. Get the right people in the right roles. Work on the long range and execute on the short range. Know the forces at play. You know — do the basics right. "

-- : that guy likes: (a) explicit, formal governance structure, (b) "Constant Participatory Reorganization... Frequency makes things safe: if a structure sucks, it can be changed next month, after we know that it sucks from experience. Togetherness makes things stick: things we used to decide top-down weren’t adopted; things we decided to do as a group have stuck." (c) "Integrative Decision-Making technology inside of Holacracy is fantastic. It feels arduous, inhumane, and just plain slow at first, but it’s clear that when compared to previous approaches for decision-making, it makes huge issues easier to tackle as a team" (d) "Defined Output Format By providing a rudimentary pattern language – roles have XYZ properties, accountabilities are phrased in this way, etc. – more people are able to participate in the structuring of the work" (e) facilitated tactical meetings "Most status meetings that we observe (and that we used to run inside UC) were vague blends of doing the work and dividing the work. In a traditional system, project updates lead to interminable discussion. Better meeting facilitation leads to swift updates, more clarity, and very little wasted time."

that guy hates: (a) jargon (b) overly formal verbose wording of constitution (c) the all-or-nothing approach of HolocracyOne? (d) the closed source, cathedral-not-baazar nature of the development of the Holacracy system

the most persuasive pro-holocracy article i've read yet:

toread: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

roles, not titles

in holocracy, there is a hierarchial org chart, but the nodes on this chart are roles, not people. One person can fill multiple roles.

hiring and firing

hiring and firing policies are outside the scope of holacracy (!) ("When we consult with clients to support their Holacracy adoption, the hire-and-fire question comes up early. At first, we often recommend that they keep doing whatever they’ve been doing up till now, and let tensions drive the change" - )

for small organizations, they designed the 3-tier partnership app, see below.


holacracy defines extensions called "apps"

3-tier partnership app

"...answers the question: “How can we account for the difference between partners deeply committed to the organization, and those for whom the commitment is lesser and more temporary?”... Separates “partnership commitment” from financial compensation. It defines three tiers of partners: Standard Partner, Tenured Partner, and Core Partner... Designed for a relatively small organization."


Regular Partner:

Tenured Partner:

Core Partner:

opinion links

"My first holacracy meeting made me want to quit my job. One year later, in spite of its shortcomings, I can’t imagine going back to our old way of working.

I work at Undercurrent, a consulting firm that helps Fortune 500 companies respond to technological change and profit from disruption. About a year ago, we decided to try a new way to run our own company, called a holacracy.

Created in the early 2000s by entrepreneur Brian Robertson and recently adopted by online retailer Zappos, a holacracy eschews titles and instead builds a chain of command based on the work that needs to be done. The group decides to distribute tasks. Those responsible for tasks own them. There is no micro-management.

There are people in charge of things, though. Recent headlines about holacracy have exclaimed that “There are no managers!” in holacracy. That’s not really true. Roles and the people who fill them are still organized in a hierarchical structure. The real difference is that the teams of people who own the work are given explicit permission to do their work in whatever way they see fit without asking for approval from the people above them. "

" Growing Pain #1: Faith and Jargon

Long and difficult to understand canonical document? Check (See: Holacracy Constitution v4.0). A rule system that invites interpretation and variation, yet is policed actively by a group that represents the ‘original’ author? Check. Tons of jargon that create alienating boundaries between practitioners and outsiders? Check. "

" Growing Pain #2: Choosing Teams

Early on, one of the things that I found most jarring and disengaging about holacracy was what happened when it forced the organization to clarify sole leadership of key responsibilities. Each team leader, beginning with the de facto uber-team leader, the CEO, personally selects which team members will fill each of the roles within the teams that they lead. In our organization of approximately 25 people, we had effectively six main teams: the management team (of which I’m a member), marketing, operations, talent & recruiting, business development, and client-facing work.


when folks are spread thin across teams and responsibilities, the process can feel like a crash diet where all the stuff that was filling up your calendar and inflating your relative worth is trimmed suddenly. This was my experience. When the team leaders — or “Circle Lead Links” in holacracy jargon — were selected to lead the critical functions of operations, business development, and our client-facing work, I didn’t make the cut. Instead I ended up leading our marketing team. Many might argue that that’s as critical as any others, but regardless, it didn’t feel that way to me. "

" Growing Pain #3: New Meeting Muscles

Holacracy meetings are designed to carefully separate different modes of working: 1) updating each other on the status of your work, 2) making decisions, 3) devising strategy, and 4) open-ended collaboration. Two key types of meetings –- Tactical Meetings, which are equivalent to a status meeting, and Governance Meetings, which are what almost all of your decision-making meetings should be (they just don’t know it, yet) –- are focused on modes 1 and 2, and effectively outlaw discussion. ... The intention is to make the meetings themselves as productive and action-oriented as possible (which they are, once you get good at them); but, they are stifling to any group of creative and curious people who fall easily into impromptu brainstorms and rely on lively intellectual debate to do their work. "

" It took Undercurrent approximately three months to roll holacracy out across our entire company, and today we use it to organize teams, set goals, and clarify expectations. It has influenced all aspects of our work, and has evolved our culture. It’s also a pain in the ass.

Holacracy’s underlying principles can be transformative. But, adopting it can be too big of a change for many organizations to metabolize. Improving the way you run your company shouldn’t be this hard. "


note that i am not very experienced and hence my opinion doesn't count for much.

based on what i've read on their website, holocracy sounds like a reasonable, common-sensical process. don't let their "language practice" or their ken wilbur associations fool you, it seems to be very "let's get down to business" as opposed to hippie/touchy-feely. of course, i do have some reservations about some specifics, which i've generally mentioned above.

comments on scaling:

to summarize some of my reservations:

why medium left holacracy

" Holacracy is designed to move companies away from rigid corporate structures and toward decentralized management and dynamic composition. Teams are largely self-organized, and individuals operate with a fair amount of autonomy. Ideally, this puts the work at the forefront and lets the company’s organizational chart form to support it, rather than the other way around. As Holacracy’s co-founder Tom Thomison puts it, “Nothing gets in the way of the work.”

There is much we admire about the philosophy. Holacracy emphasizes that authority does not need to be centralized and puts trust and responsibility in the hands of individuals at all levels. The ethos of Medium is that great ideas and fresh perspectives can come from anywhere. ... Holacracy also reflects a modern view of work. Classic org charts are often linear and inflexible; in reality, people have the talent to play multiple roles in a company. Holacracy allows for that..while a managerial structure is in place — every initiative has a leader — it is designed to be lightweight, cooperative, and transitory. ... the system presents its challenges. Our experience was that it was difficult to coordinate efforts at scale. In the purest expression of Holacracy, every team has a goal and works autonomously to deliver the best path to serve that goal. But for larger initiatives, which require coordination across functions, it can be time-consuming and divisive to gain alignment

Holacracy also requires a deep commitment to record-keeping and governance. Every job to be done requires a role, and every role requires a set of responsibilities. While this provides helpful transparency, it takes time and discussion. More importantly, we found that the act of codifying responsibilities in explicit detail hindered a proactive attitude and sense of communal ownership.

We’ve also been challenged by Holacracy’s public perception...Holacracy has become fraught with misconceptions that make it hard to separate the actual system from the imagined one. In recruiting, this became a problem — particularly among more experienced candidates, who worried that they were being hired as “bosses” in a boss-less company....We are lucky to employ a group of passionate and self-motivated individuals, who make meaningful contributions to strategy, workflow, and culture, regardless of seniority. And we have bosses — people who have the experience of scaling companies, leading through hard challenges, and developing teams. These people build consensus when it’s possible, and make difficult decisions when it’s not. We want to build a place where both can thrive. ... To move forward thoughtfully, we’ve established a set of principles to clarify how we want to organize and manage the company. We hope that these principles will persist over time, though the manner in which we apply them will necessarily evolve as we grow and the complexity of our business increases.

1. Individuals can always instigate change.

2. Authority is distributed, though not evenly or permanently.

3. Ownership is accountability, not control.

4. Good decision-making implies alignment, not consensus.

5. The system is designed to be adaptable.

6. Corporate transparency, driven by technology. "

" consider what leaders need most from their organizations: reliability and adaptability. Reliability means many things, such as generating predictable returns for shareholders, adhering to regulations, maintaining stable employment levels, and fulfilling customers’ expectations. ...

 Three myths about self-managing organizations
  1. 1. There’s No Organizational Structure In fact self-management models are intricately nested. A holacracy circle, for example, may contain several subcircles, each with subcircles of its own.
  2. 2. Hierarchy No Longer Exists

Zappos has twice as many “lead link” roles as it had managers pre-holacracy...

((#3 is "Everything Is Decided by Consensus" but their example doesn't support their title))


Self-managed teams took different forms as they gained popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. In Europe they became synonymous with participative management and industrial democracy. In Japan they morphed into quality circles and continuous improvement efforts. In the United States they became the organizing framework for innovation task forces. Moving to self-managed teams yielded breakthroughs in many companies, mainly in manufacturing and service operation contexts. The Volvo plant in Kalmar, Sweden, reduced defects by 90% in 1987. FedEx? cut service errors by 13% in 1989. In the late 1980s and early 1990s C&S Wholesale Grocers created a warehouse of self-managed teams, which enjoyed a 60% cost advantage over competitors, and General Mills increased productivity by up to 40% in plants that adopted self-managed teams. ... when C&S CEO Rick Cohen visited Harvard Business School, more than a decade ago, to speak about his company’s success with self-managed teams, he told students that “the hardest thing is to keep the managers out of the process and just let the teams do what they do.” Why not attack the matrix head-on by applying the principles of self-management to entire institutions? ... Management scholars Warren Bennis and Henry Mintzberg each noted a shift toward adhocracy—flexible, informal management structures—in the 1980s. A decade later the internet served as a model for what some called “the networked firm.” More recently the open-source movement, agile and scrum methodologies, and the sharing economy have inspired participative, responsive structures—holacracy, podularity (a model with roots in agile software development’s tendency to break tasks into small increments and to work with minimal planning and fast iterations), and a range of company-specific variations on self-organization. These are just the latest attempts to use self-management to reconcile reliability and adaptability. ...

The new forms resist hierarchical constraints—but in some ways, contrary to popular arguments, they resemble bureaucracy as sociologist Max Weber defined it in the early 1900s. Bureaucracy vested authority in depersonalized rules and roles rather than in status, class, or wealth. The idea was to liberate individuals from the dictatorial rule of whimsical bosses. Self-managing systems aim to accomplish the same thing, with less rigidity. In that sense, you could think of them as Bureaucracy 2.0. ...

But what does it mean, in practice, to run a whole enterprise this way? A range of companies have made the leap, most notably Morning Star, a maker of tomato products; Valve, a developer of video games and gaming platforms; W.L. Gore, a highly diversified manufacturer; and, of course, Zappos. (For more on Morning Star, see “First, Let’s Fire All the Managers,” by Gary Hamel, HBR, December 2011.)


Teams are the structure.

In holacracy, they’re “circles”; in podularity, “pods”; at Valve, “cabals”; and at many companies, simply “teams.” Whatever they’re called, these basic components—not individuals, and not units, departments, or divisions—are the essential building blocks of their organizations....the overall organizational structure is diced much more finely ... teams come and go as employees perceive changes in the organization’s needs (just as task forces and project teams in traditional organizations do, but without the surrounding matrix structure, which has a way of holding ad hoc groups together even after they’re irrelevant). ...

Teams design and govern themselves.


At Morning Star, which developed its own form of self-management, employees (in consultation with relevant coworkers) write up formal agreements known internally as “colleague letters of understanding” (CLOUs). These outline responsibilities, activities, and overall goals and contain highly detailed metrics for evaluating performance. CLOUs are essentially contracts that articulate employees’ work commitments to the organization—like annual performance previews that let your colleagues know what they can count on you to accomplish. The terms are renegotiated formally every year but can be changed at any point to reflect new work requirements and individuals’ evolving skills and interests.

... Zappos top-level circle includes 18 subcircles, including:


Leadership is contextual.

...leadership is distributed among roles, not individuals (people usually hold multiple roles, on various teams)...Technology is essential for keeping these changes straight. In a holacracy, for example, enterprise software such as GlassFrog? or holaSpirit is typically used to codify the purpose, accountability, and decision rights of every circle and role, and the information is accessible to anyone in the organization. At Morning Star, CLOUs are stored on an internal server that makes each individual’s commitments visible to everybody at the company. Transparency enables cross-team integration; all the thinly differentiated roles are easier to find than they would be in a traditional organization. ...

When someone isn’t a good fit for a role, it’s reassigned to someone else. Of course, assigning roles is work in itself. In a holacracy, there’s a role for that, too—the “lead link,” which also assumes responsibility for connecting a circle to the larger circles that encompass it (for instance, linking social media to marketing and communications). In more loosely defined forms of self-management, such as podularity, roles are flexibly reassigned, but it is left up to the organization to figure out how.


In traditional organizations, each employee works within a single, broadly defined role, and it’s often difficult for people to sculpt or switch jobs. In self-managing systems, individuals have portfolios of several very specific roles (Zappos employees now have 7.4 roles, on average),


This approach to role design gives people room to grow on the job. Consider Ryan, a software developer at ARCA, a global manufacturing and services company where one of us spent more than a year observing the implementation of holacracy. Early on, Ryan—who was passionate about user interface design—saw an unmet need to ensure that ARCA’s software had a consistent look and feel. At one of his team’s structuring meetings, he pitched the idea of creating a role for this work: UI liaison. No one in the circle thought this would cause any harm, so the role was created and the lead link assigned it to Ryan, who also continued to fill the software developer role. This allowed him to simultaneously improve the group’s performance and pursue a professional growth opportunity.


How did Karl fit all this work in? Holacracy let him jettison roles that weren’t a good use of his time. For instance, he used the structuring process to carve out some administrative responsibilities and pitch them as a separate role, which the lead link filled with an enthusiastic new hire. Although this shift in responsibilities was initiated by an individual contributor, not by a manager, it was highly formalized and official.


but role proliferation has costs, too. It creates three kinds of complexity ... employees struggle with fragmentation ... At Zappos, each of the 7.4 roles an individual fills contains an average of 3.47 distinct responsibilities, resulting in more than 25 responsibilities per employee. People grapple with where to focus their attention and how to prioritize and coordinate across circles—even with simple scheduling issues. To partially address these challenges, Zappos is trying out a tool (modeled after ordinary budgeting systems but expanded beyond dollar amounts or head-count limits) called People Points: Each circle gets a certain number of points with which to recruit individuals into roles, with senior management determining the points by assessing the business value of the circle’s work. (The company is exploring crowdfunding models to replace this top-down budgeting.) And each Zapponian gets a budget—100 points to allocate as he or she chooses. ...

Second, having so many roles complicates compensation. As people assemble their personal portfolios of roles, it becomes difficult to find clear benchmarks or market rates.


Third, proliferation complicates hiring, ...

Zappos..developed Role Marketplace, a tool to quickly post open roles and manage applications, with lead links ultimately deciding who fills the roles.

Making decisions closer to the work.

In traditional organizations, intricate webs of titles, job descriptions, and reporting relationships can make it difficult to figure out who decides what. In some of the newer models, such as holacracies, everyone can see who holds each role and what people are responsible for. The processes and norms for decision making are streamlined too. Rather than run ideas up the flagpole and wait for answers to come back down, individuals go directly to the people who will be affected.


it can be hard to absorb all the rules of engagement—and once people start applying them, that “structuring” work can feel almost as onerous as the Byzantine hierarchy it replaced. If every circle has a monthly governance meeting, as is common in holacracies, and if employees are in 4.1 circles, on average, the meeting time adds up. Zappos employees have so far dealt with the challenge by making their meetings more efficient and using technology to reduce the need for direct interaction. For example, the company developed a Slack bot to run governance meetings according to holacratic rules. Although the automated facilitation and virtual discussions through Slack reduce the time investment, the structuring work is still relentless, with each person involved in roughly one governance conversation a week. At Medium, the social media company that stopped using holacracy, that work proved too much to sustain.

... In our view, ((holacracy's)) approach to establishing direction isn’t viable for certain kinds of organizations. ... you’ll need more than an array of small, local moves. In fact, you’ll probably have to take actions that are suboptimal in a number of specific contexts. For example, consolidating suppliers will cut complexity and costs overall, but you’ll miss out on certain niche suppliers who could offer higher quality and lower prices in emerging markets. Structures that transmit guidance from the top are better equipped than self-managed organizations to make local trade-offs in service of scale ...


complaints about parliamentary procedure

" As Zappos onboarded its employees to the system over the past four years, one of the biggest complaints, far and away, was around the rigid meeting format, which provides the guardrails for the system. Tactical meetings, as described by the Holacracy Constitution, tightly govern how and when employees can speak up. The meetings, which typically are held once a week, open with a check-in round and then dive into checklists and metrics. The Constitution is clear that there is “no discussion” during the check-in and closing rounds. In other words, there is no natural, back-and-forth conversation that begets camaraderie, respect, trust, and connection. No small talk.

“In the beginning, you feel that the human element is lost completely,” " --

complaints about Zappo's system in particular

" some are uncomfortable with the way Hsieh has attempted to “gamify” the company. Zappos has explored “badging” (giving employees badges based on their proven skill sets) and “people points,” which is currency that employees use to fill roles within the company. (For example, hypothetically, an employee could designate 50 of their 100 people points to an engineering role, 25 points to a PR role, and 25 points to a more peripheral role in the company, like philanthropy. People points determine how an employee allocates their time, and it also determines their salary—some skill sets are still more valuable than others within a Holacracy.) Employees who have too many unallocated people points are sent to “The Beach” where they either need to find new roles within the company or are let go. The overwhelming feeling of instability (worrying about people points, or whether they’ll be sent to The Beach) has sparked the fight-or-flight response that Brown spoke about in her keynote. " --

complaints about too much process

" Appelo quotes Bud Caddell, a management consultant who spent time inside Zappos to advise Hsieh on how to improve the Holacracy rollout: “The average employee is already overworked and undertrained; asking them to learn the management equivalent of Dungeons and Dragons on top of their workload is foolish, if not inhumane.” " --

" Executive coach and management consultant Julia Culen describes the system as equally disturbing in her post, Holacracy: Not Safe Enough To Try:

    I felt like being part of a code, operating [within] an algorithm that is optimized for machines, but not for humans. Instead of feeling more whole, self-organized and more powerful, I felt trapped. The circles I was being part of did not feel empowering at all but taking away my natural authenticity as well as my feeling of aliveness. It was fully unnatural and we were disciplined by rigorous protocols and procedures." --


toread: buffer

"We had just come out of a long experiment with self-management, where we fully leaned in to adopting concepts similar to Holacracy, where a company is run with no managers. Ultimately, we decided that we hadn’t been able to make it work. " -- [1]