Book Cover

And welcome back!  For those who are interested, The Frederick Half Marathon last weekend was great.  I met my goal; I crossed the finish line, collected my medal and got to hang out with my family in Frederick.  This week, we begin Part Two of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson published by Henry Holt and Company in 2015.  Part Two is titled Evolution At Play: Practicing Holacracy.  In my opinion, Part Two provides readers with the nuts and bolts needed to use Holacracy.  Chapter 4, Governance, takes all of the building blocks from previous chapters and starts to weave them together.

Chapter 4, Governance

In Chapter 3 the concept of governance is described as a tool to help transform an organization from the current “what is” structure into the “what could be” structure.  Governance provides the structure and discipline for work to be completed within the organization and the structure to address scenarios that will arise that cause tension. Robertson quotes David Allen, author, and creator of Getting Things Done, on page 64, “there is no freedom without discipline, no vision without a form.” The governance meetings defined in Holacracy are a forum for teams and organizations to set, embrace, agree to be bound by the rules, so they become a habit.  Habit allows roles to interact without having to constantly refer to the rules, which reduces tension and friction between roles.  Robertson uses a number of sports analogies to drive this point home.  More illustrative to me is the game Monopoly.  In my family, we have an agreed set of rules that are at least similar to the rules that were in the box when we bought it a few decades ago.  The same can be said about how Monopoly is played in my brother’s, sister’s and sister-in-law’s house.  The problem is that they are all slightly different.  Any inter-family game requires deciding on whose rules we will be bound by.  Even then there is always at least one discussion when play impinges on the rules a player is used to using.   When rules become a habit, they become automatic. When they change, tension is generated that needs to sorted out.

Governance meetings. Governance is fundamental (I actually thought reading was fundamental); it is the seat of the organization’s power and all authorities and expectations flow from the governance process.  This is the most critical point in the chapter. Governance is actualized through the governance meeting.  The governance meeting process needs to be followed explicitly and typically happens on a monthly cycle (can be varied if needed).

There are two named roles in governance meetings, facilitator, and secretary.  The tasks performed by the roles are fairly apparent.  The facilitator keeps the meeting moving and ensures the rules are followed.  The secretary records the actions taken by the group.

Governance meetings perform a very specific set of activities:

  1.      Creating, amending or moving roles with the circle (see Chapter 3)
  2.      Creating, amending or removing policies within the circle’s domain.
  3.      Electing circle members to fill elected rules facilitator, secretary, and representative link.
  4.      Creating amending or dissolving sub-circles.

These four sets of actions are the only things a government governance circle meeting can do. Governance meetings are not a place for dealing with operational questions.

Governance Meeting Process

  1. Check-in Round – The goal of this round is to ensure everyone is focused on the present moment.  Round robin, everyone let peoples know what’s on their mind. No discussion, no crosstalk or responses.  – The facilitator plays a critical role in keeping this round under control until the rules become a habit.
  2. Administrative concerns – The goal of this step is to ensure the meeting participants know the administrative constraints.  Administrative constraints include items such as who is on the phone and length of the meeting (remember to start and stop on time).
  3. Agenda building – This step builds the agenda for the meeting (not predetermined). Any circle member may add an item to the agenda that fit into one of the four set of actions.  Operational issues do not belong in this meeting.  No discussion or elaboration is allowed, just adding items to the agenda.  Note:  This step needs to be understood before performing or participants can become frustrated. The facilitator needs to cut off all discussion during this step.
  4. Iterative decision-making – This is where the magic happens.  The iterative decision-making set leverages an sIx-step process (again Robertson indicates that these steps should be followed exactly).  For each agenda item:
    1. Present proposal,
    2. Ask clarifying questions,
    3. Deliver reaction round,
    4. Amend and clarify proposal
    5. Deliver objection round, and
    6. Integration round (deal with each objection revamp proposal for it to be acceptable)
      After the integration round go back (iterate) to the objection round until the proposal is acceptable or withdrawn.  Repeat until all the agenda is dealt with or time for this step expires.
  5. Closing round – Each person reflects on the meeting one at a time without discussion.  Depending on the size of the circle I suggest ensuring that the agenda includes 5 – 10 minutes to address this step.

Governance meetings affect roles and policies.  Roles tell us who has the authority to take action and within which domain.  Roles should be documented so they may be referred at any time.  Remember the central tenants of a Holacracy is that people and roles are separate and a person can play one or many roles, and those roles can change as demanded by the work.  Documenting roles make this flow of roles easier.  Policies are defined in Holacracy as a grant or limit to authority to impact the domain of a circle/role. This means that providing someone outside the circle with the authority to work in your domain would be a policy.  For example, two of the roles in SPaMCAST media empire are content creator and editor.  On occasion one or both of those roles is played by someone outside of the SPaMCAST circle, this transfer of authority is a policy.

Near the end of the chapter, Robertson points out that Holacracy has a rule for how to break the rules so that individual action in times of tension.  Holacracy allows for the rules for decision making expressed as part of the role to be broken when:

  1. It is believed the actual result will reduce more tension then it might create, and/or
  2. There’s no time to request permission that would normally be required from other roles, and/or
  3. The action does not commit the organization’s resources or assets beyond what you are otherwise authorized to commit to.

After using the “beak the rule” rule you must inform those that may be affected.  If this pattern of activity happens multiple times it must be taken to the governance meeting to propose an addition to the accountability of the role.


All entries in the re-read:

Week 1:  Logistics and Introduction

Week 2: Evolving Organization

Week 3: Distribution Authority

Week 4: Organization Structure

Week 5: Governance

Week 6: Operations

Week 7: Facilitating Governance

Week 8: Strategy and Dynamic Control

Week 9: Adopting Holacracy

Week 10: When You Are Not Ready

Week 11: The Experience of Holacracy

Week 12: Final Comments