Book Cover


This week we tackle Chapter 6 of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson published by Henry Holt and Company in 2015.  Chapter 6, Facilitating Governance, puts the ideas and processes defined in governance to work.

The description of operations meetings as we discovered earlier in the book is fairly straightforward; however, the process is generally messier than the pristine words printed in the book suggest, especially when dealing with problems.  The facilitator role in Holacracy is crucial to actually get things done, but the role of the facilitator is different.  In Holacracy, the role of the facilitator is to protect the process which allows people to take care of themselves, not to protect or support the people.  A facilitator in Holacracy needs to override your instinct to be nice or polite and cut people off they speak out of turn. The facilitator must keep the process on track by ruthlessly cutting them off even at “the first intake of breath” (Roberston’s suggestion).  In other words, the facilitator role is not for the faint of heart.  The person playing the role needs to be as neutral and impersonal as possible with the goal of keeping meeting explicitly on the processes rather than guiding it to an outcome. Recently when I was discussing Holacracy with a practitioner, this process absolutism was noted as the hardest part of actually “doing” Holacracy and the biggest payoff.

One of the critical parts of the facilitator role is to determine what is valid to process during a governance meeting.  As noted in Chapter 4, 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.

For the proposal to be valid to process in a governance meeting, the tension/issue driving the proposal must somehow limit ones of the proposer’s roles and the goal of the proposal must be to remove that limit. The proposal may modify other roles as long as the reason is to help one of the proposer’s roles. The first filter the facilitator applies is to accept, reject or discard the proposal based on whether the proposer can give a concrete example of how the proposal will improve his or her ability to express the purpose or accountabilities of one of their roles. Robertson points out that this “show me” (my term for the rule) will filter out two types of proposals. First are attempts to improve everything, including things that aren’t the prospers to improve in the first place. Second are the proposals that would serve the proposer personally, but not the role they are stewarding in the organization.  Remember that the facilitator role and governance are part of a process that is a steward for the process, not to ensure personal needs are met.  

A substantial portion of the chapter is turned over to basic blocking and tackling mechanisms of facilitating in Holacracy.  

  1. The process: One tension/proposal at a time.

The facilitator gets one proposal at a time into active consideration.  He/she then invites clarifying questions from other in the governance meeting.  Clarifying questions are not reactions or statements. Once clarifying questions have been covered, a reaction round follows.  Address one reaction at a time, round-robin style until all reactions are dealt with  Reactions are directed at space not at the individual and no crosstalk is allowed. When all reactions have been stated the facilitator checks with the proposer to see whether they want or clarify the proposal.  The facilitator, in this part of the process, needs to make sure that the proposer is focusing on his or her roles tension/issue and to ignore everything else if it doesn’t help with the specific tension there trying to address.

  1. The Process: Testing objections

After reacting to reactions (nice alliteration), the facilitator asks the assembled group whether they see any reasons why adopting proposal would move the goal of the circle backward.  At this point, the answer is an objection or no objection.  If objection, the person making the object needs to state objections.  Objections need to both explain why the proposal will move the circle backward and describe how the proposal would diminish the roles capacity to express its purpose or to enact its accountabilities.  The facilitator must immediately determine whether the objection is valid or not.  Robertson provides four criteria for determining whether an objective is valid or not.   Objections are valid if:

  1. If the proposal would hurt the circle.
  2. The objection is created by adopting the proposal and would not exist if the proposal was dropped.
  3. The objection arises from known (tangible) data or if based on a forecast/prediction there would not be time to react before harm occurred.
  4. If the proposal was adopted the objection could be processed as a proposal in its own right.

Robertson provides a decision tree on page 118 to help apply the rules.  It took reading the rules a few times for me to see the internal logic of the rules.  If the proposal hurts the circle by adoption or would cause a scenario in which the goal of the circle is negatively impacted it is valid to be processed.  The facilitator applies the rules so that the circle can recognize the validity of the objections.

Once all of the objections have been voiced the proposer is asked to integrate the valid objections into an amended proposal.  The facilitator performs a focusing role during the integration step by asking questions to determine if the proposal is reformed to address the original tension/problem while addressing the voiced objections.  Once the proposal is reformed the objection round is repeated until all objections are addressed or the proposal is withdrawn.

Governance processes are straightforward but the simplicity obscures the really hard part of making Holacracy work.  Applying Holacracy requires separating the person from the process which is where the role of the facilitator fits in.

Remember to buy a copy of Holacracy (use the link to help support and defray the costs of the Software Process and Measurement Cast blog and podcast).

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