Book Cover


This week we tackle Chapter 7 of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson published by Henry Holt and Company in 2015.  Chapter 7 shows how to generate alignment between roles, circles, and the overall organization.  Lots of inspect and adapt talk this week.

One of the major attributes of Holacracy is the requirement of individuals to manage and prioritize their own tasks and responsibilities. Without a mechanism to generate alignment between the team and the organization anarchy can occur.  This is often a criticism of team-based Agile frameworks and methods.  In Holacracy, tactical meetings help alignment, but another key element is strategy.

One important component of a strategy that provides alignment is a focus on the future. A strategy provides a link between the organization’s goals and the team’s behavior. The individual and the circles they inhabit become the operational element to interpret the strategy.   The ability of individuals to manage their own tasks and responsibilities is how strategies are translated and pursued

Robertson uses a quote from Nassim Nicholas Taleb to reinforce that a strategy is not a prediction. Taleb said,

We cannot truly plan because we do not understand the future – but this is not necessarily bad news. We could plan while bearing in mind such limitations. It just takes guts. 

Holacracy provides the structure to use strategy as a planning tool.

The flexibility provided through roles and tactical meetings provides an ability to sense and respond to what is happening in the present moment.  Strategies act as an anchoring bias that guides rather than locks tactical activities in stone.  Agile uses the phrase ‘inspect and adapt’ to define this type of behavior.  Adaptive behavior is often quashed in standard organizations by pushing decisions about changing and adapting into committee decision-making that is more interested in maintaining an equilibrium.  A great book title that says a lot about this type of behavior is You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar (a great book on sales); Sandler (author) suggests that you learn by experience.   Robertson culminates on alignment by stating that we need to relentlessly face reality and adapt continuously.

Holacracy’s more dynamic control process of governance and tactical meeting processes focuses on quickly reaching a workable decision and then letting reality inform the next step rather than agonizing about what might happen to create the theoretical best decision that will not quite get it right anyway.

In Holacracy, a strategy acts a form of heuristic (rule of thumb) that allows roles and circles to dynamic create strategic alignment. Strategies provide a tool to inform decisions when we encounter them without trying to predict the future exactly.  For example, I have a strategy to keep from getting lost when I am running in cities that I unfamiliar.  I take only right-hand turns and I count the number of turns.  The strategy is easy to remember and aids in making decisions.  When I come to the fork in the road, I go right and increment the register by one (I coded once upon a time).  Roberston suggests that strategies follow the form of “emphasize X, even over Y”. In my running case, emphasize not being lost, over exploration and distance.  When I become more familiar with an area (the context changes), the strategy can be changed.

Unlike other major components of Holacracy, Robertson does not provide a single best way to generate strategies suggesting that the process is driven by the lead link (represents the larger organization in the circle) or like other major components, the use of structured meetings to shape the strategies.  The meeting engages the whole team and is Robertson’s preferred approach.

The strategy meeting:

  1.       Check In Round – generate presence.
  2.       Orientation – Grounds the circle in why we are here and the accountabilities of the circle to the larger organization. (This reminds me of the front end of the Program Increment Meeting  in SAFe)
  3.       Retrospective – This step leverages a form of affinity diagraming to capture how the team arrived in its current state. As in all forms of affinity diagraming the team works silently until after grouping and then the facilitator gathers comments and tensions group by group.
  4.       Strategy Generation – Based on the tensions generated in step 3, each person individually reflects and captures draft strategies (what should we emphasize on a day-to-day basis to address the tension. Once all the written the draft strategy are posted. They are discussed collectively.  When discussed the lead link uses the ideas and discussion to frame a few (one or two) strategies.  These are processed by the team using the integrative decision-making process identified in the previous chapter.
  5.       Unpack the Strategy – When the strategy or strategies are established each member of the circle need to reflect on what the roles they perform could do to enact the strategy.  These are captured and enacted or routed to the appropriate governance or tactical meeting.
  6.       Closing Round – Final reflections.

The approach of integrating this form of strategy into the flow of governance and tactical meetings provides a platform for an organization to truly inspect and adapt.  Robertson states that this approach makes an organization evolutionary rather than just adaptive.  Left to my own devices, I would state that an organization can dynamically change to need the needs of real life.  That might be exactly what Robertson means by the term evolutionary.

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