Book Cover


Chapter 8 begins the third section of Holacracy, Evolution Installed: Living Holacracy. We have approximately three weeks left in this re-read after today.  The next book is The Science of Successful Organizational Change. Remember to use the link to buy a copy in order to support the podcast and blog. The reread will be led by Steven Adams.  Steve has been an active participant in many of our previous re-reads and has appeared twice on the Software Process and Measurement Cast to discuss earlier re-reads.  I will provide supplemental comments and highlights to Steve’s insights!  I am looking forward to sitting on the other side of the table during the next re-read!

Chapter 8 of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson published by Henry Holt and Company in 2015 is titled Adopting Holacracy.  This chapter begins to draw a number of loose threads together.  Personally, I find this chapter a bit disjointed (although useful). The chapter is formatted as a mixture of questions and answers and then a five-step process to bootstrap the use of Holacracy.

The first common question that Robertson addresses is whether just certain parts of Holacracy can be adopted, such as formal meetings. The summarized answer is no.  Robertson strongly believes that Holacracy needs all of its interlinking parts and that by cherry picking the technique will cause more friction than needed and reduce the effectiveness of the organization.  I personally think the structure of the formal meetings might be useful even if you are not adopting Holacracy.

The second question is whether Holacracy can be adopted by communities or groups.  This question intrigued me as the leader of an international association. The short answer is often no. Holacracy is designed for organizations not just groups for people. Robertson includes a set of attributes to help define an organization.  These attributes include structure, a boundary, interchange with the outside world across that boundary and a purpose. Holacracy does not work when a group is not an organization.

The third question is whether you can read the book and then implement Holacracy.  Robertson waffles a bit in his answer starting with a no then admitting that people try this approach. Get a consultant; Holacracy is a very significant change for any organization. If you really are allergic to getting consulting help, at least take a class in addition to reading the book and other articles on Holacracy.

The five-step bootstrap process:

  1. Adopt the Holacracy constitution. The most senior person in the organization that is adopting Holacracy needs power to the rules embedded in the Holacracy constitution.  Those that will be part of the Holacracy must buy in (Robertson addresses the idea of the Board of a firm adopting Holacracy later in the chapter).  The buy-in step is akin to ratifying the constitution.  During this step, the anchor circle and the anchor circle link is identified.  The anchor circle link is responsible for discovering the purpose of the organization (see Chapter 4)
  2. Set up a shared system for governance records – The Holacracy need to identify where all key operational information and governance records will be kept.  Access is important.  Robertson recommends GlassFrog (his company created the tool).
  3. Define your initial structure.  The initial structure should represent the current state not what the organization is anticipated to evolve toward.  A side note in this area is that small firms often will only have one circle.  Once the initial structure is defined, the lead link of the anchor circle should assign people to roles including assigning the lead links of other circles.
  4. Hold the first governance meetings and run elections. The lead link should call the first the governance meeting. The first position that should be elected is the secretary.   The first governance meeting primes the pump and sets the process of definition and change in action, the secretary is the formal memory.
  5. Schedule regular tactical governance meetings.  I call this “the get on with it step.”

The section after the bootstrap process Robertson discusses the power of converting the Board to expose the organizations deeper purpose and as a tool to pull the whole organization forward.

The remainder of the chapter focuses on a few of more common scenarios where Holacracy is attempted but does not stick.

  1.    The Reluctant Leader. If the leader can’t live with the power he or she has transferred to the transformation there really is no way forward.
  2.    Middle Management Heck. Middle management requires clear leadership, and message to provide guidance and support for the change.  Middle management also needs the right coach to keep them on track.
  3.    Stopping Short. Implementing Holacracy, starting to reap the benefits and then losing the discipline of the governance and tactical meetings.  Feedback and coaching are tools to keep people and circles from wandering off track.

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).

Previous 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