• Prof. Dr. Utho Creusen

Why I love the Holacracy and why everyone should love it - when in reality it offers nothing new


Holacracy is fine. It is part of our newly developed approach of VIBRANT THINKING. As the name suggests, it is a holistic approach to leadership and organization. Holistic and sustainable is good. It considers different perspectives, viewpoints and the long-term consequences of a decision. This pleases everyone who has to deal with the VUCA phenomenon. All experts in organisation theory increasingly doubt the chances of mastery and control in an environment characterised by:


· Volatility

· Uncertainty

· Complexity

· Ambiguity


The only solution is a holistic view in order to identify and consider as many cause-effect relationships as possible.

However, our experience with holistic approaches in organizations is not always positive. Those who involve many partcipants in decision making processes receive many answers and opinions. These many answers must be evaluated and weighted. The decision for one of these answers can cause displeasure amongst those whose contributions or answers have not been considered or not sufficiently considered. As a result, decision-making processes involving many stakeholders are long, tedious and sometimes frustrating.


The only solution is a holistic view in order to identify as many causal relationships as possible


Nevertheless, it has been shown time and again that decisions that consider numerous perspectives and aspects make more sense and provide more positive effect than quick individual decisions.

Holacracy in its core is based on a circular structure. Instead of hierarchical structures, smaller and clearer circles consisting of several roles are formed. These circles act largely autonomously. In large organizations these circles overlap upwards, downwards and sideways.

This sounds so complicated that one is right to ask the question: How can this work? How are the circles coordinated among themselves? Is it not inefficient if the same tasks are carried out in every circle? To solve this problem, roles are set up in each circle and very clearly defined. This is described below in the following part.

The central roles of the Holacracy are:


· The Lead Link takes over the definition of the purpose for the circle. This structures the governance, which we will discuss further below.

· The Rep Link represents the circle in the parent circle, in the circles of the same order and in the subordinate circles. This creates coordination.

· The Facilitator moderates the operational practices in the Tactical Meetings, which we also explain below.

· The Secretary shall arrange for the formal records of the Circle and for the minutes.


Each person knows in his/her role what he/she has to do within his/her circle, what the responsibilities are and what rights he/she has. This principle sounds very rigid and it is. It brings an ancient principle of organizations to life: the flipside of freedom is responsibility. If you want autonomy, you have to know and fulfil your duties reliably. Rights and duties are interdependent.


If you want autonomy, you have to know and fulfil your duties reliably. Rights and duties are interdependent.

In contrast to conventional leadership models, however, in the Holacracy the roles are worked out and adopted jointly and democratically. Separate meetings are held with the sole aim of defining:


· The purpose (the goal of the role),

· The domains (the territories of the role) and

· The accountabilities (the responsibilities of the role)

·

The aim of these role definitions is to achieve the greatest possible clarity and capacity for action for each individual with the greatest possible autonomy within the role. This process is time-consuming and involves the risk of over-bureaucratization. On the other hand, questions after the fact about what actually needs to be done and what the goal of the activity become unnecessary. As a result, job satisfaction and efficiency increase.

By definition, this agreement process is initially provisional, is continuously evolving and de facto never ends. Ongoing organizational development is an implied part of the model. If this work is done well, each circle can concentrate on the operational work. In so-called Tactical Meetings - the heart of operational cooperation - a moderator asks what each member of the circle needs. Subsequently, appropriate support measures are defined and agreed.

The process of Tactical Meetings consists of the elements


· Check In

· Check List Review

· Matrix (KPI) Review

· Project updates

· Issues and Decisions


The clear separation of operational meetings (tactical meetings) and governance meetings to define roles saves a lot of time in operational decisions and in defining the organizational structure.

Brian Robertson, the "inventor" of the Holacracy from Philadelphia, used this system to create rules of decision making for organizations with a flat hierarchy. These rules of the game enable a high degree of transparency and participatory opportunities even in large organizations and networks. Through permanent adaptation, growth through cell division can be coped with well. The risks of increasing fixed costs and the disproportionate increase in complexity are clearly limited. The organization is dynamically controlled by integrative decision making. The aim is not to make optimal and fundamental decisions that could easily be controlled, but rather to reach workable and correctable agreements that form the basis of operationally efficient processes. This means that decisions can be changed at any time. No decision is made for eternity. Flexibility and adaptation are implicit characteristics. As soon as a process no longer proves itself, it is adapted. There are no perfect and controllable solutions, but dynamic control, as we can also observe in nature. And this is exactly why Holacracy is not really new. We have been able to observe the principles of action in nature for millions of years.

And where is this concept already applied in the practice? Many non-profit organizations work with it but also the Dutch care company Buurtzorg and the US-American online retailer Zappos, Furthermore companies like Europace and Einhorn. The new CEO of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis is introducing Holacracy under the project title "Unboss". Many start-ups have tried this idea of a flat hierarchy from the very beginning. The Dresden-based food start-up The Nu Company has already had many positive experiences with this model.


There are no perfect and controllable solutions, but dynamic control, as we can also observe in nature. And that's why Holacracy is not really new.

We have been able to observe the principles of action in nature for millions of years. And now these are becoming the principles of VIBRANT ORGANISATIONS.

Do you want to know more? These are our literature tips

  • Zappos: An Experiment in Holacracy. Bryan Golden, Anusheel Pandey & James S. O’Rourke, 2017. Link

  • Holacracy: ein revolutionäres Management-System für eine volatile Welt. BJ Robertson, 2016. Link

  • Holacracy – A radical approach to organizational design. P Van De Kamp, 2014. Link

  • Beyond the holacracy hype. E Bernstein, J Bunch, N Canner, 2016. Link

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