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Holacracy....How far can People Empowerment work?

I just read that 14% of Zappos staff took the buy-out (3 month salary) opportunity from CEO Tony Hsieh. So I thought it would be a great topic for discussion and at the same time an introductory topic for those who still have not heard of the concept. The newest management concept that is buzzing right now is Holacracy. Holacracy is a radically different management system that changes how an organization is structured, how decisions are made, and how power is distributed. Holacracy is a distributed authority system – a set of “rules of the game” that bake empowerment into the core of the organization. Distributed Authority Holacracy is a distributed authority system – a set of “rules of the game” that bake empowerment into the core of the organization. Unlike conventional top-down or progressive bottom-up approaches, it integrates the benefits of both without relying on parental heroic leaders. Everyone becomes a leader of their roles and a follower of others’, processing tensions with real authority and real responsibility, through dynamic governance and transparent operations.

Processing Tensions Holacracy harnesses the conscious capacity of those within to sense dissonance between what is (current reality) and what could be (the purpose): the feeling of a “tension”. When there’s lack of clear and effective channels for processing tensions, they fester into frustrations, burn-out, and disengagement. Tensions are only useful to the extent the organization can process them into meaningful change. Holacracy provides several explicit channels to process tensions. Holacracy installs clear processes for “governance” and “operations” – in every team, at every level of scale. Governance is about working “on” the organization, and operations is about working “in” it – each has different mechanisms for processing tensions into actionable clarity. Governance & Governance Meetings With Holacracy, regular governance meetings structure and evolve how the work gets done – everyone leaves with clarity on who is accountable for what, with what authority, and what constraints. These change dynamically with every meeting, based on the real tensions sensed while doing the work. A structured process ensures the organization’s purpose is at the center. Governance Meetings: Generate explicit and light-weight role definitions that are actually meaningful Give everyone a voice, without the tyranny of consensus Apply clear rules that prevent egos or politics from dominating Focus a team on fast, incremental improvements in light of real data Continually restructure the organization, one tension at a time

Related reading: Blog post: The Power of Governance Operations & Tactical Meetings Governance clarity enables most work to get done by clear roles using clear authority, outside of painful meetings and group consensus-seeking. On the ground, a team’s operational flow is synchronized by regular Tactical Meetings that facilitate rapid-fire triage of key issues. Anything in the way of getting the work done gets identified and processed into clear next-actions and target outcomes. In Tactical Meetings: Every agenda item gets processed every meeting, on-time every-time The focus is on next-actions, not endless analysis Metrics are surfaced and checklists are reviewed – quickly No one hides – radical transparency shows all progress, or lack thereof

Related reading: Handout: Tactical Meeting Process Here is the website for the concept.... It is a radical concept for sure but only time (and performance) will tell if this gains acceptance.


Steve Sheridan
Title: Associate
Company: Dean Lewis Associates
(Associate, Dean Lewis Associates) |

I read about this and am hoping to ask Tony some questions. I tried something like this while managing a soccer team. Instead of having a coach/manager, I thought since we were all adults we could manage ourselves. Much like a business, we all had tasks to do and knew who could help us to complete a task. Long story short, the plan failed as I didn't foresee selfishness and stubborness. Some people will want to do everything even when there's someone better to complete a task. This selfishness/stubborness wrecks productivity, morale, and relationships. Someone needed to manage to keep things going well. I could explain what we needed to do, lay it out before them, and get things started but the plans would go right out the window in the thick of things. I believe an organization would have the same problems.


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