Thursday, July 8, 2010

Holacracy, a New Operating System for Organizations

Day 1 at the World Future Society has come to a close.  Today I attended an all day workshop “Organizing at the Leading Edge: Introducing Holacracy”.  The speaker was Brian Robertson from Holacracy One with the motto, “Liberating the soul of organizations”.

You know how after lunch during a full day workshop the afternoon seems to drag on, you get sleepy,…  well that didn’t happen today.  The entire group (12 of us) were totally engaged past 5pm the scheduled end time.  It was really that good.

So what is Holacracy.  Disclaimer: my one day exposure to this “movement” doesn’t qualify me to speak intelligently about it but I’ll give you my take on it.  Brian Robertson talks about it using a software engineering metaphor: it is a new operating system for organizations or a fundamental upgrade to the core organization.  The organization gains new capabilities and capacity that all processes can leverage.  It is a practice, not just a model or theory – it is about doing, a new habit.  Essentially it is a process that builds trust, diminishes ego, makes meetings exciting, fun, productive – that people want to attend.  It is an organic structure that moves from Hierarchy to Holacracy and focuses on organizational purpose and moving towards that aim.  It is a paradigm shift from Predict & Control to Sense & Respond, adapt course in real time – referred to as Dynamic Steering.  Steer rather than plan – the plan will reveal itself as you steer.  Remove the “addition to prediction” that provides the illusion of stability in most organizations.

A key goal is to arrive (initially) at workable decisions, not necessarily the best decisions – reality will “tell you” what the “best” decision is via real time data - “best” emerges over time as adjustments to decisions are made.  This is counter to the analysis paralysis organizations often live with.  Delay all decisions to the last responsible moment (just in time), then make small decisions and deliver fast.  A key process used is Integrative Decision Making, a method of including every person’s voice in the decision making process in an impersonal, non-emotional way.

I’m not going to try to explain how this all works – I recommend you visit the Holacracy One website for more info.  But, the essential ideas include using organizational circles and sub-circles to replace traditional teams.  Circle members are peers, elect a facilitator.  Circles hold Governance meetings, Operational/Tactical meetings, and Strategic meetings.  Higher level Circles can form sub-circles.  There is a Lead Link (aka manager) in each Circle that is accountable for the work of the Circle.  A Rep Link from each circle sits as a member of its upper Circle.  Circles exist at all levels of the organization.  The facilitation process is quite different from what most of us are used to and are very depersonalized, unemotional, efficient, and structured.  Meetings are predictably shorter, very purposeful, etc.  Agendas are developed “on the fly” (interesting).  Actions are dynamically surfaced, assigned, and executed.

I think I’ll stop there and just encourage you, if you’re at all interested in organizational design or organizational change, to pursue this further through their website.  I think this “movement” has the potential to help organizations perform better.  I’ll definitely be seeking some deeper learning.