Getting started with Holacracy

Yesterday evening we made a real start with Holacracy, a method for running your organization. Holacracy is a method of both getting work done and governing how to get that work done. It is a giant leap from a traditional hierarchical control model. With my group of partners we decided to adopt Holacracy because we are equals. Nobody among us is the CEO, manager or whatnot. We all work as contractors in a private practice and have to keep food on the table individually. We do work together though. We forward each other leads and get commissions, share knowledge and have a great team of administrative talents working for us. Each of us is working as an Agile consultant, so we are all eager for working with new methods. After reading the book on Holacracy by Brian Robertson, I got enthusiastic and convinced the rest to check it out. After some introductions and trips past other companies, we have now officially launched! This blog post talks about the very fulfilling experience we had yesterday.

Holacracy Governance session

We started the evening with our Governance session, the Holacracy meeting in which you determine Roles, their Purpose and which Accountabilities they have. I will give a brief intro below, but you can read more about the governance session  on the Holacracy website. Before the session we had set up Glassfrog, the tool HolacracyOne builds and advocates.

Choosing a Facilitator

We started off real clumsy, but had a good laugh about it anyway. Frank had set up Glassfrog and as initiator had requested to be the Lead Link for our Holacracy adventure. The Lead Link is responsible for finding people to fill Roles. It is a pretty serious responsibility, but we figured Frank would fit the bill. We all accepted, so he set up Glassfrog that way. When the Governance session started, we realized we had not filled the other 2 mandatory roles in Holacracy: the Facilitator and the Secretary. The Secretary was decided quickly, Tiemen was at the computer and he was ok with it. Choosing a Facilitator was another matter. As we are all coaches and such a few of us wanted to try our hand at this. So finally we had three candidates, myself, Wendell and Frank. A round of voting was done and Frank got a few more votes than me. I would have liked the role and am an experienced facilitator in other capacities. I must admit I was disappointed, but hey: that’s voting for you. The Secretary, Tiemen, then went on to register the decision in Glassfrog and was rejected. Glassfrog reported that the Facilitator and the Lead Link could not be the same person. After a round of laughs, the decision was quickly unanimous and to my relief I was chosen as Facilitator.

Looking back at that decision by Glassfrog to not allow those 2 roles together, I think I actually understand. The Lead Link is responsible for “who fills what role”. If the Lead Link is then also the person chosen in other official capacities you can wind up with conflicts of interests. In a worst case scenario the Facilitator can start guiding the sessions to his own interests. If that happens you can better have a dictator in charge. At least that is open and visible.

What is a Governance session?

A Holacracy tension pulls you forward like a rope pulls a truckA Governance session takes as input “Tensions” and together you work them into
Roles, Purposes and Accountabilities. A Tension is described by Holacracy as: the difference between how it is and how you would like it to be. Imagine a rope gaining tension and then pulling you forward based on that tension. The format of working through a Tension is as follows:

  1. Owner describes the Tension and proposes a solution
  2. Everyone can ask clarifying questions
  3. Each person gets to give his opinion and/or suggestions
  4. The owner clarifies and potentially reworks the solution
  5. Everyone gets a chance to voice objections
  6. If there were valid objections the proposal should be reworked

Now this format explicitly does not state discussion. All communication is in one direction. So in each round either the owner of the Tension talks or the others talk. The reasoning behind that is that the session is only to accept proposals for organizational experiments. The format is therefore completely aimed at getting proposals accepted. Each solution to a Tension is an experiment to try. It will last for the duration between this Governance session and the next. At the next Governance session someone else can bring a Tension to enhance the proposal even further.

Magical experiments

As a facilitator I must admit it was great to see us (myself included) struggle with the format. One partner voiced a Tension to create a Role (Step 1), that got quite a few questions (Step 2) and then some negative reactions (Step 3). The owner of the Tension had gotten so much feedback at that point that he was done with it and wanted to withdraw the proposal. The question arose however: has your Tension been taken care of? He was a little perplexed and realized: no, if I withdraw this proposal my Tension is not gone. We agreed together to continue processing the proposal. It fixed a problem for him and if anyone had an objection, they could voice it in Step 5.

The magical power of a meeting format designed to have you say yesTo me this was a magical moment. In any other form of discussion session, the feedback and questions would have stopped the proposal from going through. The owner of the Tension would have been fed up and would from then on live with his frustration,  knowing that others also had a slightly different opinion. Nothing would have changed even though we didn’t know what the effect of the change would be. One of our own would have been silenced and we would probably not talk about it again. Instead of that, we now have a change! The owner of the Tension has been satisfied, his proposal went through. If there are others who think the defined Role needs changing, they will come up with their Tensions. The system and our cooperation will settle itself slowly into a state that everyone accepts and can work with.

Conclusion

We had a few other great experiences, but I’ll write about those at a later stage. After working for a little over 2 hours we stopped our Governance session. We were not done, but time was up. We decided to do this again real quickly because we still have a lot to do. Instead of in 4 weeks, we are meeting again in 2. I have a little reading up to do before then. My role as Facilitator is great, but it is challenging. Guiding our team through the process is hard, but very fulfilling. More updates soon!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “Getting started with Holacracy

  1. Hi Martin! Thank you for writing about your experience! One thing that is not clear to me is what process you followed to elect a facilitator. You mentioned voting. How did you arrive on the decision to vote and is that not to be avoided in integrative decision making? You mentioned yourself that you were disappointed. For me it’s also hard to be fine with decisions made at random when I wanted a different outcome. When reason is used I am usually comfortable with the result.

    • Hey James, we did not have the process for the election clear at that point. We decided to ask for volunteers and then have everyone voice their vote. Not really a process I love or would like to do again that way. On the other hand, it was open and transparant.

      It wasn’t completely a random decision. Frank is a really active member of our group. Also, Frank put quite a bit of effort into getting the tool set up, so I think there was some favoritism based on that. Thing is though, it is a matter of opinion. I would have been OK with it, but wanted to do it myself. Accept and move on was all I could think 😉

      • Imho the big advantages of sociocracy and holacracy is that you eliminate opinions and replace them with verifiable facts as much as possible. When all you have is opinions I would introduce an additional step of collecting arguments. One way to do that would be to elect every candidate as facilitator for a short period and have a review by peers.

        However, reading your comment about Frank being an active member, it seems that there were arguments. If afterwards you had a round where people could object then I don’t see a problem and that’s what I was curious about.

        Another reason for the argumentation in my opinion is that ideally you now know what skills got Frank elected and so you know how to be elected in that role in the future.

        Please post more about this in the future. I love reading about real life experiences of holacracy!

      • To me, as a spectator, the way you all voted felt really uncomfortable. Using paper would have been really devious, perhaps, because for now it was only for the evening, but that would have made it more fair to me. Now you had a fair chance that after two of the same answers, people just didn’t want to deflect from what seemed to become the popular choice.

        • Hmm, you may be right there Marjoke. It’s hard for people to deviate from the chosen path.

          James also has a very good point on using some kind of argumentation basis. Darn, will need to read more on this. Another day, another inspiration! 🙂