Introduce Holacracy and the pain starts


Holacracy hurtsLast week my team started with Holacracy. During that first evening we did a Tactical meeting, which is a session to discuss status and running projects. We had not prepared the session at all and to be honest: the session hurt. We learned a lot from doing a Tactical meeting though!

What is a Tactical meeting?

A Tactical meeting is a session defined by Holacracy to assess the current operational health of your organization. It is also where you determine if the projects that you are doing are taking you in the right direction. The session has a few steps, but is set up so the actual thinking and deciding will be done in step 5. The rounds before that are purely information gathering so everyone is up to speed.

  1. Check in – Each member chimes in with his mental state so we can get ready for the session.
  2. Checklist review – A list of items which require a ‘check’ or ‘no check’ from their owner.
  3. Metrics review – A report on a list of metrics about the status of the organization
  4. Project updates – Short updates on the current list of projects that the members are running.
  5. Triage issues – Work out any issues or ideas that arose during the earlier rounds.
  6. Closing – A reflection from each team member about the session.

So after hearing all of the facts about your organization during rounds 1-4 you go to work in Triage issues. Any frustrations or inspirations about the earlier rounds can be turned into new projects or actions there. For instance when you find that a reported metric is dangerous, you write that down yourself. You can put it up as an agenda item during round 5. At the start of this round everyone gets a chance to shout out agenda items like yours. The remaining time is divided between all of the items. Each item is then processed 1 at a time. The result of each item can be a new Checklist item, a new Project or a new Action.

So what hurt for us?

I take 2 lessons from the way we ran the Tactical meeting. The first is in the preparation and facilitation, the second was something we were actually struggling with in the core of our group.

The first lesson for me is: we had not prepared the session at all! We had no checklist, no metrics and no projects to report on. End of meeting you would think. We had however read about the session and never run one before. We wanted to have the session, just to get familiar for next time. We decided to try and find reasonable content to discuss while we were going through it. The first thing we ran into was that it was unclear to us how a checklist item was to be defined. What a metric should look like and which projects we should report on we didn’t really know either. It turned out to be a bit of a frustrating affair, with much discussion on Holacracy-meta level and very little real content. As the facilitator it hurt me quite deeply, we were not aligned and not very constructive. Anybody attempting to start this way I would advise:

Holacracy made us aware that our goals were unclearNow the true lesson and the real pain I found, was that we were in complete disarray regarding what the projects and the metrics should be. Even if we had understood Holacracy perfectly, we wouldn’t have been agreed on what to discuss. The context for our group is that we are independent contractors. We are working together through a practice, so we have some shared concerns. Money however isn’t one of those shared concerns. We all have to put food on our own tables. What I would normally do is follow the output or profit of an organization and try to determine health based on that. The necessary projects and metrics would flow from that. We are working together for 3 reasons however:

  1. Better chances at good assignments: Shared sales/network
  2. Less fuss in administration: Shared bookkeeping/accounting
  3. Get better: Knowledge sharing

Now most of us have a contract we’re working on so not in any need of discussing sales. Also we really don’t like bookkeeping and try to do as little as possible there. The result is that we are usually sharing knowledge during our meetings. We discuss and teach each other how to improve the Agile way of working for other companies. How to help them transition, grow and be effective. We were immediately not certain what our purpose really is: is our goal to help other organizations grow or is it to share knowledge on that? It seems like a small distinction, but it is actually pretty core. Should I feel responsible for the projects my colleagues run? Or should I feel responsible for her knowledge during one of these projects?

If that is uncertain, all else becomes uncertain too. What should we measure, how good the knowledge sharing is or our impact on other organizations? Thinking back, it becomes a much simpler topic than we made it during the session. What I loved about adding Holacracy to the mix was: it made it painfully clear that we didn’t know. Holacracy forced us to think about our purpose, it forced us to think about what makes us successful. We’re not though with that discussion, but it is clear that we need to have one. That’s definitely a very, very helpful start!

Tomorrow we have another Holacracy Tactical and Governance, I asked everyone to do their homework on this before then. Really curious what we will find!

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3 thoughts on “Introduce Holacracy and the pain starts

    • Uhm, hmm. One of our own, Guido explained something about OKRs, but it wasn’t immediately clear to me. What step in Holacracy would be helped by that?

      • With OKRS you set Objectives for your “company”, bottom up (mainly) and you set smaller goals –> key results, that will help you reach your objectives, 1 step at the time, and then you define actions, that will get you to achieve your key results. That’s the small version… and it’s not much more complicated than that!