Book Reviews

Book Review: “Holacracy”

Review written by Silas Grant

Book 6 is now in the books for me for the second half of 2020. This week’s book, “Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World” lays the blueprint for an organizational structure that is more “flat” than the conventional org charts where the power structure is top heavy. Brian J. Robertson created Holacracy and founded HolacracyOne. This organization trains people and companies all over the world on the concept. The book details the nuts and bolts of the Holacracy and the need for an alternative from conventional organizational structures.

The concept: Leaders, managers, and employees spend a lot of time faced with office politics. Silos are created, nepotism is tolerated, and fear permeates the culture of companies. Holacracy establishes a company constitution that focuses on the health and growth of the company. The company is prioritized over people or any persons in particular. People are valued, but the scope of their roles are more of a priority. Rules are put in place to ensure that each member of the company is seen as a partner in the effort to achieve success for the company. The author likens current work structures to parent/child relationships. It is a “do as I say” culture versus a culture where each holder of each role is seen as knowledgeable enough to handle all that’s been given to them based on the role’s rules. Who you report to is not as important as you having autonomy and decision-making authority within your role. Role descriptions, personal responsibility for actions, and how unclear items are address are vital components to this concept.

Key takeaways:

Governance vs. Operations – Operations are the day-to-day activities. If roles are clear and everyone knows what they are responsible for, it’s business as usual. Governance comes into play when there are questions about roles and responsibilities. Governance is a huge part of the success of this concept and model. The book gives specific guidelines for setting rules, adhering to rules, and altering rules.

Roles vs. people: The company puts a premium on the role. People have special talents. But the role is always more important. Each role is giving a scope of power so to speak and the person filling that role can operate freely within that role. The roles are established ahead of time. For those who watch football, you know that wide receivers must wear certain jersey numbers and line up on certain parts of the field. From there they are free to run whatever route they want to. If an offensive or defensive lineman checks into the game as a receiver, he must notify the referee that he is doing so because of his jersey number. From there, he can alter his role for that play. Such is the same for this concept. Roles alter after approval. But once approved, the person in that role can do anything deemed permissible within that space.

Consensus – The model is considered to be more flat that traditional work environments. Employees who have full control over decision-making in their role don’t have to seek approval when the scope of their individual power has been established. The constitution for the company establishes each role and the powers available to the person filling that role. Because this is not a tradition “top down” organizational structure, you may be inclined to think that you should seek consensus to come to conclusions on decisions. This is highly discouraged. When there is disagreement, the person in the role of the decision-maker in that scenario makes the decision….period. Those in opposition (through the governance portion of this model) are allowed to object. There is also a process to alter the ongoing rules to the role of that decision-maker if the objection upheld.

Facilitation – Early on in conforming to the model, there will be lots of facilitation to get the company to understand all that comes along with the model. The facilitators must adhere to the process. Typical facilitation gives in to feelings and expression. Facilitators in this model do not give in to emotion or the need for dialogue. He or she is specifically refereeing the process to ensure that the rules and roles are protected at all times.

Piece-mealing the model: The model is a lot to digest initially. I have not done it justice by explaining it the way I have. There are lots of details included in this model. Some have asked the author if their companies can take pieces of the model. Throughout the book, the author recommended digesting the entire model and implementing it altogether. However, at the end of the book, he finally gives in and gives tips for those who can’t implement the entire model. He suggests that language, culture, rewriting role descriptions, working “on” your organization, and streamlining meetings are the items companies can work on if they aren’t able to implement the entire model.

This book was a hard read for me. I had question throughout the time I was reading the book. I kept wondering if this model could work for any company. The concept of establishing a company constitution, constantly tweaking rules within roles, and the governance process seemed like a lot to adopt. The author states that it gets better with time. He likened it to athletes being taught all the rules to the game they’re playing and then when a rule is broken, the player can quickly identify the nature of the “foul”. This takes time. But “pros” call out “fouls” quickly due to their experience. The level of detail used to describe scenarios slowed down my reading process. I can’t say that I retained or processed it all. But I can say that the concepts related to meeting efficiency and revising common terms used to describe company problems and solutions are things that I want to focus on in my personal work.

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