Our company is six months into Holacracy. Here’s how we're doing.

By Pedro Rodriguez / 20 Jan 2016

Topics: holacracy | blog

In my previous post, I marked the beginning of our trek into Holacracy. We've had time to sink our teeth into the process and suss out some real change, but this has been a hell of a ramp up.

Some parts of Holacracy have been working -- like tactical meetings, where things get sorted out and action items are generated and moved along. Defining our roles has also been a positive experience; we clearly cut through the grey area of the work expected of each person. This part of the process taught me that I was spending a lot of time researching, preparing for meetings, answering holacracy questions, and tidying up the office. That clarity, or strive for clarity, is the biggest improvement we have seen in the last six months.

But it hasn't all been rosy. The process and meetings have been frustrating; some have stopped participating in any meaningful way, and others are still coming on board and it takes a long time to start contributing. And we've faced a lot of rough spots and unanswered questions: How do policies work? How do enforcement and firing work? What happens when a person is assigned too many roles to fulfill all accountabilities promptly? How do we implement circles? How important are a role's purpose and domain?

As a Facilitator and even as a UI Designer and Team Builder, it has been frustrating at times, and my cynical nature makes me think the process isn't working. It’s been a lot of time and money for what seems like a marginal increase in happiness or clarity.

These were real obstacles and feelings, and I wasn't sure they were worth sorting through and overcoming. But in October, I saw a notice for a December facilitator workshop hosted by Holacracy One, the company that runs the growth and maintenance of the Holacracy process. I thought that this would be a great place to get answers and a verdict on if this process was worth pursuing any further.

Clarifying grey areas around purposes and domains

My takeaways from this seminar were exactly what I needed them to be: straightforward and not “let's all hug and chant and then go solve world hunger.” I got concrete answers, in the forms of pathways to get answers.

More specifically, I got clarity on purposes and domains. Purposes are very important for roles and for each circle - it’s your North Star when you go down those roads for answers. Domains can be important, but enacting and solidifying a domain in a role is not a decision to take lightly, because then it becomes the sole responsibility of that role. In simple terms, you should consider enacting a domain if another role is repeatedly taking actions in a space that you feel is both detrimental to the purpose of the company and that is part of your role.

Another great insight I had was in relation to enforcement, firing, compensation and other greyish areas for HTML Fusion: Holacracy does not explicitly address these, so it's up to each company to handle it in their own way. While Holacracy does not deal with operational aspects out of the box, it’s equipped to handle tensions in these areas.

For instance, you can have a tension about not getting paid on time, so you present that tension and a role can be created with accountabilities that address these. If you are unsure how to fire someone, that tension can be addressed and a policy, document or something else can be created to deal with it. During our training, it came up that there is no real “right” answer to solving tensions; there are multiple ways to solve tensions.

Self-organizing: It's important!

The last of my great revelations was the importance of self-organization and priority. One of the nagging questions several people on my team have had was what to do about not having enough time to complete all accountabilities on all roles assigned.

The interesting answer: Holacracy assumes infinite resources, including time, so “I don't have enough time” is not a valid form of response to doing work. Holacracy does make room for priority. Given that there is infinite time, all things can theoretically be done. It’s up to the person filling multiple roles to prioritize which roles to energize, and which accountabilities to fulfill in each role.

I can choose to do all of my UI Designer accountabilities first and then all of my Team Builder ones, and keep pushing back my Holacracy Coach role and accountabilities, or I can choose to first do one specific accountability of UI Designer role and then jump to getting a budget for the next group outing for the Team Builder role, and then jump back to UI Design. It's my right and responsibility to choose what to do and in which order. That was another powerful insight for me and something I have already started implementing.

Teach a man to fish

One of my biggest takeaways from this facilitator training was that the path to answers can be much more powerful than the actual answers. This process taught me how to dig for a solution to operation tensions, the need for a feeling of purpose in every role, the importance of organization, and the power of prioritization. While we still need to address problems (such as, how we are going to implement circles? Hint: Through purpose), I think that after six months and this workshop, I have the compass in my hands and I’ve been shown the paths to go down.