We had mentioned in our previous newsletter that we wanted to use Holacracy as a management principle. Why Holacracy and what is it actually?
If we’d have to give three key-words that describe what we want Partico to become, it would be
- Flexibility and creativity. The buzzword here would be “agility”: It’s by trying out different things and different ways of doing them that we figures out what really works, not by planning and then rolling out a service that nobody buys.
- Autonomy: With a very flat hierarchy, we want our members and groups (or “agencies” as we call them) to decide themselves how they fulfill their purpose.
- Quality and efficiency are simply a must for an organisation to survive. However, how do we ensure these without reducing autonomy and without stifling creativity?
Holacracy is a “management principle”. Think of ISO 9001: To clarify how things work, you start documenting what you do. You also create a hierarchy and roles that define who does what and how. All this usually brings a lot of clarity and with clarity also clear responsibilities to an organisation. And once things are clearly defined you can work on continuous improvement.
With Holacracy, you also start with documenting what needs to be done and what roles are accountable for what. There are, however, two important differences compared to traditional quality management principles:
- Self-governance: The organisation is structured into circles. Each circle has a clearly defined (written down) purpose and accountabilities. However, the members of a circle are (almost) completely free on how they organise themselves to fulfill their purpose. This includes: The members of a circle define their roles on their own (including a “facilitator”, a “secretary” and a “rep link”). At “governance meetings” the organisational structure and accountabilities are regularly reviewed (and not just e.g. once a year as with ISO 9001).
- Decision making: How would you bring up a new way of doing something in a classical situation? You first check with a team mate, then you talk to another influential person in the organsiation, then lobby at the unofficial boss before you pitch your project to the actual boss who then likely says no, because – well – he just prefers to keep the status quo because it works.
In Holacracy on the other hand: You don’t lobby at all. You come up with your “tension” at a “governance meeting”. If someone objects to your proposal, the objection is rigorously tested. For example, if you’re not sure that a decision will cause harm until it has actually been tested, an objection is not valid. It’s thus impossible to block an idea or project or change just because someone “doesn’t like it” or because the status quo is good enough.
And a bit of history: Holacracy is a management principle that builds on the older concept of Sociocracy (developed in the sixties and seventies, also called “dynamic governance”) which seeks to achieve solutions that create harmonious social environments as well as productive organizations and businesses.
The founder of Holacracy took the concept of Sociocracy to a whole new level (starting from 2007) by adding various elements and by developing a detailed framework (“constitution”) to ensure that authority and decision-making are distributed throughout the “holarchy” of self-organizing teams rather than through authority vested in a management hierarchy.
Holacracy became famous when the US based online shoe and clothing shop Zappos implemented it internally in 2009. It is extensively used in many creative agencies and IT firms where traditional models had their limitations because of constantly changing market or project requirements.
Is Holacracy the ultimate “must have” for the modern organisation we want to build up with Partico? Who knows. But until we have tried it out, we don’t know.