Holacracy: The emerging management trend

Holacracy is a social technology or system of organizational governance in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a fractal holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested at the top of a hierarchy. The Holacracy system was incubated at Ternary Software, an Exton, PA, company that was noted for experimenting with more democratic forms of organizational governance.

Holacracy is a distributed authority system – a set of “rules of the game” that bake empowerment into the core of the organization. Unlike conventional top-down or progressive bottom-up approaches, it integrates the benefits of both without relying on parental heroic leaders. Everyone becomes a leader of their roles and a follower of others’, processing tensions with real authority and real responsibility, through dynamic governance and transparent operations.

Holacracy installs clear processes for “governance” and “operations” – in every team, at every level of scale. Governance is about working “on” the organization, and operations is about working “in” it – each has different mechanisms for processing tensions into actionable clarity.

With Holacracy, regular governance meetings structure and evolve how the work gets done – everyone leaves with clarity on who is accountable for what, with what authority, and what constraints. These change dynamically with every meeting, based on the real tensions sensed while doing the work. A structured process ensures the organization’s purpose is at the center. Governance Meetings:

  • Generate explicit and light-weight role definitions that are actually meaningful
  • Give everyone a voice, without the tyranny of consensus
  • Apply clear rules that prevent egos or politics from dominating
  • Focus a team on fast, incremental improvements in light of real data
  • Continually restructure the organization, one tension at a time

Governance clarity enables most work to get done by clear roles using clear authority, outside of painful meetings and group consensus-seeking. On the ground, a team’s operational flow is synchronized by regular Tactical Meetings that facilitate rapid-fire triage of key issues. Anything in the way of getting the work done gets identified and processed into clear next-actions and target outcomes. In Tactical Meetings:

  • Every agenda item gets processed every meeting, on-time every-time
  • The focus is on next-actions, not endless analysis
  • Metrics are surfaced and checklists are reviewed – quickly
  • No one hides – radical transparency shows all progress, or lack thereof
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