‘About Holacracy’ Blog

Syndicate content
Holacracy is a fundamentally different “operating system” for organizations. Holacracy revolutionizes how a company is structured, how decisions are made, and how power is distributed. - Medium. You can also follow this blog directly on Medium.

Two Paths to Achieve Self-Management

March 21, 2017 - 12:05pm

It’s an exciting time for organizational pioneers. The self-management movement seems to have reached a critical mass and is now growing exponentially, with more and more organizational leaders opting for self-organization and emergent order in lieu of top-down “command and control” structure.

Now, when seeking an alternative to the management hierarchy, the question becomes: “How?”

How does the CEO who recognizes his own limitations unleash the collective intelligence of the organization? How does that CEO replace old top-down or static processes with ones powered by self-organization and dynamic, peer-to-peer control?

One option looks something like this:

Phase 1: The CEO decides to shift from an organizational framework that centralizes power primarily in a management caste to one that enables everyone in the system to use power for the organization’s purpose.

Phase 2: The CEO defines some new core operational processes that are more empowering and don’t require top-down management to enact. These may include new approaches to compensation, budgeting, project management, hiring, firing, or any other process critical to that unique organization’s operations. The CEO may also dictate a process for making general decisions outside of those specific processes, such as dictating some form of “advice process”, or this may be left unspecified (and likely default to a consensus-based approach).

Phase 3: The CEO continues to iterate on the designs of these new self-organizing processes for many years, driving their improvement and removing the issues that inevitably arise when altering the fundamental way decisions get made in a company. When people run into obstacles with these key processes, they either work around them or escalate to the CEO to get buy-in to enact a change.

Phase 4: After many years of experimentation, you have a largely self-managing system! . . . except that there’s still a superhero CEO at the top who holds the power to change the organization’s core self-management processes at will, and may intervene for key decisions or to settle disputes.

This shift is powerful. With an intelligent, visionary leader holding the reins, this can go a long way towards transforming a company into an agile, self-managing system.

And yet, with this approach, much still rests upon the wisdom of the figure at the top, and his or her ability to integrate input from the rest of the organization. What happens when the CEO’s vision and judgement are partial (as they always will be, at least some of the time)? Or when a change at the board level installs a less open-minded CEO? The above pathway to self-management is only as strong as the CEO’s worst day — or the Board’s.

I know this first-hand: It’s the path I took as a CEO 15 years ago. It was during this time that I discovered the biggest obstacle to implementing a fully self-managing company was often myself, despite my desire for a self-managing company.

Even on my good days, when I wasn’t the source of a bottleneck, it seemed just having a CEO invited others to give up some of their own power and autonomy to drive change. So I set about forging a new path — one that removed the need for a heroic CEO to carry the weight of the transformation.

The Holacracy organizational “operating system” was the result. It’s fundamentally different from other approaches to self-management, from the way it’s installed to the way it evolves. With Holacracy, organizations achieve self-management through self-management, within a framework that makes rapid experimentation easier for more people.

“Holacracy is not a panacea: it won’t resolve all of an organization’s tensions and dilemmas. But, in my experience, it does provide the most stable ground from which to recognize, frame, and address them.” — David Allen

Here’s what the approach with the Holacracy® framework might look like:

Phase 1: The CEO decides to shift from an organizational framework that centralizes power primarily in a management caste to one that enables everyone in the system to use power for the organization’s purpose. And the CEO decides he doesn’t want to be the superhero directing the organization’s specific implementation of self-management, but just another partner helping to bring it about.

Phase 2: Instead of defining all of the organization’s core processes himself, the CEO adopts the Holacracy Constitution. The Constitution introduces a “meta process” — in other words, a “rule set” for how anyone can evolve any other organizational boundaries or processes, without weighing in on what those other processes should be. Ironically, on Day 1 of this journey to self-management with the Holacracy Constitution, hiring, firing, and all other operational processes will look identical to the way they did before the decision to embrace self-management — except now anyone can change them, using the rules of the Constitution. That quickly leads to . . .

Phase 3: Individuals at all levels of the organization begin to iterate on the design of the organization’s various processes. When people run into real obstacles in the way things work, they use the rules of the Holacracy framework to update the organization’s specific processes. Over time, everyone helps evolve and adapt the organization’s own unique approach to self-management in all operational processes.

Phase 4: After many years of experimentation, you have a largely self-managing system! . . . Except this time, everyone was involved in defining the organization’s unique processes, and you no longer need a superhero CEO holding the reigns. In fact, there is no more CEO — someone may still carry that title in the external world if needed, but internally the title carries no special power or privilege. Many Holacracy-powered organizations simply drop the title entirely.

The journey with Holacracy has some advantages. The framework enables more stakeholders to get involved in evolving the organization’s design, so the journey to self-management can happen more quickly and take deeper root. Most organizations on this path further accelerate by copying and customizing some key processes from other Holacracy-powered organizations, thus benefiting from the collective wisdom of a larger community. That’s also possible without Holacracy, but it’s both easier and more likely when you have a common “language” or “framework” to describe those processes and how they work — something Holacracy provides.

With either approach, you end up with something unique — your own custom organizational design for self-managing key processes. Holacracy isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescriptive approach to self-management, and Holacracy-powered companies come in all shapes and sizes. Holacracy is simply a framework — a meta-process — to help you customize your own designs faster, more effectively, with more engagement from more people along the journey, and with less risk of getting stuck in the many possible pitfalls en route.

Attend a free Holacracy webinar: http://www.holacracy.org/events

Implement Holacracy: http://www.holacracy.org/implement

Two Paths to Achieve Self-Management was originally published in About Holacracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

» More blog posts directly on the "About Holacracy" collection on Medium.

Sneak Peek #2: Holacracy® Habits

March 13, 2017 - 5:31pm

GlassFrog users on the Premium Plan can access our Holacracy Habits Support Program. This program delivers sequenced, bite-size lessons to build the skills and habits essential to Holacracy practice.

Below, you can read a “sneak peek” excerpt from the program!

Holacracy Habit: Record Tensions for Governance

Most people are surprised to learn that there are no rules in the Constitution about what you can bring up in a governance meeting.

There are, however, some rules about what can come out of the process.

Think of the process like a sausage grinder. Put in whatever you want — the process grinds it all up and gives you something useful on the other side.

You don’t even need a proposal to get the ball rolling. You just need a tension. You can ask for discussion to help you come up with a starting proposal, if you need it.

But if the only valid outputs of a governance meeting are changes to roles, policies, or domains, then what happens when a proposal has nothing to do with changing the governance?

If this happens, anyone can raise an objection during the objection round. If a valid objection is raised, the proposal moves into integration and it gets fixed collaboratively.

It’s easy to think objections are indications that a proposal is bad, incomplete, or don’t belong in governance meeting. Instead, think of objections as “requests for integration.” Use them. Trust others to use them. They are the most direct way to figure out what changes are absolutely needed.

It’s much faster to put your idea out there and encourage objections than to try to predict all possible issues others may have with your idea. (Pro tip: You could even say during Amend & Clarify, “The proposal works for me, but I encourage others to raise objections if needed.”)

Don’t let perfectionism or concerns about creating harm get in the way of practicing your habit, record tensions for governance. The burden is not on the proposer to make a “good” proposal because if the proposal causes any harm, then others will raise objections and you’ll fix it. Together.

With practice, you’ll find out that you don’t need to practice Holacracy perfectly to effect meaningful change.

Sign up for GlassFrog: http://glassfrog.com
Learn more about new GlassFrog features

Sneak Peek #2: Holacracy® Habits was originally published in About Holacracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

» More blog posts directly on the "About Holacracy" collection on Medium.

Holacracy’s Human Side

March 5, 2017 - 6:22pm
4 Ways Holacracy Brings Out the Best in People

If there’s one criticism of Holacracy I hear again and again, it’s some variation on this theme: “Holacracy is too rigid. People aren’t robots. It’s inhuman!”

This is an unfortunate misconception, but I understand where it comes from. Especially in the beginning, the meeting processes may seem rigid and restrictive. It can feel awkward and unnatural to follow a new set of rules rather than just doing things the way we’ve always done them. But when people get through that initial transition, here’s what they discover: Holacracy is in fact the most “human” system available for running an organization.

Holacracy honors some of the very best parts of our humanity, and it challenges us to develop and become more human, not less. Here are four ways in which practicing Holacracy brings out the best in people.

Taking Turns

Holacracy’s meeting processes include very specific rules about who can speak, and when it is or is not appropriate for others to respond. To those unfamiliar with the system, this is often a sticking point. “What do you mean, I’m not allowed to say what I think or feel? I’m not a robot — I have feelings, and I have a right to express them!”

Here’s the problem with that approach: Have you ever become aware of something that could be working better than it is? (In Holacracy, we call this a “tension” — the sense of a gap between what is and what could be.) You bring your tension to a meeting, hoping to make a change and improve the situation. The words have barely gotten out of your mouth when one of your colleagues jumps in. “Yeah, I agree that X doesn’t work. But you know what? Y doesn’t work either!” Before you know it, everyone has added their own tensions to the table, and your attempts to create change in a specific area are stalled.

Holacracy’s meetings are designed to avoid this frustratingly common situation. They protect the space for one person to bring up a tension, propose a solution, and actually initiate meaningful change. In order to do this, the meeting processes don’t allow other people to simply pile their own reactions and related issues on top. That may sound rigid or inhuman, but in fact, it’s deeply honoring of the human being making the proposal. And for everyone else, it simply asks them to practice a fundamental human skill we all learn as children: taking turns. Young children find it difficult to be patient, to make space for others, to allow others to go first. When they master this skill, it’s an important developmental step. Unfortunately, as adults, we seem to forget the lessons of the playground when we sit down in business meetings.

In Holacracy, everyone has an opportunity to process their own tensions and share their perspectives. But in order to give each person a safe space in which to do so, we can’t all speak at once, and tensions need to be processed one at a time. Everyone else is asked to exercise patience, reserve judgment, listen, and honor their colleague with their attention. If those are not human virtues, I don’t know what are.

Honoring Human Creativity

When I think about what makes us human, one of the things that strikes me is our creativity. We notice problems and we come up with solutions. Our consciousness can sense when something is not working (a “tension”), and we envision how it could work better. We’re not satisfied to just make the best of things as they are. Holacracy is designed specifically to harness and honor this uniquely human capacity.

Too often, in organizations, we experience great frustration because we can sense tensions but we don’t have the capacity to turn them into creative improvements. When an organization is running on Holacracy, everyone is empowered to process their tensions. Human creativity and ingenuity becomes the company’s most valued tool — not just for coming up with new products or services but for continually improving the way people work together and organize. The result, for each human being in a Holacracy-powered organization, is a much more deeply fulfilling experience of being a creative partner rather than a cog in the system.

Encouraging Self-Awareness

Another capacity that differentiates humans from our fellow creatures is self-awareness. Human consciousness can reflect on itself. We can observe the arising of thoughts, feelings, and reactions, and make choices about which ones we act on. We are not simply slaves to instinct. Holacracy challenges people to exercise this gift — to become more self-aware and, when appropriate, exercise self-control while another person is taking their turn. I’m not suggesting we have to suppress our humanity, in all its messiness, but I am proposing that it’s healthy to learn not to be blindly driven by it.

Our instinctive responses can be quite powerful. Self-concern, excitement, competitiveness, inspiration, judgment, relief, defensiveness — all these emotions and more may arise as we listen to someone else processing their tension. Without self-awareness, we may not even realize which feelings are motivating our reactions. When a facilitator cuts us off, or we catch ourselves wanting to speak out of turn, it shines a light on what’s driving us. The resulting reflection may not be comfortable, but it will help us know ourselves better. And in the process, I believe we become better human beings, with a more profound self-awareness and self-mastery. There is a lot of talk about “mindfulness” in the organizational world these days. Holacracy offers the opportunity to put mindfulness into practice, every day, and in so doing, create more conscious workplaces.

Treating People Like Adults

Early in the development of Holacracy, we were brainstorming “taglines” for our marketing material, and my wife and business partner Alexia Bowers half-jokingly suggested “Organization for Grown-ups.” I’ve always thought this was among the most accurate descriptions of what Holacracy strives for.

Those who see Holacracy as “inhuman” often complain that it doesn’t take care of people enough. And that’s true — the process is not designed to take care of everyone; it’s designed to allow people to take care of themselves, through the processing of tensions. Too many organizations adopt a parent-child relationship to their employees. Modern management hierarchies almost inevitably treat people like children, who need to be supervised, told what to do, and taken care of.

Holacracy honors each person’s sovereignty, seeing them as perfectly capable of managing themselves, driving their projects, staying motivated, and taking care of their own needs. In other words, it treats them as adults. Holacracy doesn’t treat people as subordinate, or needing to be managed, motivated, or mothered. It treats them as mature enough to manage their own workflows, lead their own roles, and seek the help and resources they need to do so.

That’s not to say people don’t need a safe space in which to thrive; in fact, researchers in Google’s “People Operations” division recently conducted a several-year study into what makes a successful team, and found that a feeling of “psychological safety” was by far the most important of the defining traits. Holacracy’s structured meeting processes help create this feeling of safety by protecting the right of each individual to process tensions.

So it’s true that Holacracy’s process doesn’t take care of people. However, rather than being inhuman, it’s a more human approach: giving people the space and safety to exercise their human creativity, protecting their right to do so, encouraging them to develop self-awareness, and treating them like adults. That’s the kind of humanity we need more of in our workplaces.

Attend a free Holacracy webinar: http://www.holacracy.org/events

Implement Holacracy: http://www.holacracy.org/implement

Holacracy’s Human Side was originally published in About Holacracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

» More blog posts directly on the "About Holacracy" collection on Medium.

Sneak Peek #1: Holacracy® Habits

February 2, 2017 - 2:03pm

One of the new features available now to our GlassFrog users on the Premium Plan is our Holacracy Habits Support Program.

This program delivers sequenced, bite-size lessons to build the skills and habits essential to Holacracy practice, such as how to effectively process tensions, and how to shift from personal to role-based power.

Below, you can read one “sneak peek” excerpt from the program!

Habit: Name the Role that Feels the Tension

Have you ever experienced the following “symptoms” in your organization?

  • Lots of meetings with exhaustive discussion
  • Emails cc’d to everyone, often for unclear reasons

These painfully familiar symptoms point to a common cause — lack of clarity.

When we’re not clear who needs to be involved in a decision or who has the authority to make it, we often default to getting everyone involved.

A role is like a uniform. You can put it on and take it off as needed, to help gain perspective on whether or not your role “cares” about a particular decision. In organizations where we don’t differentiate the individual from the role, it can feel like having your uniform glued to your body.

The solution is organizational clarity. In the governance meeting, we define roles that pursue the purpose of the organization. We can trust and use those definitions day-to-day to help guide our decisions.

Organizational clarity frees us to be a good leader when we’re filling a role and need to balance input with speed. It frees us to be a good follower when another role owns a decision and shuts down discussion to make a judgment call.

Here are some more suggestions for how to bring clarity to your day-to-day work:

  • When a discussion seems to take forever, ask: “Is it clear which role holds the authority to make this decision?”
  • When lots of people are pulled into a meeting (or email chain), ask: “Which roles need to be involved and why?”

By practicing the habit of naming the role that feels the tension, you get into the habit of asking if your roles should be involved in a meeting, or cc’d in an email. You also practice asking yourself if a problem is something that one of your roles cares about, or if it’s something (salary, career development, etc.) you need to deal with as a person.

- Your Virtual Holacracy Coaches

— — —


Remember: Roles help clarify decision-making. So if you want someone take action, then you’ll want to refer to the roles in Glassfrog.

That said, what do you do when you just want to talk to a person? Not a role, just person-to-person?

If you want to get some input from an experienced colleague, you can say something like, “Hey Tom, I wanted to get your opinion…not in a role, just as a person.” Or write, “To Tom (as Tom)…”

And if you feel compelled to share information, and the other person is clear on their authority, then you probably don’t need to refer to roles.

Sign up for GlassFrog: http://glassfrog.com
Learn more about new GlassFrog features

Sneak Peek #1: Holacracy® Habits was originally published in About Holacracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

» More blog posts directly on the "About Holacracy" collection on Medium.

Announcing a Leap Forward for GlassFrog

January 20, 2017 - 7:52pm

A challenge we hear from many organizations is, “How can I get our team up to speed on the Holacracy system as quickly as possible?”

Like learning a new sport, Holacracy has a set of moves that can take time and practice to master. Over the years, we’ve built a rich set of tools and techniques to support organizations through that journey, yet most of them have only been available to our consulting clients thus far. To enable more people to benefit from that experience, we’ve been working hard on a major upgrade to GlassFrog, our cloud-based Holacracy software tool.

It’s my pleasure to announce three major changes to GlassFrog (or watch our announcement event here):

  • A new Holacracy® Habits Support Program for building key Holacracy behaviors.
  • New ways to get real-time support from Holacracy experts: Office Hours and Live Chat.
  • Lower pricing to make GlassFrog’s premium features more accessible to more organizations: premium is now only $6 per user.
The Holacracy® Habits Support Program

One of the new features available now to our GlassFrog users on the Premium Plan is our Holacracy Habits Support Program. This program delivers bite-size lessons to build the skills and habits essential to Holacracy practice, such as how to effectively process tensions, and how to shift from personal to role-based power.

The program is also designed to deepen skills for folks who are further along in their Holacracy practice. And it offers help for those stepping into special roles for the first time, such as Lead Link or Facilitator. We’ve got a core program in place now, and we’re in the process of adding specialized modules for additional learning needs.

Now, whenever a new team member joins the organization, GlassFrog can help onboard them by teaching the core Holacracy skills and habits they need. In addition, GlassFrog administrators can launch a whole team or the entire organization on a skill-building module at the same time. This creates a powerful group dynamic and friendly competition around Holacracy habit development. For example, picture your whole team practicing the skill of identifying tensions right when they show up, and supporting each other in finding trusted tools to capture those until they can resolve them.

We’ve used this habit-building program in our client support engagements over the past year, and we know first-hand how powerful it can be. And now it’s part of GlassFrog, at no additional cost beyond your Premium subscription.

Expanded Options for Real-Time Support

Would it be helpful to have easy access to a seasoned Holacracy coach when you feel stuck on a Holacracy process, or have a question about how to get something done? Our new Holacracy Office Hours offer a way for your team members to get real-time support from our experts on questions and issues that are challenging their Holacracy practice. Office Hours sessions will be offered regularly and are included in the benefits of our Premium Plan.

Live Chat Support for Premium users

We’ve also recently improved many of our customer support processes and target service levels, and increased the attention we’re allocating to our GlassFrog Customer Support role. And we’re pleased to announce a new support channel: GlassFrog users on a Premium Plan will now have access to Live Chat to get help using the GlassFrog software. All of that means you’ll get better support from us than ever before, and support that can help improve your Holacracy practice — backed by the expertise we’ve built over many years of helping companies make the shift to a Holacracy-powered organization.

New Lower Pricing

As the official Holacracy companion tool, GlassFrog is used by over a thousand organizations and tens of thousands of Holacracy practitioners. It already makes their journey faster, easier, and more powerful — now more than ever with our new Holacracy Habits and Office Hours.

GlassFrog premium is now $6 per user instead of $9

Yet, we know GlassFrog’s price has held some organizations back. We’ve offered a totally free version for the past year to support more price-sensitive organizations and we’ll continue to do so. But we want to go beyond that and lower the barrier to our Premium features, which we hope will increase the success rate for organizations adopting Holacracy on a limited budget. So, as of February 1st, we’re lowering the price of a GlassFrog Premium subscription by 33%. You can now get all of our Premium features for only $6 per user per month. And if you’re using another tool for your Holacracy records already, we’re happy to migrate your data over to GlassFrog for you — just contact our awesome Customer Support team and they’ll take care of you.

I’m excited about these new changes to GlassFrog, and about what they can do to help more organizations thrive in their Holacracy journey. I hope you’ll give them a try and let us know what impact they have, and how we can make them even better going forward!

Next steps?

Sign up for GlassFrog: http://glassfrog.com
Get help adopting Holacracy:

Watch the recording of the live announcement event:


Announcing a Leap Forward for GlassFrog was originally published in About Holacracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

» More blog posts directly on the "About Holacracy" collection on Medium.

How GlassFrog Got Its Name

December 19, 2016 - 3:04pm

GlassFrog is as old as Holacracy. In fact, it predates our first written Constitution, which shows how vital it has been to making Holacracy transparent, accessible, and well, frankly, usable.

For those who haven’t used GlassFrog, here’s the short version: It’s a cloud-based tool that lets you visually navigate your company’s structure to see who does what. In Holacracy-powered companies, where peer-to-peer accountability replaces the top-down mandates, GlassFrog helps you get the information you need to get work done.

In the beginning, it was called the “Holacracy Support Tool” and we used it mostly internally, to make our own organization’s work transparent and to support our Holacracy practice.

A look at the very early UI for the “Holacracy Support Tool”, plus me pitching a GlassFrog as a name

At some point our co-founders, Brian and Tom, decided that the name “Holacracy Support Tool”, while being accurate, didn’t capture the value of the tool. And, to be honest, it lacked soul.

Here’s where I come in. I’m Lex, one of HolacracyOne’s earliest team members and product manager of the GlassFrog software circle. I like software, I like Holacracy, and I really like frogs. I like their cute little faces. I like that they’re amphibious and that some of them can stick to walls. And pretty much anything that eats insects is good in my book. But, you might be asking: why GlassFrog?

Well, not everyone knows this, but a glass frog is actually a real frog. While it’s not the scientific name, these guys are called “glass frogs” for their incredibly cool translucent skin that lets you see what’s happening on the inside.

Real, live “glass frogs” show what’s happening on the inside — neat, right?

So, when Brian and Tom were brainstorming names, I advocated for “GlassFrog”. To be honest, they weren’t so sure about it. Now, Brian and Tom were very busy with the rest of the business. So, I made logos… and screenshots… and I pitched the name pretty much every chance I got. Basically Brian and Tom were too busy to stop me, and eventually it became natural to call it GlassFrog.

To be fair, I am not that persuasive, so beyond my personal frog obsession, there were other factors that made the name appealing.

First, Holacracy provides transparency into the organization, and we wanted our software to mirror that. We built GlassFrog so that anyone in the organization can see everything: From the zoomed out org chart, to the zoomed in roles and accountabilities, we wanted the inner workings of the organization to be available to everyone in the organization.

Second, Holacracy treats an organization like a living organism, similar to, for example, a frog. Instead of thinking of an organization as a machine and people as cogs, we see the value of all the roles working together, and recognize that the life force that fuels it is provided by human energy.

Also, frogs are often studied as early indicators for ecological issues, making them natural “tension-sensors”. In Holacracy, as in nature, organizational evolution is driven by sensing and responding to tensions, and GlassFrog is the platform for mediating that resolution.

Perhaps most importantly: even if you don’t know what a glass frog is, you can easily imagine it from the name. The shift to Holacracy can be scary and seem abstract in the beginning. GlassFrog gives you visibility into what stays stable and tangible in the organization. It helps users see what Holacracy looks like, and provides a sense of safety and support through the adaptation.

So, GlassFrog is designed to enable and accelerate the transition to self-organization through software. Basically, it’s here to help and be your faithful Holacracy companion.


Sign up for a free GlassFrog account.

Check out a Holacracy Webinar.

How GlassFrog Got Its Name was originally published in About Holacracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

» More blog posts directly on the "About Holacracy" collection on Medium.