Reading the Holacracy Book

Just about everybody is unhappy with how large organizations function, or rather, dys-function.

One of my first big-company experiences were the seemingly endless, back-to-back meetings at BMW. I remember coming home one one day to the townhouse I shared with several other people, complaining that I had just gotten a degree called “Diplom Ingenieur” (Master of Engineering), not “Diplom Besprecher” (Master of Meetings), and why in the world did I do that if all I do is sit in meetings. In retrospect, I think I had ended up in the middle of a bunch of people whose main contribution to BMW’s bottom-line was to occupy meeting rooms and keep others from getting stuff done. Let’s just say that Holacracy would not have been for them.

I just finished reading the Holacracy book. I highly recommend it, for everybody who has a few years of work experience. It’s the currently-most-famous alternate model for how companies, or any kind of organization, can organize itself to get more done, reduce politics, and be happier how things go every day. It still has some rough edges (e.g. it has nothing to say on the subject of how to fire somebody), but the thrust is brilliant. I particularly like:

  • Every brain in the company has the opportunity, and indeed is being challenged, to contribute the very best they can. Nobody can steamroll the quieter people.
  • Expectations and commitments are explicit; no more confusion.
  • Politics and power plays, so awfully common, become public for everybody to see and probably rather embarrassing.
  • The company can be confident that it knows how it runs itself, and evolves itself successfully; no heroic leaders are required.
  • Decisionmaking, and competence, is distributed with built-in adjustments as needed.
  • As a consequence, a company practicing Holacracy probably attracts people who deliver more, are more capable, are more independent thinkers, and rejects people who talk instead of do, put their personal agendas ahead regardless of cost, and so forth.

It certainly isn’t for everybody. All people in the company need to be very comfortable following a process. They need to be skilled enough to understand how to use the process to get things done (that might exclude a number of blue-collar jobs). They need to be perfectly willing and able to think more as “free agents” and/or “owners” than employees. And, as the author points out repeatedly, it takes a lot of practice. Just like playing a complex game for the first time, I might point out. Good software support is probably essential.

But regardless, I’m certain that Holacracy is way, way, better, than the way a traditional company is organized where employees’ only recourse is to turn into Dilbert. Let’s not do that any more.