What would happen to the daily function of your business if each employee had the individual power to create a task which, upon completion, brings the real everyday work of the business closer to it is mission? It sounds like a winning solution. However, upon stepping back, you may realize that each employee working individually and without accountability is a recipe for chaos. A fundamental tenet of holacracy is that anyone in the organization has the capability of seeing when a potential is not being met and creating a means to reduce the disconnect between the reality and the potential. And, holacracy avoids organizational chaos through defined governance and operating procedures. As well, the purpose/mission of the business ultimately defines what can actions can take place.
Holacracy describes itself as a system which “bakes in” empowerment. The empowerment first comes from the belief that individuals within the company, not just executives or department heads, can create beneficial evolution; it is as simple as looking at the data of what is, sensing what could be and creating action plans to get from what is to what could be. “Baking in” occurs with holacratic governance structure and operating procedures which solidify the path for communication and accountability. As Brian Robertson, chief architect of the Holacratic Constitution, says, “Holacracy is a governance system not of the people by the people and for the people but of the organization, through the people for the purpose [of the organization].”
The governance structure and operating procedures of holacracy incorporates reality to spur creativity and rigidity to increase agility. All ideas about what tasks to set to make the reality of the organization move closer to the potential set out in an organizations’ purpose must be based in data. Where there is a mismatch between what the data says is occurring and what the organization’s purpose is, there is the beginning point for tasks to developed and accomplished to reduce the mismatch. The creativity, the setting of tasks to reduce the mismatch, can occur within these parameters. How the tasks are defined is creative, but the process of defining the tasks is rigid. Job descriptions are explicitly written in regards to the task at hand. Accountability instruments are also explicitly written. The job descriptions and accountability measures are developed by the circle which is working on a perceived mismatch between the reality of the organization and the purpose of the organization. These though, are not eternally written. The job descriptions and accountability instruments are only for the tasks at hand; both end when the specific task is completed. The agility comes from being able to open a circle, complete tasks, close a circle and move forward. People are not stuck in operation cycles which have run out of things to operate on. The circles begin and end, expand or decrease in number as dictated by data, not by the fact that the circle existed before in the organization and, thus, should always exist or competitors have this circle and, thus, so should we.
Likewise, the operating procedures within a circle are rigid. When the circle engages in tactical meetings, members can’t just show up to the meeting and voice their opinion. The meetings have several defined stages which are marked by who can speak and how they can speak about the material. For example, when a circle convenes to discuss next actions needed: 1) a proposer explains a needed action, no discussion 2) circle members ask questions, answers but no discussion 3) circle members react, no discussion 4) proposer can offer amendments or clarifications, no discussion 5) members and proposers can offer objections, no discussion 6) meeting facilitator guides a discussion between the proposer and objector to create an amended proposal. So, in the operation of the group, members have uninterrupted time to speak what they think, but they cannot engage in a give and take discussion of the material until the very last stages, if at all. Proponents of holacracy feel that this rigid, extended and very structured discussion cycle actually increases speed and efficacy because extraneous material will not cloud or derail the cycle. Once again, rigidity is used to increase agility.
Robertson states that the rigidity imposed by holacratic operating methods also combats egos. Clearly defined tasks, accountabilities and communication means that there is not as much space where an ego can wedge itself in, inflate and overtake a group. The Holacratic Constitution, the rules of the game, remain immutable, thus free from the ravages of an ill-intended ego.
In the end, operating procedures and governance according to the rules of holacracy give space for a voice, an idea to be equally heard and acted up as well as equally being held accountable.