First experiences with Holacracy implementation in a fully remote company.
My first journey with Holacracy implementation started when a 60 people remote web services company leadership acknowledged that the current operational and governance structures, though aligned to industry best practices were not scalable to support the scaling while retaining the same business strategy. A highly people-centric agile company with openness and transparency as some of the core values, I knew Holacracy was the way forward to eliminate lot of internal unit program and strategic alignment issues including OKR’s as was stated/confirmed by the leadership. Other issues reported by leadership were :
Not being able to devote much time to their core role definitions for being involved in solving team level problems.
Hierarchical tier-ing with scale leading to too many reportees per reporting manager.
From the challenges it was clear that they needed a self-managed, scalable, operational and governance makeover, aligning with agile manifesto.
Leadership being completely new to the term in implementation, I started with Holacracy operational blueprint to align the operational elements forming the model with the alignment needs of the organization diving the program into a minimum of three phases. Phase 1 involved
Introducing the essence and benefits of Holacracy to entire team followed by introducing the operational elements (Circles, Roles and Meeting formats), handing any initial doubts/concerns with changes on how the model would fit in with the current organizational structure and dynamics. This was restricted initially to the core management leadership team.
Mapping the organization in circles (collection of roles connected by a common purpose). Working with the leadership team, this exercise brought together multiple perspectives from scaling to having specialized centers of excellence and other long term strategies. The best part, the suggestions came from management team and not really the core organizational leadership. With this, the team also acknowledged the deltas between long term plans and current governance and operational structure.
Creation of a knowledge inventory and space for holding the governance records.
Identification of roles (purpose, domain and accountabilities) with JBGE documentation to acknowledge the role needs. This along with core roles as prescribed the Holacracy constitution. Core roles were immediately seen as the operational glues within circles minimizing promising removal of alignment issues. Via an interview based approach roles were identified for engagement unit.
Following is the first version of how the engagement holon, a single person team, looked like.
Engagement circle with current roles and core roles as prescribed by Holacracy model
Similarly, initial holon was defined for engineering with sub-circles and their purpose.
An alignment of V2MoM (Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Measures) was considered against the circles, purpose and objectives. This exercise helped acknowledge the need to reconsider/extend V2MoM’s of relevant units and their purpose/objectives (as existing), or to write one if not existing (such as for Engagement holon).
Its well known that Holacracy implementation brings with it considerable resistance for fear of loosing power and control even though the need for a scalable self-managed solution is well acknowledged. A Holacracy coach and facilitator needs to be well equipped to deal with such change resistance via suitably coaching tensed workforce members with success stories and depths of the subject.
With startups, resistance could come from leadership for their strong emotional attachment to assets, information and processes. Letting go becomes a challenge. I encountered this challenge for it was honestly put across as “I have worked so hard in the last few years to build the process inventory. Is’nt there a workaround”. Further with this workforce member in leadership, self management of teams was felt as loosing their own job. It was obvious to relate to lack of leadership role definitions and accountabilities separating them from the reportees. Support, micro-managing and directing teams in hierarchy was understood as core part of job for sustenance in the company.
The company had V2MoM’s defined for each functional unit. A reflection of such for each circle brought out objectives not geared towards functional capability enhancements but highly generic. More of blanketed objectives which could extend every role in the company. As a symptom of change resistance, a recommendation was to convert global circle objectives to roles; which obviously was not the route to go for.
This was followed by identification of circle policies and domains.
Introduction of meeting formats, integrative decision making as a tool for governance meetings and facilitation against the existing communication canvas was next.
The above is not the only approach and not a prescription for Holacracy implementation. It needs to be defined per systemic needs and velocity of model understanding by the workforce forming the system.
Further the model does not need to be implemented in full. Companies have successfully implemented elements of the model (such as simply bringing in “Integrative Decision Making”) to bring a striking change in their organizations.