Brian Robertson, Holacracy

Holacracy – a new management paradigm or fashion trend? Brian Robertson’s book on the subject, written as founder of the company consultancy of the same name, is not an overview of decentralized management models. Instead, it very specifically targets the practitioner interested in the processes for implementing holacracy in projects and organizations.

What is holacracy? At its core, holacracy places the institutional mission – the Constitution – above all other considerations, even the CEO’s vested power. Employees become executives of their own tasks and area of influence without needing to consult a superior for authorization unless their action borders another’s area of influence. The benefit, argues Robertson, is that employees have full authority to execute in the interest of the institutional mission with no need for either consensus or chains of command. His motivational founder story for holacracy is eloquently stated in this TED video.

He is careful to point out that holacracy is not empowerment – employees do not need to rely on gentle parental consent to do something – but rather are given full executive powers for their domain. Lest this sound like a recipe for chaos, holacracy provides checks against actions that could potentially harm the organization, or that overstep boundaries. The most innovative of these is the governance meeting, where teams meet to discuss not what they are doing, but how – and can make immediate amendments to processes that need fixing. 

Holacracy has established a foothold in the IT world, but also in Northern and Germanic European countries. Most likely, this is due to the large level of independence already allotted to organizational structures in these areas. However, critical voices can already be heard: In practice, holacracy amounts to management delegating their tasks to subordinates, or holacracy places no emphasis on an person’s other emotional or aspirational capacities.

Still, a worthwhile read, if only to hear a detailed discussion of tactical and governance meetings, both of which could help organizations break out of consensual and hierarchical gridlock.