The latest issue of Integral Leadership Review featured no less than three articles on holacracy: “Organization at the Leading Edge: Introducing Holacracy” by Brian Robertson, “Mapping Our Decision-Making” by Gareth Powell and “Holacracy in Action” by Jessica Safran and Bob Huff.
Robertson’s account of how holacracy was institutionalized at Ternary Software is very interesting. He explains how the founders of the company paid very conscious attention to organizing and governing themselves: “But we refused to turn to the usual solutions. We refused to lessen the pain of an ad-hoc approach by adopting solutions we knew would be helpful but partial. Instead we held the pain and let it wash over us — we’d carry it, feel it and dwell in it. We’d walk a razor’s edge between letting the pain kill us and mitigating it too early with the typical solutions.”
Even if they succeeded in building agile organizational steering from the ground up, the immediate question that arises is whether something similar can be established in a legacy? organization that is pathologically messed up. If such an organization has a naturally ideal or ‘requisite’ circle structure, which ‘wants’ to emerge, as holacracy suggests, why does it not? Does the top-down, predict-and-control autocracy forcibly resist this dynamics? Can the associated? dissipation be attributed to what agency theory calls agency costs — costs pertaining to the principal-agent relationship that accrue from measures to mitigate conflicts of interest in co-operative behavior?
Moving the organization towards its requisite form — its telos — seems to require what Robertson calls dynamic steering: making small workable decisions rapidly, and letting the best decision emerge over time. This continual incremental adaptation brings about “significant efficiency gains, higher quality, more agility, increased ability to capitalize on ideas and changing market conditions, and, perhaps most ironically, far more control”. The problem in most organizations is “analysis paralysis” — in the face of fluctuating circumstances, attempting to predict the best path and then controlling to follow that path strictly is doomed to fail. The remedy? Speeding up the decision-making; making the decisions where the information is. Easier said than done.
It would be interesting to see case studies of how sociocratic/holacratic principles have been applied in organizations that are “far from” their requisite form.2167