Holacracy One Experiential Workshop Isn't

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I recently went to a certification workshop to learn about holacracy and am writing about the experience over a series of blog posts.

This post describes the learning environment in Holocracy One’s Experiential Workshop, their introduction to holocracy.

Expectations walking in

Holocracy, the depth of its idea and principles, are new to me.  I’d been hearing about it for years from its inventor, software entrepreneur Brian Robertson, and from other colleagues who know of his work.  I trusted Brian to provide a meaningful learning experience to on-board people to a new paradigm for operating.

Because it is called an Experiential Workshop, I had some expectations walking in.  I looked forward to hand’s on activities that would be debriefed by the participants, skillfully guided so learning principles could be harvested and that these would be applied to using holacracy moving forward in one’s own work. A creativity learning technique we use called, What, So What and Now What provides the model for that assumption.

Unfortunately, this did not occur.  My first taste for the Holocracy One method, during its  pre-requisite for enrolling in their certification fell flat.  Perhaps the instructor starting the day by saying ‘the clicker isn’t working’ set the tone.  In all fairness he flew in from overseas the night before.  Still, as a customer, my expectation is that the service provider would be there, fully present and that all systems would be working.  Another interesting insight occurred during the workshop itself.  The question posed to the group to set up the simulation asked us to list as many reasons as we could about why a workshop would be less than successful.  Methinks the Holocracy One folks set themselves up for what was to follow.

In this training, participants will:

Here’s what they promised.  My experience of meeting the stated outcomes follows each objective.

  • Experience Holacracy in action via hands-on exercises and immersive simulations. (There were few, and, people who were taking the certification program that followed the next day were asked not to take part. Rather than being immersive, these were a fishbowls – some participated, the rest observed.)
  • Gain a deeper awareness of habits and practices that come from a “Predict & Control” mindset, and get a first-hand feel for Holacracy’s “Dynamic Steering” alternatives (Predict and control, check.  Dynamic Steering first-hand feel?  It was more like first-hand listening.)
  • Experience the Integrative Decision-Making™ process used in Holacracy’s transformative Governance Meetings (Only a handful of people were permitted to take part in the simulations, people taking the 5-day certification program were discouraged from engaging.)
  • Interactively explore Holacracy’s self-organizing structure and double-linking paradigm, and learn how it scales across organizations small and large (There was no exploration, this day was instructor-led. He talked to each bullet point on every one of the 38 Powerpoint slides used.)
  • Experience Holacracy’s lightning-quick, action-focused Tactical Meetings (Again, this was observed by most rather than experienced.  This part program stalled due to digressions to explain what was going on as it happened.)
  • Learn the structure behind Holacracy’s purpose-driven board, and see the broader vision for scaling Holacracy across multiple organizations and broader society (I’m still not sure what that means – this was presented toward the end of the day, and there was a lot of talk that preceded it. The whole day was talk. If the promise was that I’d learn it, I didn’t. I am unable to tell you what that is, and how I’d apply it.)
  • Connect the dots to see Holacracy’s end-to-end approach for moving from aim to action, and understand how it can ground the most abstract purpose in concrete next-actions to reach it (The instructor connects the dots for everyone in the room rather than the participants integrating the knowledge for themselves.)

Commentary 1

At the end of the day, I told Holocracy One partner Tom Thomison that I would not recommend this day to others because it didn’t involve and engage people the way the program promised to.  An experiential workshop is not a demonstration, nor is it all talk, mostly coming from the instructor. Experiential workshops connote active participation that stirs learning and learning connection-making.  Below is an article I co-wrote with Megan Mitchell on how to engage people in workshops.  A quick read will show you the context from which I am writing.

Thomison responded by saying that they are always looking to improve the program and that he’d like my feedback so they could do that. I paid $295 for this program to learn about their outfit. What Tom said surprised me. As well as having my money he wanted my intelligence too, to help their product offering.  Excuse me for being confused, I wondered how my giving them feedback would benefit us both.

In an email to a colleague who highly recommended Holocracy One to me I wrote “Day one of holacracy was near unbearable.  So many words, so little substance. My head hurts my body weeps. What did I sign up for?”

Her response, “Oh, no! I forgot about the words. Actually tomorrow will be simulations, but still some words.

For my learning style I don’t like the design of the facilitator workshop as they through into doing before I’ve mastered anything. Even the 3rd time I went through it.  So I’m hoping it will improve for you tomorrow.”

I was strengthened by her comments that things would get better after this one day fiasco.

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This was my first taste of holocracy via Holocracy One.  The next post highlights key ‘learning moments’ in their 5-day certification program. It will show that I requested a refund from sitting through that program because it did not meet my expectations as promised,  and the email correspondences that ensued.  Insight into the way I felt directly following those five days can be found here.

Commentary 2

Key learnings

  1. As a professional giving a workshop
    1. Make sure to deliver on the promise
    2. Manage people’s expectations walking in
    3. Handle critiquing statements from customers with dignity, find out what’s behind their comments, and find ways to help them achieve satisfaction with your offering in ways that are meaningful for them
  1. As a participant,
    1. Do your homework, find out how the workshop will be conducted, the learning objectives and their measures
    2. Come ready with self-learning techniques if the program falls flat, maximize the workshop for your benefit rather than expect the people leading the session to be competent educators
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