Questioning Holacracy One’s Integrity

Troféu Mente Fértil
Image by Improve It via Flickr

I trusted Holacracy One (HO) to deliver on it’s promise of learning and experience during its 5-day Certification Training for which I paid $3,495.00. It didn’t. I asked for a refund, they refused.

This blog post sets up the next one that shares the email exchanges, revealing the character of the organization with regards to the customer experience.

Background: About Holocracy One

Holacracy One (HO) adapted Agile software development to organizational effectiveness. It claims their system taps into collective intelligence and unclutters ‘the work’ an organization does by separating it out from the people who do it.

Follow their ‘code’ and the organization’s ‘program’ will run just fine.  HO’s services include selling software for using their processes, consulting to make sure the holocracy installation goes right, speaking engagements to spread their holocratic concept and subscriptions to their on-line community of practice.

image from wikipedia

Relevant HO players:  Brian Robertson, Tom Thomison, Deborah Boyer, all members of the General Company Circle (see explanation below).

How HO’s Holacracy Works

Inputs and outputs drive HO’s holocracy process.  The inputs result from resolving organizational tensions; the outputs contribute to the entity’s evolution.

HO structures organizations in circles, abolishing the traditional organizational chart.  The General Company Circle (GCC) sets the scope and purpose for the sub-circles within it which might include sales, manufacturing, finance, etc. Each sub-circle self organizes to fulfill its mandate as the GCC defines. Links between circles keep communication fluid to resolve inter-circle tensions that occur.

Resolving Tensions

Tensions are imbalances between what is current and what could be that could further the organization’s purpose.  These are resolved in specialized meetings using scripted processes at all levels and in all circles, from strategy, through to governance and tactical.

In strategy meetings, themes for moving forward are decided, in governance meetings, roles and accountabilities are defined, while in tactical meetings focus is placed on doing best work within a circle’s scope. All meetings serve the larger organizational context, and are said to enliven the organization’s reason for being.  Robertson cites anecdotal evidence to support claims that by using HO’s processes companies are better able to adapt quickly to changes as they occur because clarity is achieved.

Ways to resolve tensions are scripted, specific and concrete.  When facilitating a governance meeting, for example, HO insists the facilitator (taken from their overhead 5, Day I)

  1. focus on the aim and hold the process as sacred
  2. invite people to take care of themselves
  3. rigidly stick to the process when needed
  4. ruthlessly crush others when needed
  5. have the wisdom to see how that’s truly helpful

Not a Democracy

In HO’s holacracy each person is autonomous in his/her role. Each has ultimate authority for carrying out tasks related to his or her accountabilities.  Top down governance is gone; circles define what work is done and how, within their scope of activities. Circle links sit in on other circles to represent tensions in other defined areas of scope.

Boyer blogs conversations with HO’s creator, Roberston.

“Holacracy is not a representational form of government or a democracy in any shape or form…Holacracy is trying to shift to governance through the people by and for the sake of the further unfolding of the creative impulse, evolution,  or manifestation.”

“It invites the people to be fully autonomous and show up and take care of themselves. It’s not trying to make them happy, nor is it trying to push against that. It’s treating them as fully autonomous beings, and it’s getting them out of the way of dominating the organization.”

Because resolving tensions drives their process, Boyer write advice for dealing with one

“Go tell that role what you think.  Make a pitch, an argument, a case, but be fully expecting that they will make their own judgment about how to make use of your input.  Have no expectation that they will integrate your input unless Governance says they have to.”

How HO walks it’s talk: Two examples

Example 1: Conversations with Boyer on Day 4.

That morning we were told this day would be the most intense.  The instructor talked almost non-stop from 8:30 – 3:00 p.m which included a two-hour demonstration of how he cleans out his email in-box. It was exhausting.

During the 15–minute break, standing next to Boyer, I said, “This is deadly.”  “You were warned,” she replied. Nothing more.

If she had been abiding by the facilitator’s code (see #2 above)  she might have said, “What you are hearing today is important for understanding our version of holocracy.  What is it that you are finding deadly? How might you take care of yourself given this is the situation?”

Example 2: Conversation with Thomison

This example was cited in an earlier post. It’s  a conversation with another HO General Company Circle member Tom Thomison. When I told him I was dissatisfied with their Experiential Workshop, a prerequisite for taking the Certification Program, his response was ‘please give us your feedback’.  He also did not invite self care.

In an earlier blogpost, I wrote about my dissatisfaction with the program and HO’s denial of that request for a full refund.

The next post contains the chain of emails that followed.

NOTE:  I learned later the statin prescribed for cholesterol and had just started taking the weekend before this workshop has mood altering side effects including confusion and memory loss.  I stopped taking the medication three months after.  There is no way of knowing how the medication may have influenced my participation in the program.