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Holacracy vs. Hierarchy

'Holacracy', to some ears, used to be a swear word. But now, especially as organisational design has evolved, it's become an approach to team formation and decision-making that progressive leaders have started to gravitate towards.

At Kaleidoscope, we believe in a blended approach of Systems Thinking, Lean Methodology, Design Thinking and Holacracy. We believe that future-thinking organisations should not only welcome change, but chase after it. As the 'war on talent' rages on, we have seen a marked attraction and retention of skilled individuals where businesses have embraced Holacracy, or its associated principles, as part of their DNA.

We encourage Holacracy as a system of competence-based hierarchies, and not authority-led structures. The goal is to increase agility, efficiency, transparency and innovation.

Holacracy in a nutshell

In simplistic terms 'Holacracy' can be defined as an organisational framework that supports both the needs of a business and the needs of team members. It creates the space for every individual in an organisation to bring their voices to the table and to have the freedom and means to work in the way which suits supports their performance. It's agile way of work distributed through self-organising teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy.

It does not mean to say that team members can disappear for 3 days without saying a word, but it does mean that they have the flexibility to take 3 days off (after communicating to their teams and clients) when they have met their goals, objectives and deliverables. It's about shifting away from 'forced working' and moving into 'doing your best work'.

Why we believe in Holacracy

1. Roles are shaped around talent and skills - it empowers individuals to run with what they enjoy and what they are good at, when people are happy and motivated by what they do, they tend to resonate with the company a lot more, invest more time, and use the organisation as a platform to build their career.

2. Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) vs. employment contracts – MoU’s are created to detail a team member’s commitment to the brand, and the behaviours and expectations associated therewith, versus specified responsibilities. A revision once every term (perhaps a year, or 6 months) will enable team members to add value where they can, rather than staying limited to a specific role.

3. Foster a flexible work/life balance allowing team members to manage their own calendars encourages them to feel that they are entrepreneurs within their own right, and puts an emphasis on accountability and responsibility.

4. Adaptability and quick decision-making – things arise when we least expect them to, and we have to adopt Plan B. By de-centralising decision-making abilities the organisation can react quickly, without losing out on any opportunities, or making things worse while waiting for someone to make a decision and wasting valuable time.

5. Culture and team dynamics – individuals will either sink or swim in this kind of environment, as there are many people who prefer a more fixed structure (which is perfectly okay too), so this way of work attracts talent who see merit in a high responsibility/high freedom work style.

The Cautions

1. Decision-making becomes tricky when everyone works on a flat-structure - so, we encourage adopting a person within each team called a ‘Lead Link’. Although not all of the responsibilities fall onto this person, they are accountable for coordinating activities so that they can be merged with/communicated to other teams within the organisation.

2. Not every decision can be reached by consensus - and, not everyone in the organisation has to agree in order to move forward. Decisions can be made within teams, and then carried out with the support of other teams. Each individual must trust that the talent within teams will make sure that what needs to be achieved will be achieved - and excellently, at that.

3. It’s a big adjustment for a new team member - especially someone who may have never worked in such an environment before – so make sure to give them ample time to adjust, and allow them the opportunity to ask as many questions as possible.

4. This kind of structure doesn’t work for everyone - not everyone thrives or wants to work in an environment where they have to manage their own time, make decisions that could play a pivotal role, or take the initiative to form around what feels natural – and that’s perfectly okay. It may just mean that they aren’t a great fit for your organisation.

In Conclusion

Holacracy can play a role of incremental value to many businesses, but it is not for everyone, and needs to be handled cautiously. When layered and rolled-out right however, it can enable a "plug-and-play" dynamic so, as new goals and tasks arise, teams form to tackle the project at hand, rather than passing items from one ‘department’ or ‘person’ to the next.

Team members are encouraged to use their initiative to go above and beyond for customers. Furthermore, team members are trusted to make their own decisions, so there is no time lapse or one authoritative team member who has to take all of the accountability. Suddenly, fear becomes redundant in an ever-changing world.


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