Home' HR Monthly : November 2016 Contents UP TO NOW, THE HISTORY OF ORGANISATIONAL
structure has been fairly static. Most systems harken back to the
industrial revolution, when top-down approaches solidified and
proliferated -- the better to control large groups of workers in
assembly line fashion.
Today, information flows too quickly and skills are too diverse
for this to remain effective into the future. As a result, some
organisations are casting off these systems all together, and that's
where Holacracy makes its grand debut.
Holacracy is very much a product of the times, says Michael
Porcelli, owner and founder of Authentic Direction Coaching and
a Holacracy lead trainer in the US.
"People are hungry for new ways of organising work," says
Porcelli. "So much of the economy is now taken up with people
working multiple jobs, people being choosier about the types of
work they want to do."
Holacracy taps into the progression of workplace relationships
and expectations, says Cyrille Jegu, managing director of
ThrivenAsia, a Hong Kong based consultancy, and certified
"More people in the workforce want to work for a purpose, they
want to work to achieve goals and develop their talents," he says.
"It's not so much about making money now. People crave change,
and Holacracy is booming in places because people are fed up with
the standard system."
Like Porcelli and Jegu, many proponents of Holacracy come
from tech sector backgrounds, and it's easy to understand why.
The foundations of Holacracy are built around work flows and
time-management frameworks common in IT professions.
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES
In his early days as a software developer, Brian Robertson,
Holacracy's creator, was increasingly frustrated with his work
-- not due to lack of interesting projects, but because he didn't
feel he was fully utilising his skills. He also found issues around
management and bureaucracy stifling to creativity and innovation.
What resulted from this was the 'operating system' HolacracyOne.
The term Holacracy was originally coined by Arthur Koestler
in his 1967 book on philosophical psychology The Ghost in the
Machine. It derives from 'holon' and 'holarchy'. A holon is an
element that is part of something larger -- like a cell in the body.
Holacracy functions much like this. It's a series of concentric
and overlapping circles where individuals choose the roles and
responsibilities they take on, and new circles can form when a
project is started and disband at its completion.
However, it's not as free-flowing and unstructured as some
people think, says Porcelli.
"It's very formal in roles and responsibilities," he says. "No one
can just do something and say, 'Well, that's Holacracy."
"Holacracy bakes in transparency because you have guidelines
and clarity around the roles you perform; every player knows their
role, their limitations and their power -- you can use all of your
skills and you aren't boxed in by a job title," Jegu says.
If you ask Stephan Jenner, managing director at Telus Partners
and Australia's first certified Holacracy coach, it combines the best
of order and chaos.
"Holacracy brings a lot of the polarity you find in workplaces
out in the open. Employees have talents and interests to play
CIRCLES OF TRUST
Organisational structures are being bulldozed in favour of flatter, sleeker systems.
But do these minimalist hierarchies actually work? An examination of the most famous
example, Holacracy, turns up mixed results.
BY RACHAEL BROWN
GORE AND ASSOCIATES:
At the company that produces
GORE-TEX fabric, workers are
'associates' rather than employees.
There is no chain of command,
nobody has a job title and staff are
not split into departments.
OCEAN SPR AY:
This fruit juice company is actually
a co-operative owned by 650
This portfolio management
company has a democratic
management system. Managers
are elected by employees, and
everyone has to justify decisions to
In this food company, employees
are all self-managing 'colleagues',
who operate without directives
OK, not a company, but the military
uses a system called 'commander's
intent' to empower subordinates in
the field, and guide their initiative,
improvisation and adaptation in a
chaotic, changing environment.
Organisations experimenting in structure.
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