Holacracy as an organisational structure

The structure of the modern organisation rarely helps ignite the passion and creativity of the workforce. In short, today’s organisation structures are quickly becoming obsolete.


We’ve covered tons of books that deal with organisations trying to get their companies to work more productively and to find a way to engage their employees more fully. The most recent being “The Connected Company”, “Bioteams”, “The Moment of Clarity”,  “Employees First Customers Second”,  “Delivering Happiness”, “Work Sucks”, “Drive”, “Maverick”. Brian Robertson take us on his journey in a thought provoking book that is all about practice. This is not an idea or theory this all about doing.


Research shows that every time the size of a city doubles, innovation or productivity per resident increases by 15% but when companies get bigger, innovation or productivity per employee generally goes down. In a city, people and businesses are self-organising. We’re trying to do the same thing by switching from a normal hierarchical structure to a system called Holacracy, which enables employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work instead of reporting to a manager who tells them what to do.” If the residents of our cities had to wait for authorisation from the boss for every decision they made, the city would quickly grind to a halt. Yet in our companies, we see a very different organising principle at play.

The history

Most modern organisations are built on a basic blueprint that matured in the early 1900s and hasn’t changed much since. This industrial-age paradigm operates on a principle the author calls “predict and control”: they seek to achieve stability and success through up-front planning, centralised control, and preventing deviation. Rather than continually evolving an organisation’s design on the basis of real tensions sensed by real people, the predict-and-control approach focuses on designing the “perfect” system up front to prevent tensions.

A city versus an organisation

In an urban environment, people share space and resources locally, understanding territorial boundaries and responsibilities. Of course, there are laws and governing bodies to define and enforce those laws, but people don’t have bosses ordering them around all the time. As the business writer Gary Hamel puts it, “Give someone monarch-like authority, and sooner or later there will be a royal screw-up.” Hamel further points out that in most cases, “the most powerful managers are the ones furthest from frontline realities. All too often, decisions made on an Olympian peak prove to be unworkable on the ground.”

The problem with consensus

While consensus-based approaches are often motivated by a genuine desire to embrace and honour more people’s voices, they are rarely effective at harnessing true self-organisation and agility throughout an enterprise. Consensus doesn’t scale well at all, and such impractical quantities of time and energy are required to reach a decision that the system gets bypassed more often than not.


Tells managers, “It’s no longer your job to solve everyone’s problems and take on responsibility for everything.” And it tells workers, “You have the responsibility, and the authority, to deal with your own tensions.” This simple shift lifts everyone involved out of the parent-child dynamic that is so deeply ingrained in our organisational culture, and into a functional relationship between autonomous, self-managing adults, each of whom has the power to “lead” his or her role in service of the organisation’s purpose.

The goal

If we can agree that the economic problem of society is mainly one of rapid adaptation to changes in the particular circumstances of time and place, it would seem to follow that the ultimate decisions must be left to the people who are familiar with these circumstances, who know directly of the relevant changes and of the resources immediately available to meet them. When we effectively distribute power to those on the front lines, we dramatically enhance an organisation’s capacity to harness input and capture learning—thus solving a problem many leaders struggle with as their companies grow.

Corporate leaders are expected to be bold generals

They forecast the future, devise grand strategies, lead their troops into glorious battle—think Denis O Brien, Michael O’Leary Michael Smurfit, Tony Ryan. Hard to argue with what those guys have achieved. So it takes “a courageous executive to push back against this mindset, admit the inherent uncertainty of the future, and emphasize learning and adapting over predicting and planning.”

The questions

Simply ask yourself: “On the basis of our current context and the resources, talents, and capacities at our disposal, the products or services we offer, the history of the company and its market space, and so on, what’s the deepest potential it can help create or manifest in the world? Why does the world need it?”

What’s it really about

Governance is about how we structure the organisation and its roles to best express that purpose, and operations is about using that structure to bring about that purpose in the world. The whole point of Holacracy is to allow an organisation to better express its purpose. In this way and many others, Holacracy is not a governance process “of the people, by the people, for the people”—it’s governance of the organisation, through the people, for the purpose.

Future Babble

Too often, corporate strategy is built on the misguided notion that we can reliably predict the future. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, one of the most cogent writers on the illusion of predictability, has said, “We cannot truly plan, because we do not understand the future—but this is not necessarily bad news. Or as Drucker put it ” The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different”.


Holacracy isn’t for everyone; The author has seen  organisations where it just didn’t stick, and there have been enough for him to notice certain patterns. Three most common scenarios, which he has “The Reluctant-to-Let-Go Leader,” “The Uncooperative Middle,” and “The Stopping-Short Syndrome.” His advice for those who aren’t yet able or ready to fully adopt Holacracy falls into four categories:

  • Change your language, change your culture.
  • Rewrite your role descriptions.
  • Work on your organization, not just in it.
  • Streamline your meetings.


“Holacracy is not about the people. This is one of the aspects of the practice that people have the hardest time swallowing, but it’s fundamental. Holacracy doesn’t try to improve people or make them more compassionate, or more conscious. And it doesn’t ask them to create any specific culture or relate to each other in any particular way. Yet precisely by not trying to change people or culture, it provides the conditions for personal and cultural development to arise more naturally.”

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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