Holy Holacracy, Batman…

When my organization decided to do away with titles and hierarchy, and organize our teams around passions and products – a holacratic approach – the reactions were mixed. Most of the Project Managers outspokenly predicted imminent demise (one even wept openly), Dev Leads were quietly skeptical (as long as our kegs were still there, they really didn’t care), and just about everyone else took a let’s-try-and-see approach. We were already implementing an agile approach to our projects, so implementing an agile approach to our organizational structure was not totally freakish.

I was squarely in the “try-and-see” camp. I was at a Director level myself and, having just earned that title, wasn’t overly keen to be losing it already – but I liked the thinking that prompted the change and I saw a lot of potential positives if we were successful.

Here’s what happened, after about a year:

– Around 40% turnover among those who thought of themselves as “senior” – but that was just fine, because new leaders rose up from the ranks who were more hungry, passionate, and open to new ideas.
– Around 30% turnover among those who thought of themselves as on a track to “seniority” – but that was just fine again, because those people were the same ones who also played office politics, overestimated their value and were notorious for misrepresenting their contributions to management.
– The company revenue grew by more than 20%, we won some awards and landed the biggest contract we had ever had.

Holacracy worked for our organization of about 40 people, after time had passed and we continually inspected and adapted. Our org was ultimately able to also go to unlimited PTO, because we already had built a culture of accountability that did not require hierarchical oversight to maintain.

I don’t know if holacracy will work for every organization – it depends largely upon the people, the communication, and the expectations, among other things – but I do know that nobody grows without having their understanding of things continually challenged and changed. Being challenged will not feel comfortable and real change is hard work. First reactions will often be negative. Be wise and take a cue from those feelings, perhaps go through the Five Whys – keep asking yourself why you are reacting negatively and get to the root cause. Be honest with your introspection, and remember that there is no short cut to growth.

Read Brian Robertson’s guest blog post on Holacracy at Mike Cohn’s blog here!

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