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I Was Wrong: Holacracy is The Thing!

Holacracy is dead. It is has been abandoned by prominent companies such as Medium or has problems (Zappos); it’s is too rigid; it puts processes over people; it’s unnatural and mechanistic. I myself did a comparison of Holacracy to Management 3.0 and Liberated Management Practices two years ago, followed up by a series of posts and did not judge it favorably.

I was wrong. Two years have passed since then. Time, I almost exclusively dedicated to learn and practice the art of mastering more self-managed organizations. My advice for those seeking to improve companies or teams is to read Brian Robertson’s “Holacracy”, just after you read Frederick Laloux’s “Reinventing Organizations” or listened to his excellent new video series. Mr. Laloux’s work fills you motivation and Robertson’s work will give you as close a view on the future of management as you will ever get.

The crucial thing which I got wrong in 2017 is that implementing Holacracy is not the thing. It is understanding Holacracy that is crucial for a move towards more self-management. Implementing Holacracy without having gone through a journey towards more self-managed for a couple of years before that, will properly get your company, team and yourself into deep trouble. It is simply too radical for most people in an organization to understand. Still, there is no better way to understanding a possible vision for the destination of the journey to “Management in the Digital Age” than Holacracy. The one approach on par with Holacracy is Sociocracy3.0, an updated and now very accessible version of another, similar “Self-management” Operating system. But beside it, I see no equals, no better way to understand Self-Management thoroughly.

Management 3.0 is certainly much more easily digestible with its colorful Mindsettlers app and has its merits to get more agile, liberated ways of management going, but it is ultimately less useful as a vision. It is something that you can use to start your journey but will not sustain you for long, as it lacks consistency and perspective.

Liberated Management Practices, is a term I use (inspired by Issac Geetz and Brian Carney’s book Freedom.Inc), to describe all the various management practices of progressive, more self-managed companies. They are not part of a system at all. Instead, they are just a diverse bunch of practices used at Buurtzorg, Gore, Patagonia, Haier, Bridgewater, and many more progressive companies. They lack order and consistency.

A way to picture all the ways to manage companies these days looks like this.

Agile, The Lean Start-up and Management3.0 are focused on the team level within more open hierarchical companies. The three main methods to scale Agile to the company level, SAFe, LeSS, and Nexus, ended up to be more classical portfolio management methods than anything that amounts to a management system.

Management as we know it — a lax way to describe all the paternalizing ways of organizing the work of individuals — is focused, well, on the individual level. It pays just lip service to teams. Its twin sister “Leadership as we know it”, is more aspirational in its whish to empower people and set good examples, but is ultimately stuck with inwards reflection on one’s own “leadership abilities and styles” or Michel Porter like strategizing and business model-talk.

That’s why Holacracy and Sociocracy 3.0 are so important: Only they light the way to run companies and teams that are truly self-managed. Oh, why do I think self-management is important?

  • Digital Technology will only spread and inundate Organizations if they become networks of people who are free to be critical and creative, with no hierarchy of submission standing in the way. To adopt digital technology ever better is what will give any company an edge. Therefore, it is a question of performance that leads to self-management.
  • In the age of the Extinction Crisis, we will need to see fundamental changes in the way we run companies, too. Letting people work in an environment based on exploitation is doing immense damage to peoples psychology and societies fabric. It is no good way of enlarging anyone’s concerns for the limits of the planet. Therefore, it is a question of survival that leads to self-management.

Holacracy is a great vision to aspire to, as is Sociocracy 3.0. They are well-rounded systems that finally do away with the industrial age’s exploitative hierarchy. They will allow companies and people to flourish more, by replacing coercion with motivation and exploitation with consideration.

The time is ripe for such systems. But companies are overwhelmingly not ripe for the big leap to self-management. Still, every company needs to start on its journey to the digital, green age. If only we could identify a great transformation path to more self-managed, liberated companies! All the Liberated Management Practices that Frederick Laloux propagates, that are the hype in New Work and Agile conferences, are great — but where are the map and the compass which could provide orientation?

 

I have a suggestion to make. But not now. In the next post.

Let me know what you think.