Why Holacracy will never work

A couple of weeks ago I spend a couple of days in the sun reading “Holacracy” by Brian Robertson. A whole new structure for working together and above all: a whole new power structure. No hierarchy, but distributed power to the system of Holacracy, so that everyone has the autonomy he or she needs to be the best you can be in favor of the organisation (and it’s purpose).

The Dream

An inspiring and compelling story of how our lives at work could look like if we all could be heard and nobody has power over anybody else.

Think of it like a city, where people live together, but hold no power over each other. They all have their domain to control (house, businesses etc.) and every citizen has certain responsibilities and accountabilities. You don’t just walk into your neighbors living room, pull open the fridge and grab a beer. Yet we are free and autonomous human beings and we don’t feel restrained by the system in place that we call society. Even more so, these rules and regulations enable us to become the person we want to be and to do what we want to do. Yes, with restrictions, but those are their so that everyone in the society has equal opportunity to become the person they want to become. It’s what we call freedom here.

Holacracy sets out to a strict set of rules, engraved in a constitution. This constitution states that the CEO signs a declaration where he or she gives away all of the power to the system (Holacracy).


Holacracy has a couple of important constructs you need to understand before we can continue.

Holacracy is unfamiliar with functions. Instead, everybody has one or more roles. A role possibly controls a domain. It describes the accountabilities and those are meticulously documented in a tool, so that everybody knows what to expect from those roles.

Circles are a group of roles that all contribute to the same purpose. Every circle has “core roles” (e.g. facilitator, secretary, lead link, and rep link) as well as other roles doing the work. A circle is treated like a role with the additional authority to break itself down into sub-roles.holacracy graphic 1

Governance Meetings
Governance meetings are held to process tensions related to the circle’s governance process. So for instance if a role needs an extra accountability, the governance meeting is used to create this role if necessary, or adapt other roles, among other possibilities. Governance meetings follow a strict process described in the constitution, which (so it’s said) makes them highly effective.

Tactical Meetings
A tactical meetings is a recurring meeting for circle members to surface operational data, updates, and triage tensions into projects and next actions. Agenda items are created during the meeting while the facilitator works to get through all items in the allotted time. Tactical meetings follow the process outlined in the constitution, which makes them…. yes! highly effective.

This term surfaced a couple of times now. So what is it? Holacracy describes tensions as a gap between the current reality and a potential future. Tensions are processed in tactical and governance meetings. So tensions can lead to changes or improvements of roles, circles, operations etc.

Tension alright

So I have a tension to discuss. When I read the book I wondered why we don’t have a governance meeting at home. So I gathered my wife and kids on a Saturday morning and discussed the matter. I felt I had to in my role as a father, feeling accountable for the family process…

Ok, no, I made that up. But wouldn’t that be weird? Why do we need these strict processes to be able to be free working towards our (organisational) goal? There is something about the strict meeting process and role describing that disturbs me. If we don’t need it at home, why do we need it at work?

Maybe it’s because of the size of teams? In our company we have self-organizing teams that have no specific roles, but still work towards a team goal. They are multi-disciplinary teams too. But they are usually just a bit bigger than my family. Just a bit though, not much.

So we see freedom and self-organisation at home, but also more and more organisations organize themselves around teams, without managers and without the strict meeting process and roles…

Effective meetings

On the bright side I can see a major improvement in how much time we spend in meetings. Chatting, arguing, convincing each other. I really want to test this process for tactical meetings in my work environment to see if it will increase the effectiveness of those meetings. Sometimes you need discussion and chit-chat to come up with a creative solution. I have absolute zero experience with this process so I want to start experimenting with this as soon a possible.

I would like meetings to be fun. I’m not claiming they all are now…. So maybe we should start with those meetings that are boring anyway. Holacracy often states: if it doesn’t throw us back, let’s try and see if it will help us improve (experiment).

Mount stupid

I am nMount-stupid-–-Borgerlysto doubt on mount stupid on the subject, I know. Mount stupid is shown here and shows the curve of knowledge on the subject versus the willingness to opine about it.

Maybe I know quite something about Holacracy, but have no experience whatsoever. I hope you are willing to share you’re experiences (being both positive and negative) on Holacracy and its practice. As well as on parts of it.

Self-organisation is the most logical development of organizations you can imagine. It makes people more free to do what is necessary to achieve the company’s goal. The way to get there (as always) differs. I think Holacracy can be a big step in initiating the change, but it might scare off too because of the radical structure.

The title I chose for this blog was of course mainly to attract you to read up on my struggle (thank you that you got this far). I challenge you to support or refute it by any means possible! I love feedback. I would love to hear your opinion but most of all you’re experience on the subject of Holacracy. Hopefully I will be able to share experiences with you as well on this in the near future, so stay tuned.


One thought on “Why Holacracy will never work

  1. Marten Reply

    Hi, Jasper 🙂
    Thanks for your short sharing of thoughts! I like your comparison of companies and families.

    I was wondering: Did you run your experiment by now? I would love to hear a follow-up on this post.

    PS: I might be wrong in my assessment on the click-bait title but here are my thoughts anyhow. I assume you didn’t do yourself a big favor with that. With a title like that you awake expectations (which your content doesn’t live up to). You also create strong emotions in your readers (e.g. rejection), which might make readers less willing to be open towards your content.

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