Holacracy® is a social technology or system of organizational governance in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a fractal holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested at the top of a hierarchy. Holacracy has been adopted in for-profit and non-profit organizations in the U.S., France, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.
The Holacracy® system was incubated at Ternary Software, an Exton, PA, company that was noted for experimenting with more democratic forms of organizational governance. Ternary founder Brian Robertson distilled the best practices into an organizational system that became known as holacracy in 2007. Robertson later developed the Holacracy Constitution in 2010, which lays out the core principles and practices of the system, and has supported companies in adopting it.
The term holacracy is derived from the term holarchy, coined by Arthur Koestler in his 1967 book The Ghost in the Machine. A holarchy is composed of holons (Greek: ὅλον, holon neuter form of ὅλος, holos "whole") or units that are autonomous and self-reliant, but also dependent on the greater whole of which they are part. Thus a holarchy is a hierarchy of self-regulating holons that function both as autonomous wholes and as dependent parts.
Influences and comparable systems
Holacracy has been compared to sociocracy, a system of governance developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Sociocracy had a significant early influence during the incubation of holacracy, though holacracy has increasingly differentiated away from it since then. Holacracy is designed for organizations and fundamentally differentiates the roles of the organization from the people working in it.
In its emphasis on iterative governance, adaptive processes, and self-organization, holacracy draws inspiration from agile software development principles and the lean manufacturing process. Holacracy is highly compatible with stakeholder theory as its board structure allows for multiple stakeholders to be represented in the governance of an organization and for multiple organizations with shared interests to be linked at the governance level.
The building blocks of holacracy's organizational structure are roles. Holacracy distinguishes between roles and the people who "energize" them in order to express certain capacities or potentials, perform certain functions, and/or pursue certain results on behalf of the organization. A role is not a job description, as one individual can hold multiple roles at any given time.
Holacracy structures the various roles in an organization in a system of self-organizing circles. Each circle has the authority to create, execute, and measure its own processes in achieving its aims. Circles conduct their own governance meetings, elect members to fill roles, and take responsibility for carrying out work within their domain of authority. Circles are connected by roles known as links, which sit in multiple circles and ensure alignment with the broader organization’s mission and strategy.
Each circle uses a defined governance process to create its own roles and policies. Holacracy specifies a structured process known as integrative decision making for proposing changes in governance and amending or objecting to proposals. This is not a consensus-based system but one that integrates relevant input from all parties.
Holacracy specifies processes for aligning teams around operational needs, and requires that each member of a circle fulfill certain duties in order to work efficiently and effectively together.
Trademark & Creative Commons
The name Holacracy is a registered trademark of HolacracyOne LLC. As such, anyone wanting to sell products and services using the Holacracy name must first get HolacracyOne's permission. The trademark is not to be confused with a patent, however, as it does not limit anyone from using the Holacracy model—it only limits the use of the brand name for commercial purposes.
Holacracy in contemporary practice
Holacracy has been adopted and practiced by for-profit and not-for-profit organizations in the U.S., including productivity specialists the David Allen Company, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams' Medium, Precision Nutrition, and Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey's nonprofit, Conscious Capitalism. Zappos, the online shoe retailer which is part of Amazon, announced its adoption of holacracy.
Holacracy is claimed to increase agility, efficiency, transparency, innovation and accountability within an organization. The approach encourages individual team members to take initiative and gives them a process in which their concerns or ideas can be addressed. The system of distributed authority reduces the burden on leaders to make every decision.
In a January 2014 post on Forbes online, management and leadership author Steve Denning warned against viewing holacracy as a panacea, claiming that instead of removing hierarchy, decisions are funneled down from circle to circle in a clear hierarchy, with each subsequent circle knowing less about the big picture than the one above. He also claimed that the rules and procedures laid out in the founding documents of holacracy such as Robertson's originating article are very detailed and focused on "administrivia." Lastly, Denning added that the voice of the customer was missing from the holacracy model, concluding that for agile and customer-focused companies such as Zappos, holacracy is a way to add administrative rigor, but that holacracy would not necessarily work well in an organization that did not already have agility and passion for the customer. These criticisms have been responded to point by point by HolacracyOne partner Olivier Compagne in an article on the company's blog. He maintains that Denning's criticisms misunderstand holacracy, and proceeds to explain how the rules of Holacracy address or avoid those alleged pitfalls.
- George Henry Lewes
- Holistic management
- Participatory management
- Ricardo Semler
- Systems thinking
- Rudd, Olivia (2009-04-24). Business Intelligence Success Factors: Tools for Aligning Your Business in the Global Economy. John Wiley & Sons.
- Röll, Martin (2014). "Organisations running on Holacracy". roellkorvenmaa.com. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
- Badal, Jaclyne (April 23, 2007). "Can a Company Be Run as a Democracy?". Wall Street Journal.
- Robertson, Brian (June 2007). "Evolving Organization". Integral Leadership Review 7 (3).
- Koestler, Arthur (1967). The Ghost in the Machine. Penguin Group.
- Steele, Robert David (June 5, 2012). The Open-Source Everything Manifesto. North Atlantic Books. p. 47.
- An Interview with Brian Robertson on Holacracy™ (2006): http://web.archive.org/web/20060630101107/http:/www.ternarysoftware.com/pages/downloads/BrianRobertsonInterview2006-02-08v3.pdf
- "Holacracy and Sociocracy". http://www.adeeperdemocracy.org. 2010. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
- "Sociocracy & Holacracy". http://holacracy.org. 2013. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
- "Holacracy Legal Info". http://holacracy.org/. 2014. Retrieved July 26, 2014.
- Groth, Aimee (2013-12-30). "Zappos is going holacratic: no job titles, no managers, no hierarchy". Quartz. Retrieved 2013-12-31.
- James, Michelle (2012). Navigating the New Work Paradigm. Center for Creative Emergence.
- Denning, Steve (2014-01-15). "Making sense of Zappos and holacracy". Forbes. Retrieved 2014-02-21.
- Compagne, Olivier (2014-01-21). "Holacracy Is Not What You Think". HolacracyOne's Blog. Retrieved 2014-02-21.