Agility and Empowerment through Distributed Power

–The Top 5 Features of Holacracy that Any Manager Can Implement Now–

I spent a year in 2016 -17 working as Co-Founder in a start-up venture using a distributed power system, Holacracy, as the company operating system. I’ve already written two articles to answer the most common questions I’ve heard about this experience: Do you recommend Holacracy? and What did you learn from Holacracy? In this article, I’d like to highlight some of the most powerful features of Holacracy that can be implemented by any manager to enhance the key benefits: empowerment and agility.

All the systems and processes in Holacracy are highly honed and constantly under a process of improvement. But there are some features that can be used on their own and that create great value individually.

1) Meeting Processes

The meeting processes in Holacracy are very specifically designed and are a key part of the whole system. But much of the benefit comes from a few general keys that any manager could use in any meeting.

  1. Take turns in meetings so that everyone gets a chance to be heard. When you allow a space for each team member to have their say, if they choose, everyone can relax into the process, rather than having to fight for space. Those who are quieter or think at a slower pace will add value to the team that would otherwise be completely lost.
  2. Use a facilitator, not the team manager, to safeguard everyone’s time in meetings and to keep the conversation on-track. Fully delegate the role to the facilitator (more on delegation next) so that they are empowered to act quickly and confidently. This allows the manager to focus on content while the facilitator guards the process.

2) Delegation

Clear distribution of authority is a primary feature of Holacracy. The responsibilities of every role are documented so that everyone can see it, and they are constantly amended as the roles learn and adjust to the conditions of work. Here’s how to get started in capturing the full value of delegation:

Write down what each role in your team is responsible for. What are the decisions you expect them to make? What do you hold them accountable for? Let this be a shared document that all team members can see, refer to and amend so that it is up to date.

This may seem superfluous, especially from the manager’s point of view. But it is a very effective way to ensure you are delegating fully. The rule is that team members may ask for consultation and support for any decision, if they choose, but they understand that the decision is theirs to make. Also, team members are encouraged to suggest amendments to their and others’ responsibilities. Holacracy provides a full decision-making process to ensure these kinds of decisions are made fairly and with empowerment. But simply documenting the roles is a good start.

For mature managers, documenting role responsibilities can reap the benefits of greater clarity and empowerment. For managers who have a tendency to micro-manage, this discipline can be enormously helpful. For managers who tend to criticize, undermine or pamper their team members, they will probably need coaching support to live up to the documented delegation.

3) Shared Metrics

Ken Blanchard’s 2001 book on empowerment suggests sharing information as a key to engaging the best from teams. The Holacracy tool of metrics is a simple and elegant way to do this. The manager defines a few key numbers that represent important business results. The metrics are shared at regular intervals so that the whole team knows how they all stand. Metrics can include sales figures, quality standards, production outputs or anything that provides feedback to team members and a comparison to motivate action. And yes, just like FitBits get people walking by measuring daily steps, business metrics motivate action.

4) Tensions and Improvements

Before every formal Holacracy meeting, usually weekly or biweekly, each team member needs to consider what ‘tensions’ they are ‘sensing’ and what recommendations they have for resolving those tensions. This practice makes it a part of everyone’s work to notice what is not ideal, from their particular point-of-view, and to suggest improvements. The strict procedures for ‘processing tensions’ means that everyone’s views on what’s wrong are accepted, that constructive steps are taken to improve, and that small readjustments empower progress for as long as the tension remains.

Most organizations are not truly open and ready to change constantly in response to what the employees want. So this one feature of Holacracy has a huge potential to engage people in genuinely creative, constructive efforts. This system enforces a culture of creative engagement and mutual respect which overrides the common corporate cultures of complaint and passivity. And it needs to be supported and guided by leaders with the maturity to seek the value of a creative workplace culture at the expense of being right or resting on their laurels.

5) Internal Coaching

Having worked as a professional external coach for almost 20 years, I was fascinated to see how the transition to a distributed authority operating system creates a significant requirement for coaching and that a coaching approach to development is a natural companion to it. Coaching means you can both challenge and support others without usurping their responsibilities or watering down their power.

Holacratic organizations regularly create coaching roles when they sense a need for learning, growth or guidance without disempowerment. All organizations can use coaching in a similar way to compliment and support whatever managerial system they have in place. And the right kind of coaching can also be a step towards implementing all the other features in this article as well.

 

If the tips highlighted here are interesting to you, ask me about the specifics of using them in your case and I can point you to further resources. And if tip #5, internal coaching, is what your organization most needs to move you forward, let’s talk about how I could support your organization’s development.

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