Holacracy: A book review by Bob Morris

HolacracyHolacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World
Brian Robertson
Henry Holt & Company (2015)

How and why, “one way or another, evolution will have its way with us” and our organizations in a rapidly changing world

To what does the title refer? As Brian Robertson explains, Holacracy is essentially “a new social technology for governing and operating an organization, defined by a set of core rules distinctly different from those of a conventionally governed organization.” He notes that Arthur Koestler coined the term “holacracy” in his 1967 book, The Ghost in the Machine. That is, Koestler defined a “holon” as “a whole that is a part of a larger whole” and a “holacracy” as “the connection between holons.” Diagrams of this geometric structure are included in the book.

It is also important to note that Robertson is convinced, as am I, that Charles Darwin’s insights concerning evolution have significant implications for organizations — as Robertson notes — that were “built on a basic blueprint that matured in the early 1900s and hasn’t changed much since,” one he characterizes as “predict and control.”

“How can we make an organization not just evolved but evolutionary? How can we reshape a company into to an evolutionary organism — one that makes sense and adapt and learn and integrate? In [Eric D.] Beinhocker’s words, ‘The key to doing better is to bring evolution inside and get the wheels of differentiation, selection, and amplification spinning within a company’s four walls.'” In this book, Robertson explains HOW to do that.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of his coverage:

o An Operating System Upgrade (Pages 9-14)
o How Do You Distribute Authority? (16-21)
o Power to the Process (21-26)
o Discovering Purpose (31-34)
o Nature’s Structure (38-40)
o Differentiating Role and Soul (42-46)
o A Taste of Governance (68-79)
o The Basics (88-90)
o No More What-by-Whens (104-108)
o Facilitating the Mechanics (113-124)
o Strategy in Holacracy (131-134)
o Evolution Inside (139-141)
o Five traps to Bootstrap Holacracy (151-157)
o When Holacracy Doesn’t Stick (167-173)
o Change Your Language, Change Your Culture (176-178)
Note: This presupposes that you have changed your values and perspectives and need a different language to articulate them. Obviously, adjustments of non-verbal communication (i.e. body language and tone of voice) must also be made.
o Toppling the Hero (185-193)
o Moving Beyond a Personal Paradigm (197-203)
o The Evolution of Organization (203-205)

I commend Robertson on his brilliant use of several reader-friendly devices that include relevant quotations that are strategically inserted throughout his narrative, bullet point checklists, illustrations of structural relationships, interrelationships, boxed “Role Descriptions” and sequences of various processes, and boxed mini-commentaries that function as a précis of key insights. These various devices will help to facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later.

When sharing his final thoughts, Brian Robertson suggests that, ultimately, “Holacracy is an invitation to consciously engage with [an evolutionary process] in a new way, using a new tool. Because whether via Holacracy or another system, evolution will find its way into our organizations. It’s just a matter of time. We can steward it in, or we can fight it for a while – but one way or another, evolution will have its way with us.”

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