Reaching Into the Universe

Notes on a Holacracy strategy meeting

plane landing over simpson bayBay Area Integral's strategy meeting (a type of Holacracy meeting) was great to be part of. Of course I think it went better because I was doing it with other skillful, integral people. Perhaps a better test for Holacracy would be to take it offroading into the wilds of the typical workplace, working with a group of more diverse development levels. Even then, I suspect it would work well.

The meeting started with a check in by roles (everyone in a holacracy fills one or more roles). I'm always impressed with how people in the integral community hold sacred space, moving in and out of it as necessary, quickly, with a minimum of fuss.

The bulk of the meeting followed the standard diamond-shaped creative process: a period of divergent brainstorming followed by a focusing convergence toward our meeting outputs. Every Holacracy meeting has well defined, concrete outputs—in this case, a high level theme for the organization for the year, our core value proposition, and our strategic direction for the year.

The last part of the convergence phase involves a proposal being made based on everything that's been brought up at the meeting which is then run through Holacracy's Integrative Decision-Making™ (trademarked, really?) process. This is a highly structured process that seems to have a lot of power: all views get heard and integrated without having to struggle with consensus, and perfectionism never even makes it into the room—the Holacracy definition of an Objection is "a tangible reason why adopting the proposal is not workable… at least for now". When the proposal can make it through an objection round with no objections it is adopted. At which point there was much rejoicing.

We had just made it through 4.5 hours of strategy meeting, finished early, and smoothly landed a plane that looked, for a while, like it had no engines, mangled landing gear, and only one wing. We were excited by the outputs we had developed, and grateful to, and appreciative of, our circle members for being along for the ride together.


Learning more about Holacracy

Fractal For K & K Challenge #7After sitting in on more holacracy meetings and reading the introductory PDF, I'm beginning to get the hang of it. And in just under 2 hours I'll be attending my first strategy meeting for Bay Area Integral.

The introduction provides the big picture overview of holacracy, which is a bit breathtaking. Holacracy aims to liberate organizations from human egos and ownership, which if successful would have the effect of giving them even more of a life of their own than they already have. And its fractal design could scale from local communities all the way to a global government, all while linking each level to the next.

I'm not sure if I love the idea or want to kill it before it breeds. On the one hand, we have enough problems with organizations that live forever and corporations being treated as people. If corporations already cause too much injustice and environmental damage do we really want to "liberate" them into further autonomy? On the other hand, it seems that human ego and limitation are exactly the things holding us back from significantly shifting humanity's course toward a less perilous future. If Holacracy delivers on its promise to turn corporations into more direct tools of evolution, perhaps it's exactly the kind of thing we need to save us from ourselves.

As for the implications for government, well… I think the biggest obstacle to global governance is that our current forms of government are barely sufficient for running nation-states, let alone a planet. Of course people are terrified at the concept of One World Government—we have enough tyranny and corruption without giving politicians and bankers even more power. But Holacracy distributes power through the structure rather than allowing it to concentrate at the top. Whether or not it could work as a political structure is an open question, but it's much more intriguing than trying to mindlessly spread democracy everywhere.


Holacracy, anyone?

Holacracy websiteI first saw the word Holacracy at the Integral Theory Conference: an entire workshop about "A New Operating System for Evolution-Powered Organizations" and I couldn't go because it was in the same time slot as Dylan Newcomb's Integral Embodiment, and I couldn't pass up a chance to experience integral not just from the neck up (i.e. the head).

Lucky me, Bay Area Integral is implementing Holacracy for its organizational structure, which means that I, as a volunteer, get to participate in learning all about it.

Having only participated in two Holacracy meetings thus far (a tactical meeting and a governance meeting—yes, Holacracy meetings are super-structured with explicitly defined purposes and outputs), I don't have much to say other than that I am intrigued and willing to give it a chance.

What I can say so far:

  1. I've never been in a meeting that went so much like clockwork. Part of that was the strong facilitation that kept us on track and in line with the meeting structures every single step of the way. "Ok that sounds more like a governance issue, so if you would bring that up at the governance meeting in an hour, we can move on for now."
  2. The organizational structure seems fairly flat, with roles assigned according to ability and easy to morph and adapt. Everyone got an equal say in building the agenda for each meeting and on every agenda item covered.
  3. Holacracy promises a lot. Beyond such poetic goals as "liberating the soul" of your organization, it aims toward everything from the holy grail of getting egos out of the way to make your organization self-organizing through fractal structure.
  4. Reading a Holacracy blog article, The Irony of Empowerment, sold me on giving it a chance. The article is brilliant. If the idea that self-empowerment is the only kind of empowerment there is doesn't make crystalline sense, please read it!

More on this topic as it unfolds in my experience. Holacracy's highly structured nature will no doubt be off-putting to some, but if it delivers even halfway on its promises then as far as I'm concerned such folks can go find some other group on which to impose their need for freedom!