Holacrazy (personal notes) — Brian J. Robertson

The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World.


Holacrazy (personal notes) — Brian J. Robertson

The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World.

Book Cover

Nowadays organizations face complexity and overload, with more challenges and information than they can effectively process and manage. Besides, entrepreneurs tend to get stuck working in their businesses rather than working on their business.

Holacrazy encourages peer-to-peer relationships, instead of codependent parent-child dynamics. This distribution of authority avoids a system limited by its leaders’ capacities. In fact, it scales far beyond them.

Although human culture is free to emerge naturally, Holacrazy is focused on the organization and its purpose, not on the people and their desires and needs.

However, as all organizational frameworks, there are promoters:

Holacrazy is not a panacea: it won’t resolve all of an organization’s tensions and dilemmas. It does provide the most stable ground from which to recognize, frame, and address them. — David Allen

…and detractors:

A process-heavy straightjacket for organizations that can’t figure out how to delegate the rules of communication. — Jurgen Appelo

Introducing Holacrazy

Holacrazy is a social framework defined by a set of core rules:

  • A constitution: the rules of the game and authority redistribution.
  • A new structure based on roles and circles.
  • A unique decision-making process to define roles and accountabilities.
  • A meeting process to keep teams in sync, helping them to work together.

Evolving Organization

The classical fixed and hierarchical structures are falling back in line with the leader or the majority, losing the multiple perspectives that multiple people provide.

Most of the critical information that is captured by the organization sensors (employees) is usually ignored and, therefore, unprocessed.

Organizations must have the capacity to evolve and adapt (problem vs opportunity). There is always a gap between the problems that organizations face (tension), and how they could be facing them (benefit).

Nowadays, new challenges and job complexity has increased dramatically so that the old command-control model does not work anymore: it quickly becomes obsolete and structural bottlenecks arise every day.

Distributing Authority

A good constitution is infinitely better than the best despot. — Thoman Babington Macaulay

When companies grow, innovation and productivity per employee usually go down. On the contrary, cities increase productivity by 15% when they double their population. Society is a distributed system, without bosses breathing down people’s neck all the time.

The figure of a leader could attach some side effects such as the hero who transforms him/herself into a dictatorship, or the well-intentioned “empowering others” insight that, paradoxically, places these “others” in the role of victims.

Some companies fail into the consensus approach, spending all the time in meetings rather than getting work done: long and painful meetings where everyone is forced to see things the same way. Consensus does not scale well at all!

If no explicit power structure is in place, an implicit structure will emerge given that decisions still need to be made. Hence, a system that empowers everyone to respond to issues locally is needed (without having to get everyone else’s buying-in, or relying on a leader for permission).

As a manager, is no longer your job to solve everyone’s problems and to take full responsibility. As a worker, you have the responsibility and the authority to deal with your tensions.

The power is distributed to all the roles that form the organization. Everyone is free to ask or provide help or input, and to pitch about their opinions. Deadlocks and bottlenecks disappear along with the old hierarchical command&control management.

Rules and processes act as the core rulebook (constitution) and reign over all the members of the organization. This way, not only the employees will follow orders: each role will have its accountabilities and the authority to make decisions limited by the constitution.

Governance happens consciously and regularly. It is an iterative and ongoing process, with everyone’s participation, that defines how we work:

  • Activities we need to pay attention to
  • Expectations that can hold of others
  • Which role can make certain decisions and within what limits
  • Policies and constraints and how to evolve them

Holacrazy is not a governance process of the people, by the people, for the people. Instead, it is a governance process of the organization, through the people, for the purpose.

Organizational Structure

Organizational structures are usually shaped by personal relationships and politics. There is a gap between the official structure (what it is represented), the extant structure (what it really is), and the ideal structure (what it must be).

Holacrazy structure is a continually refined and modified response to tensions sensed by individuals.


Nevertheless, human beings are not fully contained parts of the company, roles are. Roles are invested with the authority to carry out certain tasks and pursue particular aims. Roles’ power is constrained by the constitution.

When the responsibilities attached to a role exceed the individual capacities, that role needs to break itself down into multiple sub-roles. New roles emerge and interact between them, becoming a circle.

A person can fulfill several organizational roles, like in your personal life, you can be a daughter, mother, bass player, biker…

Roles’ accountabilities must be clearly documented to avoid:

  • Mistrust and frustration between coworkers
  • Critical tasks being missed
  • Locked decisions seeking consensus, checking on everyone before moving forward (flying around cc emails)

When tension arises between roles, or when the organization requires it, there is an opportunity to clarify what is expected of each role. Roles in Holacrazy are dynamic, living things that change over time.

Sample Role definition

  • Role: Marketing
  • Purpose: Lots of buzz about the company and services
  • Domains: mailing list and social media accounts, manage public website content.
  • Accountabilities: Build relationships with potential customers in target markets (defined by the Marketing Strategy role), and promote the organization’s services via the website and social media.


Circles are like the cells of the organization. Circles retain autonomy, individual authority, and wholeness.

Holacrazy looks like a series of nested circles that are not subjugated to those above it. Nevertheless, the constraints of each circle, like the roles, are limited by their defined accountabilities.

Circles’ self-organization happens in the circle’s governance meetings.

Holacrazy Circles


In order to manage communication across boundaries, and to connect different circles, Holacrazy provides link roles that act as an interface:

  • Lead link: appointed by the super-circle to represent its needs in the sub-circle.
  • Representative link: elected by the members of the sub-circle represents its needs in the super-circle.
  • Cross link: a direct channel to process tensions between parallel circles (when needed).

Moreover, to conduct meetings, two specific roles must be filled Facilitator and the Secretary roles (we will see them later).

Practicing Holacrazy

When you watch a professional sports team playing a game, are you thinking on the rules of the game?

Holacrazy at first may feel cumbersome or restrictive, keeping everyone aligned and unified. It is a tough task that will take time to settle.


In _Governance meeting_s, circle members refine the structure of the circle based on new information and experiences. This results in a clear understanding and redefinition of roles, activities, boundaries, and accountabilities.

Within these meetings, often scheduled monthly, the Facilitator role will ensure that the operational practices are aligned with the constitution. Meanwhile, the Secretary will steward and stabilize formal records and recordkeeping processes.

Specifically, the allowed activities are:

  • Creating, amending or removing roles, roles’ accountabilities, policies, and sub-circles (within the circle)
  • Electing members (individuals) to fill different roles

Operational questions will be covered in the Tactical meetings.

Governance meeting process

  1. Check-in Round: One at a time, each participant has space to call out distractions and orient the meeting.
  2. Administrative Concerns: Quickly address any logical matters, such as time allotted for the meeting, and any planned breaks.
  3. Agenda Building: Participants add agenda items, using just one or two words per item. Each agenda item represents one tension to process. The Facilitator captures them in a list.
  4. Agenda Item Processing: Each agenda meeting is addressed, one at a time, using the Integrative Decision-Making Process.
  5. Closing Round: Once the agenda is complete, or the meeting is nearing its scheduled end, the facilitator gives each person space to share a closing reflection about the meeting.

Integrative Decision-Making Process

  1. Present Proposal: Who Speaks? Proposer only, unless Help is required.
    The Proposer has space to describe a tension and state a proposal to resolve it, with no discussion. The Proposer can optionally request discussion just to help craft a proposal, but not to build consensus or integrate concerns.
  2. Clarifying Questions:
    Who Speaks? Anyone asks, Proposer answers.
    Anyone can ask a clarifying question to obtain information or understanding. The Proposer can respond or say “not specified”. No reactions or dialogue are allowed.
  3. Reaction Round:
    Who Speaks? Everyone except Proposer, one at a time.
    Each person is given space to react to the proposal. No discussion or responses are allowed.
  4. Amend and Clarify:
    Who Speaks? Proposer only.
    The Proposer can optionally clarify the proposal, amend it based on the reactions, or just move on. No discussion is allowed.
  5. Objection Round:
    Who Speaks? Everyone including the Proposer, one at a time.
    The facilitator asks: “Do you see any reasons why adopting this proposal would cause harm or move us backward?” (an objection). Objections are stated, tested, and captured without discussion. The proposal is adopted if none surfaces.
  6. Integration:
    Who Speaks? Mostly Objector and Proposer, Others can help.
    They focus on each objection, one at a time. The goal is to craft an amended proposal that would not cause the objection, but that would still address the proposer’s tension. Once all are integrated, go back to the Objection Round with the new proposal.


In Holacrazy, the realm of operations is everything that happens outside of governance.

To get things done, we need to understand clearly what outcomes we want to achieve (project) and what are the next actions to get there without losing sight of the overall goal.

You don’t actually do a project, you can only do action steps related to it — David Allen

To capture what “done” means in a project context, you can write down a list of false statements that will be true when the project is done. What are the next steps to make them true?

The real world is not as predictable or controllable as we can think. Get rid of what-by-when commitments and use deadlines only when they are strongly needed. They can dramatically affect your choices and prioritization over more important tasks.

Each role in Holacrazy takes explicit operational responsibilities:

  • Sensing and processing tensions and accountabilities
  • Tacking projects and next-actions
  • Directing attention, resources, and prioritization
  • Transparency (projects, next actions, projections and estimations, metrics)

If you know what you need to do next and nothing is in your way, just go do it, if not, use tactical meetings as a fallback. Tactical meetings allow you to discuss operational issues, share updates, and ask for help when needed.

The Tactical meeting process

  1. Check-in Round: One at a time, each participant has space to call out distractions and orient the meeting.
  2. Administrative Concerns: Quickly address any logical matters, such as time allotted for the meeting and any planned breaks.
  3. Checklist review: The facilitator reads the checklist of recurring actions by role, participants respond “check” or “no check”.
  4. Metrics review: Each role reports highlights of the latest data.
  5. Progress updates: Each participant shares important updates.
  6. Agenda Building: Participants add agenda items, using just one or two words per item. Each agenda item represents one tension to process. The Facilitator captures them in a list.
  7. Process Each Agenda Item: Each agenda meeting is addressed, one at a time, until everyone gets what they need.
  8. Closing Round: Once the agenda is complete or the meeting is nearing its scheduled end, the facilitator gives each person space to share a closing reflection about the meeting.

Facilitating Governance

The facilitator role deals with disruptive behaviors by individuals, protecting the process (people will take care of themselves). The facilitator serves the game, not the players.

One tension at a time, each person speaks in turn, no crosstalk or response to reaction are part of his/her weapons in order to adopt new proposals.

Do you see any reasons why adopting this proposal would cause harm or move us backwards?

A facilitator must help distinguish between an objection and a separate tension (new agenda item will be created). Remember this is not a consensus-based process. A valid objection to a proposal must match all of the following statements:

  • If the objection is unaddressed, the proposal will hurt the organization.
  • The objection only exists because of the proposal.
  • The objection comes from known data. It if is a prediction, there won’t be an opportunity to adapt before significant harm is caused.
  • The tension breaks the current constitution.

Strategy and Dynamic Control

The idea of strategy focuses on the future we could plan while bearing in mind prediction limitations. Be careful not to waste so much time and energy in predicting exactly what will come next because this has a cost: it could reduce your ability to sense and respond to reality in the present, or it could lead precisely to your dreaded predicted scenario. Reality usually wins.

Focus on a workable decision rather than on a theoretical best one. Find what will help us to make the best decisions, instead of figuring them out.

Emphasize documenting and aligning to standards, even over developing and co-creating novelty. (example)

Like in The Agile Manifesto “Emphasize X, even Over Y”, easy to remember heuristics can help you to deal with quick decisions. Both clauses must be positive things but the organization has to prioritize one over the other.

Invest time in standardizing processes and document them. Use strategy meetings as a brainstorming process to steer into the future, helped by different people’s perspectives.

The Strategy meeting process

  1. Check-in round
  2. Orientation: The facilitator highlights the accountabilities and purpose of the circle.
  3. Retrospective: Each participant shares key notes (tensions that have arrived) across the same board to be organized and grouped into the same ideas. The facilitator makes a final list.
  4. Strategy generation: Do not address these tensions with specific actions, instead find and define a strategy to cover them.
  5. Unpack the Strategy: Define what must be done to incorporate this strategy effectively.
  6. Closing Round: Final reflections.

An organization’s design is an emergent result of an evolutionary algorithm

Adapt, learn, and integrate. The strategy is a process of trial and error. Sense and process the tensions through governance meetings and vary the code.

Living Holacrazy

Adopting Holacrazy

It is not recommended to adopt only certain parts of Holacrazy, it should be applied as a whole. Nevertheless, you can start in one specific part of the organization and grow from there.

Take all the rules at once, even though the team may feel frustrated at first, they will be skilled with practice. It is advised that this process is likely to cause some friction, but it should not stop you. Everything can be changed later through the government process.

  1. Adopt the Holacrazy constitution: Defined by current managers (who will disappear).
  2. Set up a shared system for governance records: Every member will refer to them.
  3. Define your initial structure: It does not need to be perfect now, don’t define a circle when it can be managed by just one role.
  4. Hold first governance meetings and run elections: If needed, hold on the internal facilitator election until circle members are comfortable with the rules.
  5. Schedule regular tactical and governance meetings: Don’t worry if it feels awkward, slow, and cumbersome at first.

Holacrazy is not for everyone when:

  • The CEO is not ready to distribute authority or to follow the constitution as any other member.
  • The intermediate layers of managers are not ready to cooperate.
  • The organization thinks that it already masters Holacrazy.

Moving Toward Holacrazy (if you are not ready)

  1. Change your language, change your culture: Replace problems and solutions with tensions (opportunities to change for the better) and proposals (a way to start, not a perfect solution).
  2. Rewrite your role descriptions: Who owns what and how is accountable for what. Roles are constantly evolving, update them.
  3. Work on your organization, not just in it: Identify tensions and process them. Help everyone to start developing awareness of governance issues.
  4. Streamline your meetings: Check-in and check-out rounds, on-the-fly agendas, one tension at a time, satisfy the person who raised the tension…


Power distribution can be quite shocking for traditional organizations. Fortunately, this is not something that can be ignored for so long. Traditional organizations need to reinvent themselves to more flexible structures, in order to be able to respond and reorganize at the same speed as the world does.

There are other horizontal organization alternatives (Sociocrazy 3.0, Management 3.0, XP…) that bring the same key benefits that are not exclusive of Holacrazy.

Holacrazy tries to keep human relations and feelings out of scope and override them with detailed processes that can evolve from the inside.

I completely agree that, often, organizations wrongly identify work tensions as personal ones. They involve employees in enjoyable, imaginative, trust-team-building experiences instead of focusing and solving the real problem.

Peter does not have an issue with Mary, they even can be good friends, but if their roles are not defined both can disagree about who needs to do what and what needs to be done!

I admit that human relations are a double-edged sword. Encouraging feelings can empower your organization or make it fail if you don’t manage them properly. In spite of this, we can not overlook that we are humans. Sooner or later human emotions will arise. It is an essential topic that Holacrazy is missing on purpose.

Regarding processes, I fear organizations that follow this model without reviewing them regularly, even though Holacracy encourages it. Be careful about documenting and standardizing all your company processes in excessive detail: if there is no space for trying new things (even when they fail), your organization will become obsolete.

Documenting processes is not something new, nor obsolete. Despite The Agile Manifesto empowers people over processes, it does not mean that there should not be a process at all (even if we need to ignore it sometimes).

I have learned a lot from Holacrazy and, although the book discourages it, I have taken some parts of its philosophy and applied them in our Organization: Circles concepts, Governance Meetings, Decision Making processAnd they are really working!

Despite all, I am still searching for a model that involves the human missing part.

If you want to learn more about this I encourage you to buy this book written by Brian J. Robertson.

See also