Paul Walker
September 11, 2023
min read
Management & Governance

Using Pieces Of Holacracy

If you are considering adopting Holacracy, you’ve likely heard that it needs to be adopted 100% throughout your entire organization and that you shouldn’t only partially implement it. Likewise, it’s just as often said that Holacracy needs to be adopted in its entirety and it simply doesn’t work if you pick and choose which pieces you want to use. I’ve talked to many individuals who were interested in parts of Holacracy or wanted to use it only in specific departments of their company, who were then completely dissuaded against doing just that.

While it is true that Holacracy was created around the idea of the entire organization using it, it is quite easy to use it in bits and pieces if you clearly identify what you are and aren’t using and what those sacrifices mean for your organization.

More importantly, there is a lesson that applies in all circumstances in life; work or otherwise:

Making even small improvements is better than making no improvements at all.

Things to know before partially adopting Holacracy

Holacracy is a whole set of rules that assumes everyone in the organization is following them. If you are going to partially implement it, you need to know that and adjust accordingly. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you need to write a whole custom rule book, it just means you need to be aware of what rules will and won’t apply and how far that authority will go. Here are the most common things to be aware of in this regard:

  • You can only use Holacracy to solve Tensions in the other Circles also using Holacracy rules. If Team X is using Holacracy but Team Y is not, someone from Team X can’t expect to go to Team Y’s Governance meetings to propose changes in a Holacratic way. Instead, you will have to solve problems in whatever way the organization as a whole has always done, if such a process even exists.
  • You will still need to abide by the rules, systems, and processes used by the rest of the company. If the company has an attendance policy, but your team is using Holacracy and wants to self-manage attendance expectations, you likely still need to adhere to the company’s attendance policy.
  • Similar to the above points, how you structure doesn’t give you any extra power over those who didn’t opt into Holacracy rules. No matter how much authority you have because of your Domains and Accountabilities in Holacracy, you can’t expect others to respect your role authority if they don’t acknowledge the system you are using.
  • Focus on whatever pieces truly benefit you and your team the most. No matter what anyone else says about Holacracy or what pieces are mandatory, if they don’t feel useful for your team, it is best to ignore them and work in whatever way is most efficient for you.
  • Whether using individual parts of Holacracy counts as “using Holacracy” is up for debate. Ultimately, it’s all nuance and doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you and your team are looking for more efficient ways to work, and if using part of a system helps you do that, you are doing it right. Whether or not you call it Holacracy makes no difference in how effective it will be.

All that being said, these general concerns will vary company-to-company and team-to-team. Some management is prone to saying, “Organize however you want on your team as long as the work gets done.” Others, however, might say, “You have to work in the way I say and the way everyone else does.” So, the above points are not steadfast rules, but common issues to be aware of that may or may not apply to your individual situation.

In short, using Holacracy rules in a single team of an organization is like claiming your household is an independent nation with its own government. You can say it all you want and organize in your house however you desire, but you are still responsible for following all the rules and regulations of your city/state/country. Most likely, nobody will care that your house has its own flag and constitution as long as what you do doesn’t directly affect anyone outside your house. However, if you try asserting your rules on other households or skirting around the public laws, you will run into a lot of issues and inevitably lose.

What parts of Holacracy can be implemented independently?

Despite the Holacracy community almost always advising against it, there are many pieces of the system that can easily be implemented as individual modules. What you implement and how you do it should be based entirely on whatever suits the needs of your team. Below are the most common solutions:

  • Tactical/Governance meetings. If your team already has efficient meetings (be it huddles, Scrum meetings, war rooms, etc.), then you don’t need a new meeting structure. Replacing efficient meetings with a new type of meeting will only add unnecessary complexity and confusion. However, if your team’s meetings feel like a waste of time, everyone interrupts one another, and nothing gets done, then Holacracy’s meeting structures might prove useful. Having facilitated meetings with a clear structure and some basic rules can tremendously improve the efficiency of your meetings, which will, in turn, improve the day-to-day work.
  • Facilitators. To the above point, maybe your team has a great meeting structure already, but the process isn’t being followed as much as you would like. Rather than needing to completely change how your meetings work, try just having someone facilitate. Assigning one person to act as a neutral mediator whose main goal is to keep the meeting moving and ensuring everyone has an equal voice in the meeting can be exceptionally useful and make a noticeable difference without having to learn anything new.
  • Accountabilities/Domains. Explicitly defined expectations and ownership can work wonders for improving work and working relationships. Again, if everyone on your team is working fine together and things are getting done already, then don’t worry about it. Otherwise, using some tool to explicitly write down who is responsible for what can add much-needed clarity and accountability to members of the team and alleviate many of the arguments and disagreements that would otherwise occur.
  • Integrative Decision Making. Normally, Holacracy’s IDM process is only used during Governance meetings. Regardless of whether you utilize Governance meetings or not, the IDM process is absurdly useful in resolving conflicts, making progress, organizing how your team is structured, and getting things done. You can implement the rules of IDM in your team’s meeting structure or even use it one-on-one outside of meetings as a way of moving forward past issues that are too difficult to work through without any structure or guidance.
  • Tensions. This one is less about implementing a specific process and more of a concept to focus on and work around. In short, a Tension is a single, specific issue you encounter during your work which you want to improve. By your team committing to writing down such issues and using some process to resolve them one at a time, it can have a variety of positive benefits on your team. Acknowledgement of the issues (even the tiny ones) can bring awareness to other issues that might have been looming and slowing down the team for some time. Solving things shows the team that their concerns matter, helps everyone see they are growing and improving together, and helps eliminate many points of contentment within the team before they become bigger issues. Best of all is that your team can resolve its Tensions in whatever way works best for you. Looking up at the above points, you can implement the IDS process, have someone facilitate these concerns, or use whatever system your team already uses to point out and solve problems.

Is your team looking to improve how it works but you can’t or don’t want to implement such a complex, company-wide system? Hopefully, these tips will help you adopt the features that truly matter to you and will make the biggest impact without any unnecessary rules, steps, or complications.

Revolutionize your way of working now!