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Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World Hardcover – June 2, 2015
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“Holacracy is the opposite of the cliché way to run a startup. People romanticize startup cultures and their lack of structure, but it actually creates tons of anxiety and inefficiency, whether we have to build consensus around every decision, or deal with land grabs for power. In contrast, Holacracy creates clarity: who is in charge of what, and who makes each kind of decision--and there is a system for changing that, so it's very flexible at the same time.” ―Evan Williams, co-founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium
“This book reminds me of a book that I must have read 100 times during my quest to become a better poker player. The first reading will most likely result in a complete paradigm shift, and you'll gain new insight every single time you reread it, especially when interspersed with actual practice playing the game on a regular basis. Just like I had a 'poker bible' I constantly referenced and reread, I highly recommend this book as your 'Holacracy Bible' if you're looking to explore a new way of working.” ―Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller DELIVERING HAPPINESS
About the Author
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Hardcover : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 162779428X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1627794282
- Product Dimensions : 5.66 x 1.06 x 8.5 inches
- Publisher : Henry Holt and Co. (June 2, 2015)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #117,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I came away fundamentally unsatisfied. This feels like a Cliff Notes version of Holacracy rather than something that would convince me to try it out in my company. The author (eventually) makes a good case for the governance meetings, though I feel like the explanation was spread out across multiple chapters. For instance it isn't until Chapter 10 (a chapter ostensibly about how to adopt Holacracy piece-meal if wholesale adoption is impossible) the author explains "change your language, change your culture" and why the terms "tension" and "tension processing" were chosen. I feel like this discussion should have been up in Chapter 4 when the governance meetings were introduced.
I think in general the book does a good job of explaining the "what" of Holacracy but is pretty hit-or-miss when it comes to explaining the "why". Another example is the repeated claim that you "can't adopt only parts of Holacracy". This includes a rigid formula for meetings that includes a closing round where you go around the room and "give each person space to share a closing reflection about the meeting". I'm not saying that's a bad idea but I don't understand why that is integral to Holacracy. If I leave out that one part do I really lose all the benefit of Holacracy? I guess I'm just skeptical of that.
But the biggest failing of the book is that is it just too light on implementation details. This comes out in two main areas: role definition and the "apps" that are suddenly introduced at the end of the book. For the role definitions, Holacracy seems to rely in an almost legalistically complete role definition. Since Holacracy has been rolled out in many companies, I'm not saying it is impossible to do. But that book doesn't really give any real world examples of how this role clarification works in large and messy teams.
How many people really know all the roles they fill and what the scope of all those roles are? How do you realistically make that switch? I'd have loved to see that detail.
What about jobs where you seem to have a lot of people who are somewhat interchangeable? How does that work. For instance, imagine a software team with 15 developers working in a normal scrum-kind-of-way where you take stories from the top of the backlog. What does the role definition look like for them? What is the scope of their autocracy? I'm sure there are answers but the book doesn't provide any, instead relying on contrived examples in a company that appears to have about 5 employees.
But my single biggest complaint is when you get to Chapter 8 and a subsection introduces "apps". By that point I was skeptical on some details, didn't fully by in, but felt it had some good and interesting ideas. But I had these nagging questions at the back of my mind and was wondering when the book would get around to providing some answers.
"How do you set salary? How do you give raises? How do you give promotions? How do you make hiring and firing decisions? How do you decide to shutdown an entire office and lay off 150 people? How do you decide to IPO or accept a buyout? How do you set budgets and enforce them?"
The book's answer is...."You could design your own system, given your specific needs, but you may find it useful to check out [the HolacracyOne] 'app store'."
No link or URL is provided. It is hard to get excited about designing from scratch my own systems for these things (I don't expect a perfectly formed solution that requires no tweaking but starting with a totally blank canvas?) and I'm also not excited that the answer is to go read a web page—I bought this book for a reason, hoping it would make a compelling argument.
(FWIW, there is exactly one "app" on the "app store" for compensation. It sounds interesting but it also sounds similar to the compensation system a startup called hanno.co blogged about using...and then nine months later blogged about moving away from. So I'm not exactly sold on it as a great option.)
Before reading the book, I found the meetings to be unnecessarily long, where we were going over details over and over. I also was not impressed with the "conflict resolution," (my words, not Holacracy) because my experience was that it was quite frustrating. We once had an idea that most of the governing body supported, however the idea was rejected because of an objection by a vocal minority. This would even be OK if this was balanced, but there were other times where I was part of the vocal minority and our ideas were rejected.
I finally decided to get the book to see if it was the system that was flawed or if my monthly meeting was not doing Holacracy correctly. I also wanted to learn more about some of the definitions used in Holacracy, like what they meant specifically by "tensions" and "objections" in this system.
My monthly meeting is not doing Holacracy correctly, but in my judgement, that is a flaw with the system being overcomplicated. In order for the system to work, it requires a significant amount of "buy-in" from all the participants. It requires that ALL participants be familiar with the rules, terms and philosophy. It also requires a strong facilitator as the meetings can break down without one. The author himself admits that Holacracy doesn't work unless you adopt it completely.
I did not bring up issues in meetings for a long time because I did not know if my issue was a "tension." This tends to mean that only trivial problems are brought up, while the larger issues are never brought up. The example I mentioned earlier, where a vocal minority raised an objection, after reading the book I learned that this was not an "objection" as Holacracy describes it, but none of us were familiar enough with the system to correct it. I think the facilitator of our meeting did not know how important their role is in the system, they just thought it is supposed to run itself.
There were some laugh out loud moments for me in the book, where the absurdity of too many rules was illustrated. Something like: "No, you can't bring this issue up now, you can only bring that up during the reaction round of a governance meeting but only after someone brings up a tension related to you issue. Check the constitution to see the rules during a non-governance meeting to learn when you can hold someone accountable for the project."
If you are already using Holacracy, this book has some value. I did learn something about Holacracy that my meeting was doing incorrectly. I hope that by fixing this I will reduce the repetitive nature of the meetings.
One of the chapters, chapter 8 I believe, rubbed me the wrong way. This was the chapter about "Why the system has not worked with some companies." The author gives 3 reasons, all three of them seemed to be different versions of: "Because its the companies fault. They're not ready for Holacracy." There might be some truth to this, but I was bothered because I didn't see the author take any responsibility for the possible flaws in the system. I read the chapter as "Holacracy is perfect! So it must be their fault they couldn't make it work."
I cannot recommend the system. I like the philosophy behind the idea of Holacracy, which is to give everyone in an organization a voice and/or platform to make things run better. However, that has not been my experience. My experience has been that the meetings have been slowed down and less authentic because there are too many rules.
Top reviews from other countries
The early chapters on the mechanics of Holacracy feel at times a bit dry. They could benefit from some of the reflections made on the last chapter on wholeness, evolutionary purpose and the untying of the spheres of work and of human relationships.
All in all, is a good book on what is perhaps the most prominent and usable functional model for Teal organisations.