I have used Holacracy’s governance meeting format in traditional companies. It makes strategic meetings more efficient, as people keep being focused on listening and understanding each other. The goal: select improvements to try out.
3 years ago I took part in a workshop introducing Holacracy, a complete system that introduces innovative management paradigm. (More about Holacracy here). For the purpose of this post it’s enough to know Holacracy is the concept of introducing structures and discipline to a peer-to-peer workplace in “flat-management” environment.
In Holacracy, they introduce the governance meeting. It implements the integrative decision-making process used to approve changes to the organization. During the simulation I was surprised how efficient it might be in integrating multiple perspectives without endlessly trying to reach consensus.
I asked myself – can Holacracy’s governance method be useful in companies with more traditional formal structures?
Starting with the research is a must. Unfortunately at that time I haven’t found any other valuable input beside “Introduction to the Holacracy” by Mariusz Chrapko, the original texts (like Constitution) or inspiration from Springest. Therefore my educated guess was rather on “let’s try it!” level than actual prediction. At that time I thought that if I use this method of moderation, improvement ideas will emerge faster.
I introduced the form of the governance meeting to a 100 people company. I tried this form during the face to face meeting with Scrum Masters, Product Owners and Architects. We were already after the workshop part and still have 3 hours to discuss multiple topics brought as “of top importance”.
As the original purpose works in a context of totally different structure (people in multiple roles and not single hierarchical positions forming a circles upon value creation processes) I decided to modify original structure a bit. Holacracy’s governance meeting deals with tensions to the process (defined as the sense of a specific gap between what is and what one wants to see; linked to roles which have their purpose, scope and accountabilities defined) by updating roles and circles. I gave it a try without limiting solutions to the roles or policies.
Since then I repeated the experiment already few times in different contexts and with different participants. Each time I used the same scheme: PDF (in Polish).
The common result was people satisfaction caused by quick access to different perspectives and efficient exchange of point of views. At the same time they were often discontent with not many decisions made in the end.
The hypothesis was only partially correct. Such form of conducting the meeting increases transparency, and still it does not make improvements happen faster. At least not by itself…
Quoting Alexis Gonzales-Black (Zappos):” it’s not going to get rid of your problems, it’s a tool that allows you to solve them on your own” I may now list the elements that introduced together with the governance meeting helps the organizations to improve:
- Focus on forming “ideas to try out” for the tensions, instead of 100% safe and perfect solutions. It’s the only way I found working against all formal blockers in traditional structures.
- Some ideas needs to be worked out in smaller groups to form a valuable experiment. Note them down and end up at this point with a clear follow-up (who, when, what). For example, when You hear “now I see your point of views and my idea for this tension seems to be not valid enough. I need more time to think it over and maybe a help from …” – that’s the candidate for a separate session of brainstorm or other workshop style.
- First two or three meetings should end up with some quick-wins. Before people will start coming well-prepared you might lose the momentum – they will appreciate the transparency, but the conclusions, decisions and real actions they value the most.
- Gather feedback of the time invested in each meeting – let all speak up and the formula will adapt to the current needs of the participants.
- Work hard on the agenda while collecting the tensions to list the actual problems.
Use 5 whys for example and find out if some tensions do not have similar root cause.
From my perspective, the governance meeting in old-fashioned structures is very useful if you take care of the points mentioned above. It makes company evolve in more transparent way, it makes people exchange ideas to form a common understanding and goals, it fires up smaller groups (kind of Holacracy’s circles by the way) working to change the status-quo and finally the organisation learns about itself step by step.
What You need though is a well prepared facilitator that will serve the participants well. It’s not easy to understand that striving for consensus is not the aim. Instead, the proposals shall be tried out when no major risks are spotted. The more frequent an organisation runs experiments, the quicker it learns and improves best.