I recently wrote about getting rid of bosses. While a little tongue in cheek, my management philosophy revolves around managing projects and tasks. People are inherently part of that process. I really think a lot of people get this very wrong. Holacracy is a bit of an experiment on this philosophy.
While it might seem a bit extreme or even scary to get rid of the hierarchy, I can speak from first-hand experience of this working. Hierarchy at small levels is often unnecessary; at large levels, complex and burdensome. Empowering employees to make decisions and make great things is often hard for long-established organizations.
Most organizations are aware of the challenges that accompany a hierarchy: hierarchies are slow, they require support, and they usually work one way.
Slowness: I don’t think this is surprising. Remember that time the decision-maker was unavailable or on vacation? Losing that bid or opportunity… priceless. Oftentimes, companies create a policy to try and alleviate this loss, and while I support liberal and defined policy, oftentimes, the policy is overly specific, overly vague, or hopelessly out of date. Another net negative: someone or some people need to create and keep up to date these policies, which can become a full-time job — or a hopeless process of getting every department to buy-in.
Support: As stated above, often the creation of a hierarchy is well-intended. However, sooner or later that hierarchy needs support, often increasing the inefficiency of the hierarchy and needing support structures to keep it ‘working’ and afloat. Manager bloat? Added expense and complexity? Let’s not forget the inability to be agile… can’t change quick enough for that market, that’s some real lost potential.
One way: I think the worst part of the hierarchy is that the folks on the top and the folks on the bottom can’t connect. I’ve witnessed and been apart of some great attempts to forgo this. Skip meetings? Informal 1:1’s? Inservices? Collaboration bowls? All great ideas, all fail at getting the decision-makers and the ‘boots on the ground’ talking.
Let’s assume one of these ideas works. We still have to overcome the culture issues of the hierarchy. This person is above me, more important than me, this is my bosses’ boss. I can’t speak out, what if I upset them, I could get fired. I don’t wanna complain. I don’t want to be negative.
Circles vs ladders: Ladders are good at getting from Point A to Point B; circles encompass A & B. If Org A and Org B need to collaborate, each need to go through the management of some kind, right? During the time it takes to schedule the meeting and decide if other stakeholders are necessary, we’ve either lost time, are at standstill, or hopefully, overcome the problem. Empowering individuals to ‘get the job done’ elevates a lot of barriers.
Am I against hierarchy? Not really, but I think oftentimes it’s very poorly established, poorly executed, and continually (un-)improved. I think those inefficiencies also create more work and more decision points that further perpetuate the need for hierarchy. Kinda like using bubble sort vs quick sort; both work, either might work better or worse given a set of specific conditions.
Holacracy seems to be an interesting management experiment taking on the inefficiencies I outlined, in addition to others not mentioned. I know there are many other types and styles of management. I’m being overly general and overly simplistic to reach a broad, unknown audience. It’s food for thought more than my opinion — a philosophical exercise, as are most of my posts.
Originally published 2/21/201x.
About the author:
Andrew lives in Portland, OR and has worked in tech for over 15 years. With a foundation in philosophy, political theory, and communications, he is an avid thinker & tinkerer, constantly learning and exploring the world around us.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License © 2019.