Holacracy is a framework that defines areas of domain, responsibilities, roles and purpose to streamline the decision-making process and avoid bureaucracy. It is articulated through meetings of sustained cadence oriented to the organization or work IN holocracy called governance and meetings focused on day-to-day tasks or work WITH holocracy, called tactical.

Major companies fail to adopt holacracy. Holacracy is not a solution in itself, it is a set of guidelines, it is a decentralized governance system, with a defined decision making process oriented to the integration of objections into proposals.  It is not a simple thing, although the main fundamentals may seem so, the fundamental reasons why it is difficult to understand holacracy, are:

1. We believe that a top-down solution will fix bureaucratic friction

Holocracy is a tool whose value depends on the hand that wields it and the environment in which it is applied, just as the same hammer can open a hole in the wall or carve Michelangelo’s David. Holacracy can improve decision making by promoting the identification of roles and responsibilities, but the responsibility for making it happen rests with the people in charge of driving the transformation.

There are millions of middle managers who are very interested in perpetuating the bureaucratic status quo. The bureaucracy is a chaotic jumble of relationships and communications, and those who know this intricate maze are reluctant to change. Anyone able to feel comfortable in structures created over decades, with the associated privileges, will not be in favor of destroying the hierarchy of factors, titles and rank relationships, and their economic compensation.

Bureaucracy works, or almost. It doesn’t work, but it does for those who make a living from it. Although the objective of implementing holocracy may be honest, “to favor decision making, eliminating middle management and political organizations in the organization”, the all or nothing approach leaves these companies in a delicate situation. Bureaucracy is fought with an open process of innovation from the organization, from the bottom up and not as a model imposed from the top down.

2. Holacracy is the means, not the end

Holacracy is a system based on an integrative decision-making process. Implementing holacracy precisely, as a complex machinery of roles, responsibilities, circles, domains, purposes and strategies, is a formidable challenge; however, the process does not provide value by itself, but depends on how it is used. Holacracy must be implemented with two unique objectives in mind: to facilitate decision making and to increase the company’s value delivery. If this is not achieved, the system fails.

3. Holacracy is not for everyone

Indeed, holacracy, as a system, is a suit that does not fit everyone. Every organizational paradigm shift brings profound alterations to the environment in which people work, and it is possible that they may feel alienated from the process. Holacracy meetings are for the people who need to be there, rather than for those who want to be there. If your company already applies in an original way horizontal communication processes, integrated decision making and promotes sincerity, teamwork and transparency, the wear and tear on the organization will be less.

4. The desire to adapt holocracy

The first impulse before a system is to adapt it to our reality, forgetting that, precisely, a system constrains and intends precisely that. In order to experiment, a laboratory is necessary for testing; some experiments will go well, others will go badly, but they will all take place in a closed framework. The company must therefore be able to measure impact, progress and be able to document. If you start from athletics and add a ball and two rackets by adapting the rules and modifying the playing field, you will no longer be playing the original sport, you will probably be playing tennis. It is necessary to have a regulated environment to be able to analyze the impact of changes in the model within an established system.

Socialism, as the biologist and entomologist Edward O. Wilson said, is a magnificent idea in the wrong species. That is to say, the conditioning factors go far beyond the political and enter into the biological. In the same way, holacracy does not work in all companies, it depends on their starting conditions. Believing that it is a valid solution without further ado will be a source of failure and frustration.

Nassum Nicholas Taleb says that you can replace a lie with a truth, but to debunk a myth you need a narrative. Demonstrating that holacracy fails in a particular enterprise is as simple as resorting to evidence, but to debunk the myths that the problem is the model and not the structure in which it is applied you have to resort to experience because tangible truth is not transferable, but experience can be communicated.

The question is not whether holacracy is the solution or whether it is the problem because it has not been properly integrated. The question is what we create with the tools it equips us with. We have the evidence, let’s build the story of why hierarchical bureaucratic systems provide a false sense of security and control, but only make us worse and less productive.


Image: Unplash | @lceusebio


  • Jorge Alarcón

    Scrum Master en Keepler. “Working with people to build products that solve problems. Digital transformation is the new industrial revolution based on the fractal creation of team-based development systems. I collaborate with companies to understand problems and develop solution strategies.”