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Holacracy - what it is and why we are a holacratic workplace

By John, Eastpoint Software on 20 January 2020

We’ve been purposefully learning about, and evolving, how we work at Eastpoint for the last three years. I never imagined that there would be so much to discover, nor that it would take quite a long to get where we have, but it’s been an eye-opening experience. 

As technology product specialists, we require an innovative outlook on a day-to-day basis. But looking at how we forge a sustainable and empowering company has needed us to think about the fundamental assumptions we have about how organisations work. 

And we seemed well primed for this; a relatively young business (nine years old at time of writing) and founded with a belief in hiring great people and giving them the space to do their thing – and the dream of including everyone in the business through employee ownership. 

Hierarchy works... right?

The need to delve into organisational structure design came from the realisation that, although we felt people had the space to do their own thing, they often didn’t know how.

We hadn’t provided nearly enough clarity here, nor did we have the mechanisms to enable it. And the traditions of hierarchy are so ingrained in us, that many of us will automatically fall into those norms when we don’t have a clear alternative. 

A culture of leading and mentoring was working well in place of management, but when we started to grow more quickly, we realised we were missing something. 

An easy answer would have been to decide we might indeed “need that management hierarchy after all” – we do need to be responsible business leaders. And that certainly could have been easier. Hierarchy has the big benefit of being a familiar known quantity. But that would not have been authentic to our culture and nor would it have been optimal. 

So, after much research and learning, we came to the decision that Holacracy is the way forward for us to continue to build our business. 

Distributed authority 

Holacracy is a framework for building and running a business through distributed authority. Different to delegation, distributed authority places power of discrete organisational areas throughout the organisation.  

Those capable, intelligent and passionate team members that companies work so hard to hire, train, motivate and retain are unleashed to use the whole set of skills they have – not just those required in a job description, or mandated by their boss. 

In his book The Three Ways of Getting Things Done: Hierarchy, Heterarchy and Responsible Autonomy in Organizations, Gerard Fairtlough opened my eyes to how different structures align to different types of business.  

It was clear distributed authority (or responsible autonomy) would work for us: we need our team to have the space to be creative, but in a disciplined way to ensure we serve our customers well, and in doing so, build a sustaining business.  

Putting Holacracy into practice 

The Holacracy framework brings a concrete set of low level “rules of the game” through it’s constitution. I say “low level” because it’s only the starting point of designing how your organisation is structured.  

These rules are learned through on-the-job practice, as well as background learning.  

There are a number of important building blocks that people need to become familiar with early on, but practice really is the best way – and it actually wasn’t that hard to get started. We found the initial steps accessible to us, probably because we were well suited. It’s fair to say it won’t be for everyone. 

And from there, you and your entire team will use their entire capabilities to form a business structure that can evolve as it needs to. 

We are excited by the potential that we’re already starting to see Holacracy unlock.  

It’s by no means the only way to run a creative innovation business, but we feel it’s a great option and give us our entire team the power to make a real mark in accomplishing our company purpose: “Sustaining and meaningful innovations from technology product expertise and deep collaboration”.