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Zappos, Holacracy and complex organisations

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Zappos, Holacracy and complex organisations

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Zappos made the news this past week with their announcement that they were doing away with leaders and managers.  Central to the transformation was the adoption of the Holacracy philosophy, which advocates the construction of a self governing work environment that has neither job titles or managers.

A good place to start I guess is to understand just what Holacracy is.  Launched in 2007 by entrepreneur Brian Robertson, it focuses on consensual decision making.  Of course, that’s not really what grabbed peoples attention with the Zappos story.  The headlines were full of the abolishing of hierarchy and layer upon layer of management.

Which, whilst interesting, isn’t really what Holacracy is about, is it?  The hierarchy still exists, but it takes place through the circles that sit at the heart of the philosophy.  Each higher circle tells its lower circle (or circles), what its purpose is and what is expected of it. It can do anything to the lower circle—change it, re-staff it, abolish it—if it doesn’t perform according to the higher circle’s expectations.

Suffice to say, the philosophy gained an awful lot of publicity after the Zappos announcement, but how new is it?  The video below is a simple (yet nicely powerful) exercise conducted by Nick Obolensky to demonstrate the powerful affect of complexity on how humans, and therefore organisations, behave.

Nick’s thinking has built on that of people such as Stephan Haeckel in his work on the Adaptive Enterprise, which was originally published back in 1999, and helped coin the shift from so called make and sell organisations towards sense and respond types that has underpinned much of the social business movement.

Is Holacracy a worthy extension to this line of thought?  To be honest, I don’t know enough about it to cast a firm judgement.  What it does appear, at first glance at least, however is another philosophy advocating a shift away from the command and control structures of the previous century towards something more suitable for our rapidly shifting world.

I’ll try and swot up on Holacracy over the weekend, but do feel free to share your views in the comments if you have more experience of it.

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