Mois: janvier 2015

Fad or Future: Should Your Growing Business Embrace Holacracy?

Companies like Zappos and Medium have adopted it, but what is holacracy, exactly? And is it right for your company?

What is Holacracy and is it Right for Your Company?

Imagine walking in to work one day to discover that you no longer had a boss or manager to report to. Instead, you are your own boss, and self-organized teams — rather than a hierarchical squad of managers and executives — are responsible for influencing the company’s purpose and vision.

Sound a little far-fetched or utopic? At Zappos, a company that employs about 1,500 people, that management approach is reality and it’s got a name — “holacracy.”

In December, Quartz’s Aimee Groth first reported that the online retailer was transitioning to this relatively new organizational process, shunning traditional job titles and management hierarchy and embracing a self-governing system that changes how decisions are made and how power is distributed.

“We’re classically trained to think of ‘work’ in the traditional paradigm,” said Zappos’ John Bunch. “One of the core principles [of holacracy] is people taking accountability for their work. It’s not leaderless. There are certainly people who hold a bigger scope of purpose for the organization than others. What it does do is distribute leadership into each role. Everybody is expected to lead and be an entrepreneur in their own roles.”

Of course, holacracy isn’t exactly a new concept. Entrepreneur Brian Robertson first introduced holacrarcy in 2007 and Twitter founder Ev Williams has implemented it with his new company, Medium. However, Zappos is by far the biggest company to embrace it thus far, and that’s caused many to wonder whether holacracy will really work at scale.

The question, then, is whether or not this management style is right for your company? Do the pros outweigh the cons, and what kind of risk is involved with making a holacratic transition?

Dissecting the Principles of Holacracy

At a high level, holacracy is about authority.

In a holacratic environment, no one has the power to tell anyone else what to do, and there’s no organizational chart that dictates specific responsibilities for each role in the company.

Learn more about Holacracy here.

Instead, authority in a holacracy is distributed among all team members, and regular meetings are held to establish responsibilities and focus on the key issues impeding the company’s development. For a more detailed overview of how holacracy works, check out this chart on

At Zappos, the plan is to organize the company into about 400 different “circles” once the rollout is complete at the end of this year, and employees will serve a number of different roles within those circles over time. The goal, Bunch told Quartz, is to avoid the typical bureaucracy and politicking that often drags down growing organizations.

Do you think holacracy would work at your company?
YesNoNot sure, but I’d love to see us try it.

How Holacracy Can Help Growing Organizations

“One of the core principles is people taking accountability for their work. It’s not leaderless….Everybody is expected to lead and be an entrepreneur in their own roles.”

John Bunch

— John Bunch, Zappos

While stripping a company of all management structure might sound like a perfect way to induce uncontrollable chaos, holacracy’s supporters suggest that it often has the opposite effect.

Bunch, who is co-leading Zappos’ holacratic transition, says that an organizational environment free of politics allows the business to efficiently evolve and respond to real-world conditions. A recent Texas A&M University study supports that assertion, finding that teams who managed themselves outperformed workers who were organized into traditional hierarchies.

Ultimately, there are three key arguments in favor of holacratic structure:

  • It gives everyone a voice, which often yields more ideas and more opportunity for innovation.
  • It brings clarity to the purpose of work and who is responsible for getting stuff done.
  • It’s a highly adjustable and adaptable business strategy, and allows for quicker corrections of imbalanced workloads or responsibilities.

“It’s far better to rely upon a broad base of individuals and leaders who share a common set of values and feel personal ownership for the overall success of the organization,” points out Terri Kelly, CEO W.L. Gore, in this post for the Harvard Business Review. “These responsible and empowered individuals will serve as much better watchdogs than any single, dominant leader or bureaucratic structure.”

Why Holacracy Might be a Very Bad Idea

Of course, there are plenty of potential pitfalls of a holacratic structure, as well.

Namely, without any one person truly in charge of the organization, how exactly will a growing company deal with some of the inevitable challenges of scale (i.e., firing employees, managing company underperformance, and seeking outside funding)?

As William Tincup points out in this post for Fistful of Talent, there are a few other potential issues with holacracy that might prevent it from being effective in larger organizations:

  • It isn’t for everyone: For employees to thrive in this environment, they need to be independent thinkers who are good self-managers. Unfortunately, it’s likely that you have a few people in your company right now who don’t fit that profile, and you may need to hire people down the line whose personalities and skills don’t align with this system.
  • It may make retaining talent difficult: In a flat structure, there are no promotions or incentives to climb the ladder. How will you retain your best employees if they’re offered raises and bigger titles elsewhere? 
  • The transition from hierarchic to holacratic can be difficult: Companies (and people) are used to functioning a certain way, and going flat can be disruptive if your team isn’t ready for the transition. It might work, but it might also be a total disaster. Can you afford to take that gamble?

Then, of course, there’s the possibility that the CEO might not be willing to surrender the authority and responsibility that he or she is used to having. “There’s still a need for what the CEO is doing as a spokesperson and champion of (the company’s) vision,” Robertson points out in this post for HolacracyOne, “but Holacracy fundamentally changes how CEOs influence others.”

One Holacracy Verdict: Proceed with Caution

While holacracy has been around for several years, there are several good reasons why no large corporation had implemented it until Zappos.

The reality is that it’s virtually impossible to determine with certainty whether Holacracy will work in your company until you try it. And while it might be a wildly successful transition that makes your company significantly more streamlined, innovative, and efficient, it could also send your company down a slippery slope you may never recover from.

What’s your opinion on holacracy? Have you implemented it in your organization, or are you convinced that it’s just another fad that will eventually flame out? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

The Economist : The Holes in Holacracy

The holes in holacracy

The latest big idea in management deserves some scepticism

EVERY so often a company emerges from the herd to be lauded as the embodiment of leading-edge management thinking. Think of Toyota and its lean manufacturing system, say, or GE and Six Sigma excellence. The latest candidate for apotheosis is Zappos, an online vendor of shoes and clothes (owned by Amazon), which believes that happy workers breed happy customers. Tony Hsieh, its boss, said last year that he will turn the firm into a “holacracy”, replacing its hierarchy with a more democratic system of overlapping, self-organising teams. Until Zappos embraced it, no big company had taken holacracy seriously. Indeed, not all of Zappos’ 1,500-strong workforce are convinced that it can work.

The idea was invented in 2007 by Brian Robertson, a software engineer then in his late twenties. Holacracy’s “constitution” is now on version 4.0, having been adjusted after feedback from the 200 or so mostly small firms that have adopted it. Mr Robertson was inspired in part by a description of holarchy in a 1967 book, “The Ghost in the Machine”, by Arthur Koestler, a Hungarian-British intellectual. Koestler argued that the brain is made up of holons that are autonomous and self-determining yet also fundamentally dependent on the brain as a whole. In a similar spirit, Mr Robertson says that the whole that is a firm should consist of overlapping “circles”, each a team of employees who have come together spontaneously around a specific task.

With about half of Zappos’ workforce trained and inducted into holacracy, there are now 180 circles, and when the roll-out is completed at the end of the year there will be around 400. Each employee will typically be in two or more circles. Their role, and the mission of a circle, can change frequently, to reflect the evolving needs of the firm. As part of the adoption process, the chief executive must give up his title, as Mr Hsieh has done, to become the “ratifier of the holacracy constitution” and “lead link” in an overarching “company-wide circle”—though in the event of deadlock over how to proceed, he will regain his powers as final arbiter.

Will conquering Zappos help holacracy thrive in the brutally competitive market for management ideas? There is good reason to be sceptical. “Nine-tenths of the approximately 100 branded management ideas I’ve studied lost their popularity within a decade or so,” wrote Julian Birkinshaw of London Business School in the May issue of the Harvard Business Review. Among the latest cast-offs, it seems, is Google’s much-admired “20% time”, in which workers got a day a week to work on their own projects; the company is reported to be quietly sidelining it.

Other, generally more timid, forms of democratic decision-making are being tried at long-established technology companies, whose bosses worry that their rigid hierarchies put them at a disadvantage to nimbler and less regimented young rivals. IBM is experimenting with “agile management”, in which self-governing teams have regular “scrums” to decide the next “sprint”, or stage, of the project. GE is rolling out FastWorks, a system inspired by Silicon Valley’s “lean startup” movement, itself inspired by agile management. Haier, a Chinese appliance-maker, last year split its workforce into 2,000 self-managed teams that perform many different roles.

Holacracy goes further in shaking up working practices than most of these approaches, but does that make sense? Past attempts to democratise decision-making have not been notably successful. Holacracy’s principles sound a lot like those of the Spaghetti Organisation, one of the forgotten fads chronicled by Mr Birkinshaw. A system to empower employees to create their own development projects, it was pioneered in the early 1990s by Oticon, a Danish hearing-aid maker. But it fell out of fashion when much of the innovation it produced proved wasteful and workers bemoaned the lack of understandable career paths.

Some management professors regard the whole idea of stripping away hierarchy as wishful thinking. In “You’re Still the Same: Why Theories of Power Hold Over Time and Across Contexts”, an article published last year, Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University argues that “hierarchy is a fundamental principle of all organisational systems.” Fans of holacracy, such as Evan Williams, a founder of Twitter, respond that it is not so much about discarding hierarchy altogether as making it more fluid. This seems to work fine for the firms that have adopted it so far: relatively small, fast-growing ones, full of creative types who would shun a more conformist workplace. Even Mr Birkinshaw concedes that holacracy is a “good fit for Zappos, which has already shown a pronounced proclivity to go its own way.” However, he is less confident about its suitability for more conventional firms. For these, he says the main thing to remember with any new management fad is, “First, do no harm”.

There are no bosses here, because I say so

In the young and fast-growing companies that have adopted holacracy and other democratic forms of management, Mr Pfeffer notes a paradox: “These ideas tend to be introduced by benign-dictator CEOs who are the only thing stopping the firm reverting to a traditional hierarchy.” In contrast, in a long-established firm with many levels of hierarchy, the boss is more likely to be the biggest obstacle to adopting holacratic management. Having struggled his way up the greasy pole, he is unlikely to be inclined to follow Mr Hsieh of Zappos and relinquish his powers and title. At a recent conference session discussing holacracy, hosted by WPP, a giant marketing conglomerate, one of the topics was, “Should we depose Sir Martin Sorrell?”, a reference to the man who built and runs the group. One imagines WPP’s aspiring holarchists were simply being provocative. At any rate, the famously forceful Sir Martin remains very much in control—and his title is “group chief executive”, not “lead link”.

1500 salariés et 0 manager : le pari de

1 500 salariés et 0 manager : le pari de

Rédigé le 29 Janvier 2014 | Lu 4277 fois


Déjà réputée pour ses codes excentriques, l’entreprise vient d’adopter l’« Holacratie ». Un mode d’organisation qui veut rompre avec les hiérarchies verticales pour favoriser la bonne entente et la souplesse au sein de l’entreprise.

Réunion de "monkeys", les dirigeants de © Robert Scole

Réunion de « monkeys », les dirigeants de © Robert Scole, un marchand de chaussures en ligne, veut en finir avec l’organisation pyramidale. L’entreprise, qui emploie 1 500 personnes, vient de choisir un nouveau modèle de gouvernance, l’« Holacracy », qui doit conduire à un réagencement total de sa hiérarchie.

Exit les managers. L’entreprise sera structurée autour de différentes équipes autonomes – les « cercles » – affectées à des tâches. Les intitulés de postes disparaitront aussi : chaque salarié se verra assigner une ou plusieurs tâches à la place et pourra appartenir à différents cercles en même temps.

Adieu Taylor !

Tous les mois, différentes réunions permettront de redéfinir les rôles de chacun en fonction de l’évolution des besoins de l’entreprise. Objectif : désamorcer les tensions, encourager la responsabilité et la créativité individuelle pour une organisation plus souple délivrée de la bureaucratie.

Il faut dire que chez l’e-commerçant américain, on ne part pas de rien. Les dirigeants s’y appellent des « singes » ; on y accueille le client en faisant sonner des cloches de vaches ; on y offre de l’argent aux salariés s’ils quittent l’entreprise pour tester leur loyauté. Parmi les valeurs affichées dans le manifeste de l’entreprise : « ne pas devenir une de ces grosse boites ennuyeuses, (…) être drôle et bizarre. » C’est dire si Zappos était prêt à adopter une organisation non-conventionnelle.

Bureaux de Zappos à Las Vegas © TechCocktail

Bureaux de Zappos à Las Vegas © TechCocktail
C’est la première fois qu’une entreprise de cette taille se convertit à la doctrine holacratique. Son histoire commence Outre-Atlantique en 2001. Brian Robertson, PDG de la société d’informatique Ternary Software, décide de tester en continu différents modes d’organisation innovants. Pendant plusieurs années, la direction fait le tri entre ce qui marche et ce qui ne marche pas. En 2007, l’homme affirme avoir trouvé le système organisationnel idéal. À tel point qu’il fait déposer sa marque, Holacracy ®, et rédige une constitution de plus de 30 pages pour entériner ses principes.

Premiers pas en France

En France, le régime fait son chemin. Bernard Marie Chiquet refuserait qu’on l’appelle « chef » ou « patron ». Disons simplement qu’il « représente » IGI Partners, qui se propose d’implanter la « technologie sociale » de l’ Holacracy dans l’Hexagone. « La France a une tradition managériale trop rigide et hiérarchisée qui crée de la souffrance au travail et pénalise l’entreprise. Cela peut expliquer le succès que l’Holacratie y rencontre », avance-t-il.

[Vidéo] Présentation de l’Holocraty par son théoricien Brian Roberston lors d’une conférence Ted

Avec une équipe de 350 personnes sous ses ordres à l’époque, Christophe Mistou a tenté l’expérience en tant que directeur commercial chez Castorama. « On perdait trop de temps en réunions, en rivalités d’égo, en luttes de pouvoir. En suivant le processus rigoureusement, des effets positifs se sont faits sentir au bout de quelques mois. nous étions plus rapide à nous adapter à notre environnement, plus épanouis », raconte l’homme.

Mais cette redistribution des pouvoirs n’est pas du goût de tous. La direction ne partage pas le diagnostic et refuse de passer à plus grande échelle. Elle abolit l’Holocratie, une décision que Christophe Mistou regrette. « La difficulté principale est qu’il est difficile pour un patron d’abandonner une part de décision, les patrons voulant souvent tout contrôler. C’est pourquoi nous avons été contraints d’arrêter. Cela faisait peur. Notre expérience pouvait leur faire perdre le pouvoir. » Les singes de chez Zappos devront donc avoir le courage de ne plus être les patrons.

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