Getting started with Holacracy: 4 tips to define a first set of roles and accountabilities

So, you started with Holacracy and created your first circle(s). But then what? With Holacracy, everything will begin evolving based on tensions, not just at the level of next-actions, projects, and roles, but also at the level of strategy and purpose. So just put something ‘workable’ in place for now and start sensing and processing tensions using the rules of Holacracy.

At the start of your Holacracy journey, we recommend to focus on defining a set of roles and accountabilities, based on the current reality. There’s a couple of ways to do that, but here are some quick pointers:

1. Focus on the work, not the people

Don’t worry too much about who’s currently doing what. Look at the work, and particularly at the level of ongoing activities. Stuff that’s not just happening today or tomorrow, but that will be needed next week, next month, and probably beyond that. It may not be the same person still doing it in the future, but it will need to be captured in a role, and done by someone. You may find that one role is currently being done by two people. That’s fine, but it’s still one role. Or that one person is actually really filling three roles. That’s also fine, and then it’s three roles.

2) Focus on the accountabilities, not the roles

A role is just a label for a bunch of accountabilities that naturally fit together. Define the accountabilities first (ongoing activities), then cluster them together (focusing on the nature of the work, not who’s doing it now), and only then should you label these clusters. That label is the name of the role, and it’s only that, a label. It comes last. Make it as descriptive as possible. I’d recommend not using labels such as manager, lead, coordinator, let alone things like CEO, CCO, COO, because most of the time those are actually unclear, they probably consist of multiple roles, and they get in the way of focusing on the actual accountabilities.

3) Focus on the current reality

Do not focus on how it should be in theory or in the future, or how it should ideally be. Start where you are, then start making changes based on actual tensions. This can be confronting, but Holacracy is all about facing reality and letting things evolve step-by-step from there. This is detective work, not creative work.

4) Make sure accountabilities are ongoing or recurrent

Make sure all accountabilities are really ongoing or recurrent (not things that you can finish and stop doing — those are actions or projects), and make sure they all start with at least one clear verb describing the actual activity. These are the ‘-ing’ verbs you see when you look at some of the examples in Holacracy One’s GlassFrog (delivering, supporting, organizing, maintaining, etc.). If you can, try to avoid unclear verbs like managing, coordinating or ensuring. Ask yourself: what are you really doing when you’re managing/coordinating/ensuring X? If you can find one or more specific activities/verbs, use those. If not, use the unclear ones as a placeholder, until it gets clearer in practice. Here are a few good examples of accountabilities (ongoing activities):

  • Maintaining the website
  • Developing training materials
  • Measuring and monitoring employee satisfaction
  • Selecting and booking training venues
  • Documenting and publishing training standards

We hope these tips will help you! Feel free to drop us a comment or a question.

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