50 Holacracy experts in one fell swoop!

A model for the implementation of Holacracy in established companies?

The process by which MySign chose to implement Holacracy could become a model example. Specifically, in terms of acceptance, opportunities for success as well as in terms of financial outlay. This is because MySign completed the four-day-long Practitioner Certification Training PCT with all their 50 employees under the guide of trainers and coaches from Vienna-based dwarfs and Giants. The decision proved itself to be a great success after the first practical meetings. The motivation and the clearly defined process for all the participants after just a few weeks is impressive.

The search for more self-organization
During our six-month evaluation period to decide whether Holacracy would be appropriate for our journey towards self-organization, we have grappled with this new management system. Alongside the literature, we held many discussions with consultants, trainers as well as with people who have implemented Holacracy in their companies. In all these talks, much enthusiasm was expressed about the potential of Holacracy, so we concluded that Holacracy might well be what we are looking for in our future organization. And it seemed to us “safe enough to try”.

High levels of autonomy require lots of clarity and transparency
Holacracy gives each employee in an organization a high degree of autonomy, how they perform the tasks that they are responsible for, and the decisions they make to do the best they can in their role. Holacracy creates clarity about what one can expect from someone in their role, and at the same time demands a high degree of transparency about what they are working on, what is currently a priority, and what the status of the tasks in-hand are. It is anything but a free-for-all, instead it is a system that creates a very high degree of clarity about responsibilities and shifts the decision-making authority to where the decisions need to be made.

Holacracy means learning new, but also unlearning
Holacracy also implements a very rigid structure and a clearly defined meeting process, within which changes can be initiated. This process is fundamentally different from what we are accustomed to in meetings. This is exactly why it has to be learned and above all trained. We must also let go of behaviors that no longer help us in Holacracy. To make this easier, one must not only be able to apply the process, but also understand what the purpose behind it is, why something has to be done or said in a certain way, or not said at all. Why, for example, it is allowed to answer questions at a certain point, and at another no answers to reactions are desired. How to check if a proposal takes the company backwards, or if it is “safe enough to try” and why it is not so bad when a proposal is accepted, even if you had a much better idea or consider the suggestion to be complete nonsense.

Internal PCT training with all employees as a starting point
To get up and running with this process, HolacracyOne, the company that has significantly developed Holacracy, has developed a four-day course known as the Practitioner Certification Training. Typically, a company sends a small team to carry out such a training course. The participants should understand the system to an extent that they are then able to introduce Holacracy in their own company. In this way, one makes a group of Holacracy experts or ambassadors in the company.

We opted for a slightly different method of implementation: as a first step in our transition to Holacracy, we wanted to do the four-day training with our entire 50-strong team. And that just before we started with the new structure. From the conviction that Holacracy at MySign could only then lead very quickly to success and be anchored deeply in the company, if everyone understands the system and internalizes it. From the beginning, we wanted to enable all employees to interact competently with this new system with the result that no Holacracy-Elite emerges and that all start with similar understandings. In addition, within the framework of the PCT, we also incorporated the ratification of the Constitution in a ceremonial way. This transfer of power from the management to the processes of the Constitution was, alongside the actual decision, an important symbolic act for MySign, which we wanted to set very consciously. And it proved to be a good thing: it was nice to see in the employee responses how that with this step not only was the decision-making authority handed over, but also the shared responsibility for the MySign was taken over by many.

External supervision by competent trainers and coaches
We were accompanied by dwarfs and Giants from Vienna, probably the most experienced company in the German-speaking countries on Holacracy introductions. And with Gerald Mitterer from dwarfs and Giants, author of the German preface of “Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy” we probably had the most competent German-speaking Holacracy Trainer, who took the lead for our implementation.

Strong motivation factor to start
The effect of having done the PCT with the entire workforce is huge. In the run-up to the PCT, the mood was neutral to cautiously positive. After the four training days, the feeling of great enthusiasm was tangible among the entire team. Everyone knew and understood the process, had practiced it for four days and had also taken on some demanding roles. Through this, everyone developed a deep understanding and a high level of acceptance for every element of the rigid process. And even early on it was also already visible and tangible, what potential there was in the employees. The simulations were very demanding. Everyone also had to play unpleasant roles. As a result, everyone found getting started with their own company much easier. At the end of the four days, a positive sense of expectation prevailed. At last it was possible to get going! Everyone was convinced that Holacracy would advance MySign, and the anticipation before starting was big. In addition to the content-based learning, the effect on team cohesion was also very clearly visible through intensive days spent together.

Clearly defined processes even in the first meetings
When switching to Holacracy, the primary challenge in the first few weeks is to reach feel confident in the process in all Circle meetings. Even the first real meetings in the subsequent weeks showed us the standard and level of professionalism that we had achieved after a very short period of time. Even the coaches from Xpreneurs, who are accompanying us through the operations in the subsequent phase, are impressed by the clearly defined processes that we have already achieved and the constructive collaboration of all employees.

For us owners of MySign, it is hardly conceivable to introduce Holacracy in a different way than to make experts of all the employees. It is the same as for team sports: only when everyone knows the rules of the game can a good flow of play arise. The more confidence the team has on the way the game works and what is allowed when, the more likely it is to have good teamwork.

No destructive behavior, no scrutinizing
Today, all our employees know not only what Holacracy means and how the meetings work, but also understand the process and know exactly why every single step is meaningful and necessary. The clearly defined processes mean that, consequently, the first Governance meetings at MySign have already been efficient and productive. No destructive behavior (as we had practiced ;-)), no scrutinizing, no contributions at the wrong points, etc. I believe that we are today, after a few weeks, already able to fly independently. This alone is already a huge success.

Even a success from a financial perspective
Although the initial investment is relatively high, this is made up for after a short amount of time by the quickly achievable process security and wide acceptance of all parties involved — in the form of efficient meetings and low follow-up requirement in the process support.

As far as we know, we are the world’s first company of this size who has chosen to train its entire workforce before the introduction of Holacracy. If the anchoring continues to be so successful, it could become a model example of how Holacracy can be very rapidly and successfully introduced into an existing, established company.

Credits: Illustrations by David Blum