Raising Valid Objections: Are You Anticipating?

Understanding Holacracy® Objection Validity Criteria #3

Look into my eyes…you are not anticipating…
The Tension is triggered just by presently known facts or events, without regard to a prediction of what might happen in the future. However, relying on predictions is allowed when no opportunity to adequately sense and respond is likely to exist in the future before significant impact could result. - Constitution Section 3.2.4c

Let me be frank. Asking objectors, “Do you know this impact will occur, or are you anticipating?” has probably done more harm than good. It’s the exact question on the governance meeting card, but I hate it. And I’m the one who put it on the card. So, consider this my apology.

Now, the validity criteria is essential. There is a big paradigm shift and we need to identify objections that are based purely on speculation. But when tested incorrectly (as it often is) it gives the impression that Holacracy allows anyone to change anything with no way to stop it.

With the mistaken assumption that objections don’t work, smart people do whatever they can to prevent bad proposals from wrecking havoc on the organization. Usually that means going around the governance process, or de-valuing the governance records all together. Who could blame them?

So, let’s put an end to this disease.

Ignore “Will” and “Would”

First, remember valid objections are always based on proposals — meaning, by definition, we haven’t tried it yet. So, if interpreted that way, every objection is anticipatory (i.e. invalid). But that’s NOT what the criteria is about.

I suspect the misunderstanding stems from one problem-word: Will. As in, “This proposal will…” blah, blah, blah. When facilitators hear the word, “will,” they immediately (and unconsciously) assume the objector is anticipating. But that word doesn’t actually tell you anything. Here are some examples, all of which are likely valid:

  • Objection, this domain will prevent me from offering discounts.
  • Objection, this new role will create confusion on which role does what.
  • Objection, this accountability would put an expectation on my role that a policy prevents.

So, “will” doesn’t tell you very much because we’re only talking about a proposed change. We haven’t changed it yet. Instead…

Listen for “Could,” “Maybe,” or “Might”

Those words are far better trigger words for anticipation.

  • This accountability could create…
  • I think maybe this accountability duplicates…
  • I think this policy might prevent…

So, there is meaningful difference between, “This policy will create…” and “This policy could create…” — that difference is subtle. Which is why we have an objection test question.

Remember, there is nothing wrong with anticipating problems. Sometimes you need to and it doesn’t necessarily mean the objection is invalid since there is a follow-up question (“Could significant harm happen before we can adapt, or is it safe enough to try?”).

It Will Create Confusion

What typically happens, someone raises an objection like, “This proposal creates confusion.” And the facilitator challenges the objector, “Well, do you KNOW it’s confusing, like in practice, or are you anticipating?”

But it’s a completely unfair question, based on the facilitator’s own misunderstanding of what the criteria is really about. “It creates confusion,” automatically passes criteria #3. Of course, it may be invalid for other reasons, but it passes this.

A more appropriate question would be, “Do you know NOW that it’s confusing, or are you anticipating it WILL BE confusing?” When you think of it that way (by using the actual content of the objection), it makes it more clear.

Because they aren’t saying, “I understand it now, but I think I might not understand it in the future.” That would be anticipatory. They are saying, “It’s confusing NOW.” I can see it with my own eyes. On the screen. Right now. Nothing anticipatory about it.

You’re Not Anticipating — You’re Just Wrong

However, as I said, an objection like, “it’s confusing,” may be invalid for many other reasons. And my point is that it should be invalidated based on those reasons.

For example, do any of the objector’s roles need to understand it? Maybe not. If so, it would be an invalid objection based on criteria #4 (from your role).

What if the objector wrongly assumes the proposal is creating confusion, when in fact, the confusion is already there. So, if anything, the proposal is making the whole situation a little more clear. Well, then objection would be invalid because of criteria #2.

Or maybe the proposal would add a confusing accountability to the objector’s role, and they’re worried they won’t know exactly what others are expected of them. But that fear is based on a misunderstanding of how governance works. Any role-filler can interpret accountabilities however they wish. But again, that has nothing to do with the objector anticipating.

So, please, please, please don’t jump to conclusions about an objection being anticipatory. And setting aside the specifics of what counts or doesn’t count as predictive, the best way to get oriented to the principle is to remember what governance actually is.

What is Governance, Really!?

Governance is just a blueprint. A map of your company’s current authorities, restrictions, and expectations. And since all valid objections are based on proposed changes to the circle’s governance, we have to ask, “What impact does a change to governance actually have?” Because that’s what we’re objecting to.

Or ask yourself, “How can re-drawing a map be harmful?” Well, when you draw a new road, you aren’t physically pouring concrete. And when you create a new role, you aren’t creating a new person (you can find more metaphors for understanding governance here).

So, any objection like “I don’t have time to do that,” or, “It’s wasteful to have someone focused on that,” are likely invalid, not because they’re anticipatory, but because governance doesn’t allocate resources.

Therefore, when an objector is talking very specifically about how this accountability duplicates another accountability, they’re pointing to a clear problem with the map. Because you make a map worse if you make it inaccurate or confusing.

So, if an objector talks at the meta-level — how the harm is caused on the map-level, then they’re likely not anticipatory. Although, again…and I can’t emphasize this enough, it may be invalid for another reason. So, I’m not saying “Don’t test objections,” I’m saying be careful when asking if an objection is anticipatory.

The criteria isn’t about the objector’s confidence or certainty — it’s about where their data comes from. Is the harm necessarily created by the proposal (i.e. is the data present right now?), or is the argument about something that could happen?

Conclusion

Too often, “Do you know the impact will occur, or are you anticipating the impact is likely to occur?” filters out perfectly valid objections from getting integrated. And the impact of that is catastrophic.

The organization gets harmed. One problem was solved only to create another one. We might as well have skipped the meeting.

The objector, who doesn’t really understand the criteria, feels frustrated because they know the proposal would necessarily create the confusion, but they can’t figure out how to argue or explain that.

And because the group has no safety net, the proposer of course feels responsible for all of this. So, yeah…

I’m sorry.


Read “Introducing the Holacracy Practitioner Guide” here for more articles.

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