Before jumping into self-organization, be aware of this

I believe that what you will read below refers not only to Holacracy but rather to the broader idea of changing from a traditional way of organizing to a more Teal-minded one. However, this post is written based on my experiences which, so far, have been predominantly shaped by being a part of — a Holacracy-driven organization.

My goal for this article is to cast somewhat more light on why self-organizing is not easy.

Why self-organization is not easy.

It is one of the facts that anyone interested in Holacracy (or any other self-organizing, continuously changing and emergent structure) should certainly be aware of. The implementation of Holacracy takes time and it is not an easy ride. If you are looking for a quick fix, you’d better look somewhere else.

Holacracy is based on a document called the Constitution. Bunch of rules, how hard can it be, right?

True, we do have a bunch of codified rules that one can follow. But in the end, it always comes down to the way you sense things, perceive them, interact with them… Change needs to happen not only in the way one structures an organization on paper and which rules one tries to enforce, but foremost change must happen in people’s minds and hearts, starting with yours.

I think that Holacracy is not easy, primarily because of that; it asks a person to rethink and (to a certain extent) unlearn old ways before learning and mastering new ones.

Let’s look at some examples and changes

In the majority of existing organizations, an average employee waits for commands or hints coming from a more senior colleague. In Holacracy, the habit of relying on someone else’s guidance needs to be replaced by a conscious embracement of one’s roles and accountabilities. It’s not about passive acceptance anymore. It’s about awareness of what one’s role may do in order to serve a greater purpose of the team and organization. Don’t get me wrong, even in Holacracy sometimes you are a follower. For example, you still may receive a request to take upon a project or an action from another role. But no one can command you or show you The Right Way. So the conscious embracement of one’s roles comes in two practices (habits) that we try to master:

Considering the question ‘does my role care?’ and exercising saying ‘no’ if it doesn’t.
Being a role steward who proactively senses how (thought projects, actions, evolution of accountabilities and more) my role may serve the common goal of an organization.

Another example, also requiring a change in the way we view and interact with our environment, concerns relationships between peers at work. Holacracy organizes work and it captures it in well defined roles filled by members of an organization. In this system, when you process work-related items, it is vital to garden your mind space and keep it in the role (organizational) mode. That entails seeing your peers as nodes, as role-fillers who, with their actions, contribute to the organizational purpose, just as you do. One needs to differentiate between these actions and more personal or tribe-related matters (in Holacracy we talk about a differentiation between role and person or organization and tribe). And let me tell you, this does take some willpower before it comes naturally. When we learn how to garden our mind and approach, we start to:

Process all work-related matters without engaging personal relationships. Therefore it is much easier to keep our relationships with friends undistracted by organizational reality; the system gives us efficient ways to process our wants, needs, callings, without polluting our relationships.
We’re able to put our personal ego aside and allow for our actions to be guided by real needs of our roles, teams and organizations.
See two spaces existing next to each other; each one with it’s own creative potential, it’s own freedom and purpose, honoring the other one.

Signs of tangled spaces may include a fear of giving and receiving feedback about work-related items (because we’re afraid to hurt someone’s feelings or impede our relationships) or playing games and politics to reach something we need (and therefore using unclear, sometimes dishonest moves, behind closed doors).

In this new light, things around us start to take on a new meaning, oftentimes, the natural meaning. Take the aforementioned feedback for example — when we keep both spaces sacred they can each serve their purpose. Feedback becomes a tool to help the role to better express it’s potential, helping us accelerate what we do on behalf of the organization. In other words, feedback is finally used purely for the reason it was invented in the first place! It’s such a liberating feeling to give and receive feedback this way!

I once heard the phrase ‘all things that are valuable, don’t come effortlessly’. Self-organization brings in a powerful shift. And it doesn’t come effortlessly.

Old habits, ways of thinking and processing our reality die hard.
And so, before you feel this liberated:
You have to get though some moments of this…
and that…

An effective learning process elicits our preexisting understanding of the subject matter and provides opportunities to build on — or challenge — our initial understanding.
Holacracy requires re-assessing our reality by challenging the initial understanding of the way we exist in our organizations, asking us to re-define it.

I love the words I heard once from Stijn Nieuwendijk “Practicing Holacracy takes energy, but in exchange we get a chance to develop (ourselves) at levels that we previously hadn’t even been aware of”.

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