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Processing Our “Should’s”

Holacracy® advice on what to do when you think a coworker should work differently, and there is no boss to complain to.

The Holacracy operating system distributes power throughout an organization, by defining roles with the accountability and authority to make various decisions and take action – authority no one else can “trump”. So, without a heroic leader to complain to, and without politics as a useful means of influence, then what do I do when a decision or action by one person triggers tension for me? I get this question a lot when coaching organizations adopting Holacracy.

The first advice I usually give relates directly to my prior post on obsoleting implicit expectations: If you feel some tension about what one of your colleagues didn’t do or didn’t integrate into their actions or decisions, check the explicit governance records – does it say they have to? If not, you’re welcomed to make a pitch on why you think they should do something differently, though you have no right to expect they’ll conform to your implicit expectation. Remember, if governance has granted their role an accountability to execute upon or a scope to control, they hold the authority; and if the governance doesn’t say it, your implicit expectations around it don’t count, no matter how reasonable or obvious they may seem to you.

Evolving the roles

If that triggers frustration, ask yourself: Am I just frustrated because that’s not how I would have done things in their shoes, or am I sensing the lack of an explicit expectation that really ought to be in place to best serve the organization’s purpose? When it’s the latter – when your implicit expectation is a clue to something the organization needs to be able to expect, then take it to a governance meeting to set an explicit expectation which you can then count on others to align with.

This is pretty cool – rather than pushing your implicit expectation or trying to influence through politics, both of which represent a very personal form of influence, you can instead use a governance process which is all about evolving how the organization is structured to best express its purpose. This is an impersonal (or transpersonal) form of influence – you are influencing the organization for the sake of its purpose through a structured process, not persuading people to agree with you by leaning on your personal relationship to get there. And in reverse, you don’t have to worry about the implicit expectations or “shoulds” of others; instead, you can just show up, be yourself, and do your best within your roles, trusting that the process will catch and integrate any tensions that result.

Changing role fillers

So, going back to the common coaching I give: What if your frustration is not a clue to an explicit expectation that’s needed? Perhaps all the needed expectations are already explicit, and still the choices made within those expectations are sub-optimal… then what? It could be that the target of your frustration is just not the right fit for the role being filled, in which case your frustration is misdirected – you should be frustrated with the person who holds the accountability for assigning that role, and thus has the authority to assign someone else instead. If that’s the case, you can always pitch your perspective to that person (usually the Circle’s Lead Link), or use the governance process to set more explicit expectations or constraints around how role assignment should work.

Looking into the mirror

And finally, what if it’s not that either – what if the person in the role is the best fit for the role, at least among available talent, and all the needed governance is in place? What if, ultimately, your frustration stems just from your own desire to control everything, or your own resistance to the reality that others don’t always see everything you see, or have the same skills and capacities you do? Well then, the Holacracy process just holds up that bitter-sweet mirror and forces you to see the uncomfortable truth of your own attachment. Most people love Holacracy when it holds up that mirror for others; the challenge comes when it’s your turn to look into it, and practice Holacracy and you will have plenty of turns… I know I do.

This article was originally published on February 21, 2012 at