Holacracy’s Integrative Decision Making process
I think I’m getting close to coming full-circle on Holacracy. At first I was totally psyched by how radically innovative it is; then the skeptic in me kicked in and it seemed more like an idealistic framework that can never work in a large scale organizations. But the more I study it and similar approaches, it resonates with me more and more. I’m not ready for a full “why is Holacracy awesome?” post, but I do want to focus on one aspect of it that can potentially stand on its own merits:
It’s a structured process for making decisions in a group that rings truer to me than both consensus and top-down decision making (the two extremes of the spectrum).
Here’s the gist of the process:
- Present Proposal — proposer describes the problem that she saw and the solution she proposes
- Clarifying Questions — anyone can ask clarifying questions. Proposer can answer. No reactions or dialog allowed.
- Reaction Round — each person can react to the proposal as they see fit. No discussion or responses.
- Amend & Clarify — proposer can optionally clarify the intent or amend the proposal based on reactions. No discussion allowed.
- Objection Round — The Facilitator asks each person in turn: ”Do you see any reasons why adopting this proposal would cause harm or move us backwards?” (an “Objection”). Objections are stated, tested, and captured without discussion; the proposal is adopted if none surface.
- Integration — The goal is to craft an amended proposal that would not cause the Objection, but that would still address the proposer’s problem. Focus on each Objection, one at a time. Once all are integrated, go through another Objection Round.
Beyond the meta-benefit of a repeatable, structured, decision-making process the two things that I like the most about this are:
- Separating getting clarify on the proposal, giving everyone an opportunity to be heard (react) and dealing with material objections into three separate activities. They address three separate needs for the people who are engaging with the proposal and deal with each one separately.
- Defining a valid objection as something that would “cause harm or move us backward”. This is typically where consensus-based decision making tends to fail. And also somewhat related to Fred Wilson’s recent post on satisficing — by setting an agreed-upon acceptable threshold for proposals, we can avoid some of the major pitfalls that cause important decision-making processes to stall.