Sunday, February 8, 2015

Grassroots Holacracy

The different skill levels in Holacracy are often compared to the different skill levels in playing soccer. They may be playing by the same rules, but the skill expressed by a child just learning how to play soccer will look substantially than the skill of a highly trained professional.

This is a great analogy as I can attest having followed my children progress through soccer from a young age in the weekend community soccer leagues through middle school and high school. In the beginning they play what I call swarm soccer. All the kids gather around the ball in a swarm and kick at the ball until it accidentally goes into one of the goals. By middle school they have learned the positions and mostly stay near their assignment. By high school, they have learned when they can break the position pattern and when to reform back to that pattern. Each level looks totally different. Holacracy has similar level of development, from still trying to get consensus or approval from the boss, to rigidly holding their roles, to flexibly moving between roles and individual action, etc. I am sure others have observed other patterns at the various levels.

This individual focused analogy between Holacracy and Soccer can be expanded to an analogy at the movement level.

In soccer we start at the preschool level in local community leagues, sponsored and paid for by low cost fees to the players and/or community funded. The teams are coached by parents who may only have a basic understanding of the rules themselves. This feeds into school and traveling teams which have a higher level of financial investment and more skilled coaches which may be a mix of amateur or professional. This feeds into college with more investment and more skilled professional coaches and finally feeds into the professional leagues with a high level of compensations and coaching skill.

At the bottom the population of players is huge. As you step up each level a large number of players drop out until at the top you have a very small number of very skilled players.

The players that drop out are not lost to the sport. They may continue to play in community leagues or pick up games. Because of the experience in the lower levels, they are likely to be fans and supporters of the players that move up. Thus to have a vibrant competitive top level you need a huge base to select and feed the talent as well as support the sport from the sidelines.

Today, Holacracy is focused at the professional level without much of a base. This is why it is so difficult to find an organization to do an implementation with out a highly evolved heroic leader to take the plunge, sign the constitution and buy into the process of giving up control and supporting the transformation. There seems to be an underlying opinion that everyone needs to transform and play Holacracy at the professional level. That playing at the lower level is not successful, that it does not bring value. In my opinion, this is very much a “in the eye of the beholder” judgment. Being successful is determined by your definition of success.

Many small business do not have much of a business process, what they have is usually a random collection of actions that seem to work having tried and failed many times. There is little coherency with a lot of manual checks and cross checks that could be eliminate by implementing a process that generates role and accountability clarity. Implementing Holacracy, even at the simplest level of mechanically following the rules, creates enormous value in the eyes of these small business owners. All without a major transformation in conscious level. Yes, there are subtle shifts and over time even these organizations become more susceptible to a major shift.
I see these businesses as the base level for Holacracy. A potential fertile soil to feed the growth of the higher transformations all the way up to the highest professional level. At this grass roots level is where the real awareness of Holacracy will grow as them more people exposed to the gut level feeling of some value in Holacracy, the more that they will tell their friends and encourage more than an intellectual curiosity. For the past year I have been researching this level by attending small business expos, networking events, user groups and business meetups. I get no recognition that something like Holacracy exists. With a couple minute conversation, I get very positive reactions.

The need is clearly there, the value to these organizations is there, the current structure to get help excludes these 90% of the businesses.

Lets look at the structures for getting help without a full consultant fee structure.

When the Holacracy population was first developing and everyone knew everyone else, the Community of Practice platform was a great tool to discuss issues and get some help/feedback.

Looking back over the past year, it seems that activity in that forum has almost completely dried up. It is being replaced by more open forums on LinkedIn and Facebook. While the subscription for the CoP may keep many of the casual observers away, I think that a major part of the lack of activity, even for those subscribed, is that it suffers from fragmentation because of the “yet another form I need to keep track of” syndrome. I know that I am more likely to pay attention and participate in a forum that consolidates many communities that I am already participating in into one interface.

Facebook and LinkedIn support very global communities. Being part of larger community building services, I believe that they will continue to provide value for the more globally minded Holacracy practitioners for a long time.

These forums seem to focus on announcements of events and blog entries, with some discussion of specific larger issues. What is missing is the personal touch. In a more local setting, many more people would be more willing to ask for help on detailed issues that arise in their business. People need to sit down face to face with people that they are familiar with to get to this personal level. This is particularly true for small business owners.

This is where user groups and Meetups come in. User groups and Meetups fill the same role of providing personal face to face community building. Meetup creates a nice set of tools that is becoming the consolidation point for different interest groups to fine and interact through the same interface. There for, I think that the next level into the grassroots spreading of Holacracy is via Meetup. A Meetup in any location that has a few practitioners, would be the logical entry point to building that local support group to help small business move into Holacracy. The more small businesses that implement a mechanical interpretation of Holacracy, the more that will be positioned to need a deeper level of coaching to get the next level of value.

These initial implements have to be very low cost, possibly free, if the local community can enable it. If we look at some of the most successful services in the world to day, most of them have a free level and a premium level. I believe that creating the Meetup infrastructure is the way to get the introductory implementation, which, as the value of Holacracy is internalized and realized, will enable the transition to engaging the premium services.

This was the model that I was pursuing over the past year. I hope to get back to it sometime in the future to develop it more and try it in the real world. I put this post here to record my thoughts,