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Holacracy Light – How our clients benefit from our way of working

Almost two years into using Holacracy as Operating System at Fronteer, our way of working has changed a lot. The structure of bringing up ‘tensions’ in tactical and governance meetings has become second nature. Increasingly we have started to apply this to client projects as well, taking our clients along in our holacratic approach to working efficiently and effective.

A short intro in Holacracy to get you started:

  • Holacracy is a holistic and self management practice for organisations.

  • Mastery, autonomy and purpose are central to this approach.

  • Work is organised in roles and accountabilities, in full transparency.

  • Tension is the magic word. ‘Tensions’ define the gap between a current and desired situation and are a leading factor in all interactions. These focus around resolving the tension by asking people “What do you need?”

  • Holacracy has a clear meeting structure: only two types of meetings exist: tacticals and governance meetings.

Bringing Holacracy into client projects

Implementing Holacracy at Fronteer has yielded great results so far; an involved and enthusiastic team, a higher entrepreneurial spirit to approach work in innovative ways, increased efficiency and a strong basis of mutual trust. It seemed foolish to restrain this to only our internal way of working. Therefore, we decided to take a few elements of Holacracy and bring them into our client work and client interactions. An experiment, to see if we could generate similar effects. You could call this approach ‘Holacracy Light’.

1. Roles instead of functions

Everyone within the core team (both Fronteer and client team) gets to create his own role within the project based on what motivates, interests or concerns him. Throughout the project, anyone can propose to change roles or give roles back.

This makes everyone in the team feel their contribution to the project is meaningful and impactful. They make a clear commitment to the project and are stimulated to take ownership of (part of) the project, beyond what is required based on their job description.

Some examples from a recent strategy project we did:

  • Monkey proofer: responsible making sure that the whole organisation will be able to understand and implement what we create

  • Definitions master: responsible for creating clear definitions of multi-interpretable words

  • Mister Roadmap: responsible for defining a roadmap with clear next steps to ensure real impact

2. Tensions instead of fixed agendas

We also introduced the concept of Tensions: the gaps between the desired & current situation. Every project meeting starts with a (simplified) tactical meeting. First, we identify all tensions. Then, we discuss and try to resolve them one by one by asking “What do you need?” (share something, ask for information, assign a task to someone, etc) and capturing the output. By doing this, all tensions – however big or small – get addressed right at the start of a meeting. This clears up heads and creates freedom for everyone to dive into the project content together, resulting in deeper discussions and more effective workshops. Generally, tactical meetings last 30 minutes, whilst discussing 20 tensions.

3. Ferrari instead of ‘taking the bus’

The Ferrari rule is quite simple: Everyone can take any initiative, at any time. The only way to stop someone is to prove it is harmful or a step back. It encourages an entrepreneurial spirit and stimulates new initiatives without falling into the trap of overthinking them. Because: if it’s not harmful or a step back it might not yet be perfect… but it’s definitely safe enough to try!

This means that the traditional role of a project manager disappears. Rather than giving orders, senior people coach and support others in their activities.

4. Decisions instead of discussions

Especially in the final stage of projects, creating consensus within the team is both essential and challenging. Making decisions that impact the final result can be a complex process. Introducing a governance-light meeting can be very effective to guide decision-making processes.

How it works? Take the draft deliverable or concept as a starting point and ask people the question: do you have a tension? Or do you feel we can move forward with this? For each tension, find out what drives the tension and integrate it into the concept. Repeat until all tensions have disappeared.

Asking this question forces people to define what is holding them back, and makes it easier to resolve it and work towards an end result that makes everyone in the team happy.

Positive impact

The first meeting always feels a bit strange. New words, new structures. But after experiencing it once, everyone is talking in ‘tensions’ within no time. After having worked this way with clients; three highlights for me:

  • ‘Holacracy Light’ creates a lot of transparency, mutual understanding, and insight

  • It gets ‘stuff’ out of the way to open up minds for the real important thing to tackle

  • People feel more engaged, committed and take ownership

From now on, I’ll start every big project by introducing this approach. How about you?

Please contact me if you want to know more.


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