Holacracy and collaboration

I was tempted to title this article along the lines of If you need to be managed you probably suck as a collaborator. But, I think that would overstate the point a bit. In principle, I believe in the necessity of management because value creation is complex and it would be naïve to suggest that management is becoming redundant. However, taking into consideration the emerging context of the advances in technology, workplace trends and the attitudes of a new generation of workers, new forms of management such as holacracy are onto something that can’t be ignored.

For the uninitiated, holacracy seems simple but it can be a bit tricky to grasp, given its degree of difference from traditional forms of organisational structure. Holacracy.org describes it this way; “holacracy is a radically different management system that changes how an organisation is structured, how decisions are made, and how power is distributed”. It goes on to point out that holacracy is a ‘distributed authority system’. Its fundamental aspect has to do with a more self-managed approach to work.

There’s plenty of data indicating that contemporary workers are not overly impressed with their bosses. Hierarchy, as much as it is part of the order of things, will not disappear any time soon, however its legitimacy needs to be considered in the context of emerging factors. For instance, are the people responsible for managing workers really able to deliver? This is not necessarily due to the ability of managers as much as it is to the fact that we simply have not adapted fast enough to the disruptive trends of this century.

Among many questions and objections to holacracy, one may be about reward and measuring how we pay people for the work they do. Let’s not pretend that getting around this is an easy solution. Hierarchical organisational structures are major factors in the way jobs are structured. That in turn forms the basis on how staff are rewarded. The longstanding stability of such a system is one reason why it is still very appealing. By the same token though, addressing the issues of reward and people management in a holacratic system is also far from impossible. For reference and ideas worth analysing, we could focus on industries across the board.

The defence forces and sport are two such examples. In the case of sport, take a look at a professional team and it pretty much becomes evident that players are paid differently, even those who play the same position (employed to do same job). It also is regular practice to pay a good player more than the team manager. And those teams perform better because everyone involved understands this. As a football fan (soccer to some) I suggest you look at any world class team and it will soon become clear that they are well-run businesses. One major advantage a sport like football has is that players are hired based on performance, which is transparent. A footballer does not need to learn ‘interview techniques’ to impress his/her future boss. The results are there for all to see. Transparency will be very much part of the next frontier in terms of work and competition. Imagine if your boss or your colleagues’ behaviour at work was visible for all to see in real time. Technology for live streaming of workplaces is here, hence it is only a matter of time before businesses start to adopt it. So, this is the long way around to saying that collaboration will be pivotal in a business that hopes to be relevant, survive and grow. Enterprises crippled by a lack of sophisticated collaboration skills and strategies will operate with increased costs of production brought by lower performance, a lack of innovation, lower employee engagement and downright rejection by customers who are in tune with the value of goods and services produced collaboratively.


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