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Insights / Blog / Business

Holacracy – but...

February 13, 2017
Alain VeuveAlain VeuveManaging Director, AOE Switzerland

It occurs quite often that company owners and managing directors ask me about agile enterprise. The question that arises most often is how to transform a hierarchical, traditionally organized company into an agile organization. Almost all of the leaders that ponder the issue eventually happen upon holacracy. What then actually gets introduced, if at all, is a “Holacracy – but” model. A model, then, that has been adapted from holacracy. And with good reason.

Holacracy as Panacea?

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of holacracy. To me, much of it seems too rigid, too generalistic, too reglemented. It’s an attempt to create a constituted framework from new, agile approaches. At first sight, this is laudable and makes a lot of sense. In reality, at least that’s been my experience, there is hardly a company that utilizes holacracy across the board.

The reason for that, in my opinion, lies in the fact that holacracy simply isn’t the patent medicine for companies wanting to organize themselves along agile principles. What it can do, though, is to provide important and valuable reference points for agile organizational elements.

Thus, a unified concept increasingly deteriorates into a construction kit or brain pool used to approach specific problems within an organization in an agile manner.

Delegating Responsibility in Teams is Key

Meanwhile, the greatest difficulty in transforming into an agile organization, as I have learned in numerous conversations, is for executives to delegate or cede responsibility to independent teams. Per se, something that, according to general practice, should not be done.

For many leaders, such a transfer of responsibility is equal to a loss of power – at least at first glance. What do I do if the team makes a decision that completely opposes my own notions? It’s only logical that this step becomes more and more difficult the longer one has been in a leadership position in a traditional hierarchical organization.

However, it is exactly this ability to delegate responsibility in self-organized teams that is key for the agile organization. And it leads to fundamentally better decisions in daily business, at least that’s been my experience. Professionally in any case, but most of the tactically and in dealing with the customer as well.

Accepting responsibility is just as difficult

On the other hand, accepting this new responsibility is usually as difficult as delegating it. This comes as no big surprise, since it generally is easy and convenient to have difficult business transactions and tasks justified at the management level.

All at once, this this isn’t supposed to be possible anymore? For many employees, especially for those who have worked longer in traditional organizations, an impossible undertaking.

This transition often generates considerable resistance from both senior management and team members. I think this is precisely the reason why it isn’t possible to introduce an agile methodology in an organization from one day to the next. The uncertainty that is created in the company is great and this is counterproductive for the transition process in which security and confidence should be strengthened.

I therefore think that a transition to an agile company is a difficult undertaking. A process that can only be successful if the employees are convinced of its intrinsic value. Especially those employees at the executive level.


Holacracy can indeed be a first point of contact in such a process. I think it’s extremely important that employees take a close look at the concepts. In my experience, this is the only way in which a real discussion about the topic of agile organizations can occur. This “grappling” with the topic then forms the basis for true change.

That this, in turn, might lead to a “Holacracy – but” model, that is, a model in which certain components of holacracy are utilized, but not consistently and stringently implemented, is a very real danger.

After all, every enterprise is ultimately different. It is therefore logical that slightly different concepts are pursued. And I think this is the correct approach.