Do employees really enjoy working in a self-organized structure? Holacracy—sometimes touted as a “leaderless” environment—eliminates traditional management titles and functions. The degree to which employees enjoy this organizational structure depend on many factors. Some people take well to this extreme level of self-organization, others don’t.
Even at online retailer Zappos, the most famous of Holacracy adopters, 14 percent of the workforce opted out rather than move to 100 percent self-organization. But it’s difficult to parse out exactly why they departed. As this Washington Post article points out, not all 210 employees left Zappos because they disliked Holacracy.
What type of employee is a good fit for Holacracy? Based on my research of this management structure and my work with employees from across the globe over the past 25 years, here is a list of traits people must possess to thrive in Holacracy.
Ability to Self-Organize. This seems like a no-brainer, but it bears stating: if you don’t like to figure out what to do each day when you come to work, don’t apply to a company run with a Holacracy operating system. If you’re one of those college graduates helicoptered by your parents, you might want to look elsewhere.
Rapid Learner. This is a skill useful in any organization, but imperative for Holacracy. Because this work arrangement is unfamiliar to many, there will be a steep learning curve for assimilating all of the terminology required to successfully operate in this environment. Which leads me to the next trait . . .
Comfort with Structure. Structure—there’s lots of it in Holacracy. Just because there aren’t formal “bosses” around anymore doesn’t mean there aren’t rules. In fact, companies that fully implement Holacracy follow a “constitution,” a 40-page document that outlines how all aspects of the organization will operate. It’s a fairly rigid process and if you’re more of a “go with the flow” sort, this may be too much for you.
Talent for Juggling Multiple Roles. Employees reside in more than one “circle” (a group dedicated to a project or a function, such as Customer Service) at a time, so it’s important to keep all of those elements straight. For example, according to this Quartz article, one employee may reside in the call center 50 percent of the time and split the remaining time between merchandising product and running the company’s wellness program.
Capacity to Let Go. And be able to do so quickly. There are no traditional job titles in Holacracy. People are moved in and out of the self-organized circles according to the needs of projects and company objectives. Employees who enjoy moving from one thing to the next will thrive in this atmosphere.
Comfort with Conflict. Proponents of Holacracy point to the structured process for airing grievances amongst colleagues. Here’s the thing: you’d better be willing to address many of those concerns in a public venue. Because that’s often where they’re addressed—as part of “governance meetings.”
There are undoubtedly several other traits that come into play for people considering applying to work in a Holacracy organizational structure. Some may argue that these traits are useful in a more traditional environments. Although that may be true, it remains to be seen if companies with “bosses” will allow these traits to bloom in their organizations.