Do away with managers and embrace holarchy!

Do away with managers and embrace holarchy!

I ran into this article on Quartz titled “Zappos is going holacratic: no job titles, no managers, no hierarchy” which naturally piqued my interest, especially since the term “holacratic” was the first time I ran to such a term.  As the article states, during the 4 hour all hands Q4 meeting:

Hsieh [CEO and founder] talked about how Zappos’ traditional organizational structure is being replaced with Holacracy, a radical “self-governing” operating system where there are no job titles and no managers. The term Holacracy is derived from the Greek word holon, which means a whole that’s part of a greater whole. Instead of a top-down hierarchy, there’s a flatter “holarchy” that distributes power more evenly. The company will be made up of different circles—there will be around 400 circles at Zappos once the rollout is complete in December 2014—and employees can have any number of roles within those circles. This way, there’s no hiding under titles; radical transparency is the goal.

This definition from David Spangler best defines what “holarchy” is about: “In a hierarchy, participants can be compared and evaluated on the basis of position, rank, relative power, seniority and the like.  But in a holarchy each person’s value comes from his or her individuality and uniqueness and the capacity to engage and interact with others to make the fruits of that uniqueness available”

Here are some visuals that illustrate what this structure looks like:


 Instead of hierarchical structure, individuals would be nested in an onion like structure facilitating an easier movement up and down the rings of an organization.  It also allows a better view of an individual as well as work that needs to be done in relation to each of the concentric rings.  Here’s another visual showing how a traditional hierarchy looks in relation to a holarchy:


I like this visual the best showing how the traditional “man is the center of the universe” (or ego-centric) view gets changed when viewing it from a “man is an element of the universe” (or eco-centric) view:


In the former view, you get a sense that man is what drives everything in the world, whereas in the latter he is but one of the important elements to keep the world working in harmony.

There is nothing earth shattering about this paradigm, but rather it is more about how we can better structure ourselves so that work gets done better and that we are not so narrowly viewing it from a particular functional or departmental silo.

So where does a project manager fit in this model?  Do we do away with them too?

I think this would better facilitate project management since its typically well know how hard it is to get projects done in a heavily hierarchical functional organization.  This is especially the case for projects or environments where constant change is the norm (and what organization these days do not experience constant change?).  I think if this structure is implemented correctly that roles and responsibilities would be easier to identify and establish and rather than having to move through hierarchical bottlenecks, you would identify the “rings or responsibilities” and work accordingly.

I just got acquainted with this idea and need to flesh it out more, but it is intriguing nonetheless.  Yet it is not lost on me that holarchy rhymes with anarchy which is what I think will result if this organizational migration is not planned and handled correctly.  I can think of another rhyme which is that your people could view holarchy as a bunch of malarkey!

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