Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Faulty Assumption of Control

Autopsy of a Failed Holacracy: Lessons in Justice, Equity, and Self-Management

The assumption behind any change model is “I can change you.”

No wonder projects fail and people are resentful.

We approach these things thinking we are going to change someone else.

Worse is when we approach these things thinking we are going to change someone else, but I don’t have to change myself.

People are going to see right through that.


In a recent Non-Profit Quarterly article outlining a failed holacracy initiative, the author identified three assumptions within that model that can easily make the actual execution of Holacracy de-humanizing:

  1. That maximizing autonomy and coordinating behavior (emphasis mine) is central to good governance
  2. That explicit, linear, and reproducible meeting structures and language is preferred
  3. The system provides space for everyone to have and use power

The problem with each of these assumptions:

  • Good luck with “coordinating behavior”, especially if you are not willing to walk the talk yourself.
  • Those structures and that language usually wind up becoming another set of acronyms and code-words that few people understand.
  • The same people who tend to go after power will be the same people who have power in this structure.  There is nothing inherently in the structure (or in any structure) that equalizes how people experience power in its various forms.

My assumption is that an organization is a networked group of individuals and that culture derives from the interactions between these individuals and how the environment influences individual behavior.

The only thing we should attempt to influence is the environment the individuals work within – much like fertilizing and mulching a garden so that your plants can thrive.

What are you working with now?

  1. What are the characteristics of the people who “hold power” in the organization?
  2. How is your organization currently treating people who act autonomously?  Is it encouraged? Discouraged?  Is it encouraged verbally and discouraged behaviorally?
  3. What is your percentage of aggressive go-getters vs quieter thinkers and how are each of these groups treated?
  4. What environmental changes can you make to make your organization more inclusive?  Are there policies that need changing? Do different people need to be in leadership positions? Do the working environments accommodate different working needs?

Let me help you visualize your work-in-process!

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I hope you can join me on this journey!

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