Organizational Wellness

Holacracy: A Dynamic Organizational Structure

Jan 19, 2024
Last Updated Jan 19, 2024

The right organizational structure can help any workforce thrive. Employees better understand their responsibilities and leadership can communicate more effectively from top to bottom. However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all hierarchy. In fact, some companies reject a traditional “top-to-bottom” structure completely. 

Success often comes by finding an organizational structure that suits the needs of your workforce. For many organizations that want to shift away from drastic power dynamics, a big contender is the holacracy model. Holacracy is a management philosophy that fosters a more fluid and responsive structure rather than the traditional top-down structure. This model can be a great solution for cultures focused on employee wellbeing and innovation.

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What is Holacracy?

Holacracy is a management philosophy and organizational structure that aims to distribute authority and decision-making throughout an organization. Developed by Brian J. Robertson, holacracy is designed to replace traditional hierarchical structures with a more dynamic and flexible system. It is built on the principles of self-organization, transparency, and distributed control.

Principles of Holacracy

These principles depart from traditional structures by decentralizing authority and boosting organizational transparency. 

  • Role-Centric Structure. Holacracy focuses on roles rather than job titles. Each individual can fill multiple roles, and these roles are defined by specific responsibilities and accountabilities. This allows for a more fluid and task-oriented approach to work.
  • Self-Organization. In a holacratic organization, authority is distributed across various roles, not just managers. Teams and individuals have the autonomy to make decisions within their defined domains, which makes them more adaptive to challenges.
  • Circles. Where many structures model a pyramid of authority, holacracy organizes the workforce into nested circles. These circles are semi-autonomous teams focused on specific functions or projects, each with its own purpose and governance structure. 
  • Dynamic Governance. Holacracy emphasizes regular, structured governance meetings where teams can update roles and clarify expectations. This process helps organizations remain flexible and evolve with changing circumstances.

Benefits of Implementing Holacracy

Holacracy offers several advantages for organizations by decentralizing authority and promoting self-organization. The lack of rigidity and boosting employee empowerment can help organizations get benefits like the following.

Employee Empowerment & Decision Making

Holacracy empowers employees at various levels to make role-related decisions without deferring to a strict chain of command. As a result, organizations can streamline communication and help employees become more efficient. People also tend to have a greater sense of ownership over their work and responsibilities, which often leads to increased employee engagement and motivation.

Increased Agility

With distributed decision-making, there are fewer bottlenecks in a holacracy. By sidestepping the typical bureaucratic hurdles, organizations can respond promptly to changing market conditions or internal shifts. Teams are trusted to self-organize, meaning they can quickly jump on emerging opportunities or challenges.

Organizational Clarity

Holacracy places a strong emphasis on defining clear roles and accountabilities within the organization. This helps reduce ambiguity and increases everyone’s sense of purpose. It also helps streamline day-to-day operations since roles are not only clearly defined, but each individual is authorized to make their own decisions. With adequate collaboration in governance meetings, tasks can be allocated fairly to prevent overlap and employee burnout.

Enhanced Innovation

The flattened hierarchy in a holacracy encourages collaboration across different functions and departments. With a focus on feedback loops and adaptive structures, a holacracy also tends to favor a culture of continuous improvement. By breaking down silos and promoting open communication, holacracy creates a dynamic environment where diverse perspectives and skill sets can come together. This is a great foundation for creative problem-solving and pushing the boundaries in your industry. 

Challenges and Considerations

A holacracy may be an excellent option for many organizations, but there are some drawbacks to consider. Implementing this structure successfully may require you to take a closer look at some of these organizational challenges.

Learning Curve

Employees may face a learning curve as they adapt to the complexities of roles, circles, and governance processes. This initial adjustment period could lead to confusion and a temporary decrease in productivity. Long-term productivity of disengaged workers can even result in costs of up to 18% of the worker’s annual salary.

Organizations can address this issue with on-the-job training programs and ongoing support from HR. As frequently as needed, team leads can familiarize employees with holacracy principles and provide any tools they need to execute their roles. This can look like workshops, webinars, or even interactive learning experiences. Organizations will likely need to invest time and resources to provide adequate employee training and support for a smooth transition. 

Resistance to Change

Old habits die hard, and many people may be unsure of a holacracy. The cultural shift to a more self-organized setup may have some resistance from employees accustomed to a top-down decision-making approach. Overcoming this resistance requires effective communication and potentially taking a gradual approach to implementation.

Organizations can also involve employees during the transition process and create feedback loops. This may help leaders address fears and concerns while correcting any misconceptions.  Case studies and testimonials from companies with positive experiences can serve as powerful examples and help dispel doubts, too.

Need for Continuous Adaptation

Holacracy is designed to be adaptable and responsive to change. However, constant change does mean the environment shifts frequently. Most workforces are asked to embrace ongoing adaptation since their operations may evolve more frequently. Anyone can propose changes for the company, and if those proposals are accepted, the results can affect the entire organization. Such openness can improve the overall workplace, but it also requires some flexibility.

Striking the right balance between stability and flexibility can be a delicate task. This means that leaders are tasked with keenly understanding the organization's unique dynamics and monitoring key performance indicators. This way, teams can regularly assess how any structural changes are contributing to organizational success. Leaders can also model adaptability by demonstrating resilience and communicating effectively during periods of adaptation. Their visible support sets the tone for their coworkers and fosters a positive atmosphere.

Communication Challenges

Holacracy relies on transparent communication and information sharing. However, clarity in communication, especially in a decentralized decision-making environment, can be challenging. Misinterpretations or lack of reporting may occur without a top-down structure, so it’s important to find effective channels and processes for sharing information. 

Regular check-ins or governance meetings can also help keep everyone on the same page. These sessions can provide opportunities for teams to share progress and discuss challenges as they align their efforts. Doing so can reduce misinformation and set realistic expectations for all teams.

Holacracy and Employee Wellbeing

Many organizations enjoy holacracy for its support of employee wellness. For example, because employees enjoy increased autonomy and empowerment, there is often greater job satisfaction, too. Work is fulfilling and employees have more control over their work-life wellness.

Having clearer expectations and less micromanagement can also help reduce stress in the workplace. Being trusted in your role is a great way to build a positive work environment where employees are happy to collaborate and contribute. 

Some organizations take it a step further and, along with flexible structures, offer flexible work environments. In these cases, employees can also manage their own schedules and responsibilities as they see fit, which can make them even more productive.

Holacracy promotes open communication and inclusivity, too, especially by providing channels for employees to express their ideas and feedback. This transparent communication fosters a sense of belonging and celebrates diverse perspectives.

Wellness Is for All Organizational Structures

For the right organizations, holacracy is the perfect setup to streamline business processes and boost employee morale. With a focus on distributed decision-making and accountability, these companies are often more agile and innovative than others. It’s a great option for organizations that want to prioritize employee wellbeing while remaining a competitor in the industry.

It’s important to note that even though holacracy is well-suited for employee wellness, any organizational model can incorporate wellbeing strategies. An intentional employee wellness program can have a great impact on the workforce in any structure, such as improving employee health and reducing stress. 

Gympass can help you launch a wellbeing program that helps employees thrive in their role.

Talk with a wellbeing specialist to see what a wellness program can do for your organization!

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Gympass Editorial Team

The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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