📖Holacracy: The Revolutionary Management System That Abolishes Hierarchy

Robertson, Brian


  • p.4 humans as (trouble) sensors

    • humans are good at detecting issues (“tensions”) and possible solutions
    • different people are tuned to different issues, so they detect different issues, and overruling someone can lead to important issues being unaddressed
  • p.6 Eric Beinhocker: evolution as algorithm

    • We used to think that evolution is related to biology but it is much more universal and is used in all kinds of situations. Evolution is an algorithm
    • quote

      We are accustomed to thinking of evolution in a biological context, but modern evolutionary theory views evolution as something much more general. Evolution is an algorithm; it is an all-purpose formula for innovation … that, through its special brand of trial and error, creates new designs and solves difficult problems. —Eric Beinhocker, The HP Way: How Will and I Built Our Company, p. 142

  • p.8 the environment becomes more dynamic, so predict-and-control no longer works
  • p.13 holacracy is a practice, not a theory, so it might be hard to understand without experiencing it

    • (re: tacit knowledge)
  • p.15 when the size of city increases, the productivity per resident increases. with organizations, it is vice versa

    • how do we build organizations that are more like cities?
  • p.18 by empowering someone, you put them in a victim role (who needs to be empowered). i.e., you can only empower disempowered → By empowering you puts people in a victim role
  • p.18 those with the most power are usually farther away from the frontline of reality
  • p.19 if there is no explicit power structure, there will be an implicit one
  • p.26-27 governance vs. operations → Governance vs operations

    getting things done
    how we work? (meta-level)
  • (distributing power is like edge computing (or CDN?))
  • p.30 self-organization decreases overload on the top
  • (what are downsides of self-organization?)
  • p.32 leaders impose their own hopes and desires on organization in the same way parents impose their desires on a child, and that prevents children and organizations to realized their own purpose
  • p.33 purpose question

    On the basis of our current context and the resources, talents, and capacities at our disposal, the products or services we offer, the history of the company and its market space, and so on, what’s the deepest potential it can help it can help create or manifest in the world? Why does the world need it?

  • p.35

    Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise. —Bertrand Russel, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism

  • p.40 what’s our role? what are we accountable for? → Clarifying roles

    • you may see your responsibilities differently from someone else and that creates tension

      • unclear responsibilities
      • important work is missed and not done
      • this tension is less personal than it may seem and results from misalignment on what we can count on each other for
    • having explicit (and up-to-date) role definitions brings clarity and trust
  • p.42 peoples are not roles → Holacracy is managing roles, not people

    • holacracy manages roles and people come later to enact and energize these roles
  • p.44 role:

    • purpose
    • domains to control (exclusive authority to control, “property”)
    • accountabilities
    • these parts are optional. a role usually starts with a purpose and one accountability
  • p.47-48 move from structuring the people to structuring roles and functions
  • p.48 holacracy is neither flat nor hierarchical
  • p.48 circles are also a kind of role
  • p.49 links

    • Lead link: representative of super-cicle to represent its needs in a sub-circle → Holacracy: Lead Link
    • Rep link: representative of sub-circle within its super-circle

      • brings frontline feedback to the larger context
      • p.54-55 the role of rep link is to channel out and resolve tensions (if relevant to super-circle)
    • p.55 cross-links
  • (how links are different from managers?) → Holacracy: Lead Link

    • p.53 lead links assign roles but they cannot override decisions of others
    • p.54 the role filler is responsible for their accountabilities, but they do not have to accept a specific project to achieve their accountabilities → Holacracy: role filler does not have to accept proposals
    • p.53 lead links can remove role assignment, but they cannot fire or assign salary/compensation
  • p.58 government meetings and tactical meetings
  • p.67 governance meetings → Holacracy: Governance meetings

    • manage roles within the circle
    • manage policies governing circle’s resources
    • elect circle members to fill elected roles (facilitator, secretary, rep link)

    *manage = create, amend, or remove/dissolve (not giving orders)

  • p.69 see governance meeting process
  • p.72 see integrative decision-making process
  • p.82 policy = “a grant or limit of authority to impact the domain of a circle/role”
  • p.84 “individual action” — you can break the rules if:

    • you believe you’re doing good for the company goal
    • you don’t have time to ask for permission
    • does not use resources more than you’re already authorized to
    • you should also resolve any resulting tensions from your action (if there are any)


  • p.86 “slow down to speed up”
  • p.87 in Holacracy, you can act confidently even if that creates tension for others, because you know the tensions will be transformed into organizational learning on the next governmental meeting
  • project/next-action from GTD

    • p.88 “project” = outcome to achieve; “next-action” = a concrete action that can be executed now
    • focusing on next-actions helps to fight procrastination and move project to completion

      • (kind of what I’m doing with my current project)
    • p.90 define project as a statement that you want to make true

      • this brings clarity as it is easy to verify: is it true yet?
  • p.91 as a role filler, you are responsible for:

    • processing tensions
    • processing accountabilities
    • tracking projects and next-actions

      • outside your own mind for everyone to see
    • directing attention and resources

    *processing = identifying possible projects and next-actions

  • p.92 duties

    • p.92 transparency on

      • projects and next-actions
      • relative priority
      • projections (rough estimates)
      • checklist items and metrics
    • p.93 processing

      • accountabilities and projects
      • requests for projects and next-actions
      • requests to impact domain
    • pp.93–94 prioritization

      • processing over ad hoc execution

        • you must first process incoming requests into next-action (you don’t have to execute next-actions right away)
      • requested meetings over ad hoc execution
      • circle needs over individual goals
  • p.95 tactical meetings → Holacracy: Tactical meetings

    • the goal is to sync and resolve tensions, create clarity on the status

      • produces a visible dashboard with project status
    • (~once a week?)
    • p.95 tactical meeting process
  • p.97 checklists are any recurring actions team members execute

    • defined by role filler for themselves but can be requested by others to add
  • p.105 “what-by-when”

    • p.105 holacracy prioritizes conscious prioritization rather than making quick date commitments and then driving your work by them
    • we are quick to give commitments without looking at other items and conscious prioritization
    • commitments are often artificial and do not account for broader organizational purpose. if you drive you work based on commitments, you’re likely not doing what’s the most important
    • illusion of control


  • q

      Seek freedom and become captive of your desires.
      Seek discipline and find your liberty.
      —Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune
  • p.110 traditional facilitator protects people. facilitator in holacracy protects the process which allows people to protect themselves

    • facilitator in holacracy might need to be impolite or even rude sometimes
  • p.112 all governance proposals must help a role to execute its accountabilities or reach its goal

    • if that’s not the case, the proposal can be discarded by facilitator
    • this disqualifies general “improvements” for everyone (too controversial → long discussion) as well as trying to resolve personal matters (they should be resolved outside governance)
  • p.114 one tension at a time

    • jumping on a proposal to fix your own tension is not allowed
    • everyone is welcome to add their own item to agenda
  • p.117 testing objections → Holacracy: Governance meetings

    • objections is a valid tension that would arise if proposal is accepted
    • all must be true:

      • proposal causes harm (not just neutral / failing to resolve original tension)
      • new tension is created by proposal (not pre-existing)
      • either known from data, or if prediction, there would not be enough time to adapt (is it safe to experiment?)
      • if the proposal is adopted, objection could be a valid proposal for the objector (i.e., affects their role)
    • alternatively: objection can be that it is unconstitutional (e.g., not valid governance output, outside of circle’s authority)


  • p.134-135 lead link should define circle’s strategy but the process is not defined by holacracy

    • p.135 strategy meeting as a good alternative
    • p.137 strategy should be in the form: “emphasize X, even over Y”

      • both X and Y should be desirable


  • p.146 if you adopt only parts, this is not Holacracy

    • the main potential of holacracy is changing the power structure
  • p.147 it is possible to rollout holacracy only in part of organization (team or department)

    • p.148 though it might create frustration because tensions outside this anchor circle can not be resolved
  • p.151 bootstrapping holacracy

    • adopt the holacracy constitution
    • set up a shared system for governance records
    • define your initial structure

      • lead link can define, lead links downward can refine (as a one-time thing only before the first governance meeting)
      • define what’s already there
    • hold first governance meetings and run elections
    • schedule regular tactical and governance meetings
  • pp.167–173 the most common holacracy adoption failures:

    • the reluctant-to-let-go leader
    • the uncooperative middle
    • the stopping-short syndrome
    • failing to execute holacracy properly
  • p.176 moving to holacracy:

    • change language

      • problem/solution → tension/tension processing
      • problems → proposals
      • “does everyone agree?” → “any objections?”
      • people → roles
    • rewrite roles
    • work on organization
    • streamline meetings
  • (noticing more tension. re: scrum)
  • pp.199–200 separating culture/relationships/love from getting things done

    • p.199

      It is an inappropriate use of love and care to use love and care to get something done. —David Allen paraphrasing Brian Robertson

  • acknowledgment:

    • David Allen
    • Ken Wilber
    • Chris Cowan


Want to receive my 🖋 posts as I publish them?