Governance | Holacracy – Robertson

In Holacracy  (Robertson) there is a clear governance process for keeping roles up-to-date: on regular intervals (e.g. every two weeks), each organisational entity (in Holacracy these are called “circles”) will hold a governance meeting to detail and sharpen the relationships between the roles. This is done in a strictly defined procedure which eliminates interference from outside people’s own roles and responsibilities – the Integrative Decision Making process. This process is aimed at solving tenstions that are perceived by a specific role. The person experiencing a tension is expected to come up with a proposal how to solve this. This proposal will be accepted unless there are valid objections that are being brought to the table. An objection is only valid if:

a. the objective / purpose of the circle is jeopardised if the objection is not properly dealt with, and
b. the objection will be materialised by accepting the proposal (i.e. the objection is currently not existing; it needs to be a result of the proposal to be valid), and
c. the objection is backed up with existing evidence / information or – in case the objection is a prediction, there are sufficient opportunities for timely adjusting, should the proposal be accepted, and
d. the proposal limits the role / mandate of the person who is submitting the objection.

In case there are valid objections (this conversation will be guided by the facilitator role), a new proposal will have to be deveoped, which addresses both the original tension as well as the objection. The new proposal will be tested to see whether there are new objections according to the criteria stated above.

The power of this procedure for adjusting the governance is that it is based on step-by-step improvements, based on actual tensions that people experience in their role. This prevents the paralising effect of approaches that seek to solve all problems in one effort. The disadvantage of such approaches is that these usually result in very conceptual proposals that are not very much linked to actual day-to-day problems.

Tactical meetings (about the operation / day-to-day affairs) are also guided by a strict protocol. The agenda of such a meeting is built around issues and the person / role submitting the issue needs to state clearly what they need in order to be able to proceed. In case this leads to adjusting existing roles, the specific issue will be referred to a governance meeting to be processed according to the Integrative Decision Making process.

The power of Holacracy is the ongoing effort to reflect on a transparent adjustment of relations between roles and the step-by-step improvement aimed at solving actual tensions that people experience in their roles. Clear roles and mandates are based on the assumption that a person in a particular role is assumed to be able to make decisions about what is needed in that part of the organisation. Transparent governence eliminates the need for organisational politics. Strategy in Holacracy sets a direction (priorities) without losing itself in making predictions. Organisations who work with Holacracy turn out to have less and more effective meetings.

An organisation that organises the governance in such a way, is continuously adjusting itself based on internal tensions, but also based on tenstions that the responsible persons feel in the outside world. I think this way of gradually discovering and developing solutions for these tensions is an elegant and more concrete translation of Laloux’ “being sensitive and responsive and listening to where the organisation naturally wants to go”.


Brian Robertson, 2015, Holacracy, Henry Holt & Co.​

Laloux: evolutionary purpose

Evolutief doel: een organisatie en haar strategie ontwikkelen zich net als de evolutie

One of the underlying principles in Laloux’ research is the “evolutionary purpose”: a purpose that the organisation naturally wants to pursue, instead of trying to predict the future. If we no longer start from te planning & control paradigm and if we see the organisation as a living organism, this also has implications for the roles of the people and the leaders in the organisation. Instead of predicting and planning their role shifts towards listening to and being sensitive to what the organisation naturally wants and subsequently helping the organisation to achieve that. This means being sensitive and responsive. An example of this is the Agile method. This perspective also has implications for strategy documents; in their existing form they are no longer necessary. Instead of documenting the proposed reaction to a predictable future, the organisation connects with other stakeholders to experiment in order to achieve new solutions for complex questions. Successful experiments can then be scaled up to other parts or even the whole organisation. This means an explicit and active effort to let go of existing perspectives and to explore the advantages of other (also external) perspectives. Laloux mentions some examples: Theory U (Otto Scharmer), Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space, Future Search en World Cafe.

As a professional I have been educated in the more traditional management theories and I have worked in organisations in which that perspective dominated. Although I have also studied and worked with the post-industrial or post-modern look at organisations and organising, Laloux’ way of describing his vision of an organisation as a living organism clashes with that other perspective. I strongly feel that the traditional way of organising no longer suffices, I also feel resistance towards the idea of “listening and being sensitive to what the organisation naturally wants”. Firstly, I don’t believe in an organisation as an entity with a free will (the post-modern thinkers call this reification: assigning human qualities to things and concepts). Secondly, I also have to get used to his use of language and words: the organisation as a mystical and spiritual higer power that reveals its secrets. Laloux may be right. The fact that I have trouble accepting that type of language also says a lot about the power and domincance of the traditional management theories. I do like the idea of discovering: by exploring new directions and allowing new perspectives, together with other stakeholders in and outside the organisation – new ways of working and new solutions for complex questions emerge.


Frederic Laloux, 2016, Reinventing Organisations, Lannoo Publishers

The relation between happiness at work and productivity

Jessica Pryce-Jones has researched the relation between happiness at work and productivity, absenteeism and turnover. Her research shows that the happiest employees:

  • are twice as productive
  • remain in the organization five times longer (so less turnover), and
  • take ten times less sick leave

than the unhappiest employees. Jessica Pryce-Jones writes more about her research in a blog on the website of the Wall Street Journal. These data come from a research among 3000 respondents from 79 countries.

Also in a laboratory setting, the relation between happiness (at work) and productivity has been proven. The Warwick University has conducted an experiment in which half of the participants watched a comedy show, while enjoying fruit and chocolate. The other half of the participants were asked to share stories about unhappy events in their lives. Both groups were asked to perform certain tasks afterwards. The first group was 12% more productive than the second group. Read more about the Warwich experiment here.

In a meta-analysis of 111 studies, Ford has shown that there is an average to strong correlation between happiness (at work) and productivity. This research even found a stronger connection between happiness at work and productivity than between physical health and productivity. Read more about the Ford (2011) research here. This correlation between happiness at work (psychological wellbeing) and productivity is also proven by Wright en Cropanzano. Read more about Wright and Cropanzano’s research here.

The last research I mention here is a study among 66 Dutch institutions for home care by Taris en Schreurs (2009). They studied the correlation between happiness at work and overall performance of the organization (profitability), not just at the individual level. They also showed that there is a correlation between happiness at work and organizational performance. Particularly the reverse was a strong correlation: the unhappier employees were, the worse the organizational performance. Read more about the Taris and Schreurs research here.

Business case for happiness at work

Fill out the data for your organization, and the form will calculate what investing in happiness at work will yield in terms of (financial) savings. The calculations are based on lower absenteeism / sick leave and lower turnover.

Estimates about increasing productivity have not been included in the business case. Also the other advantages – that are harder to quantify – have not been taken into account (atmosphere, energy, innovation, etc.).

An organization with 100 employees, a sick leave percentage of 4% and a turnover percentage of 10% can save about € 100.000 by investing in happiness at work