Applying Holacracy To An Open Source Team

Jul 8, 2018 by Victor

MinionsInSpace

Hey everyone, it’s Victor!

In this blog post I will describe how we use Holacracy in the PARSEC Labs team. This post will give you a clear overview of this "self-organizing" system. Holacracy is a decentralized and flexible management system for running purpose-driven organizations. Holacracy creates employees that are creative, flexible and able to respond to any situation.

A snapshot of the team structure:

Here you can see that the team is organized into a few circles, each containing multiple roles. While this diagram looks complicated at first, the next sections of this article will break down the different elements and explain them in greater detail.

HolacracyCircles

We believe in distributed teams, as this structure allows us to work remotely and in many time zones, without the need for any management overhead.

Holacracy’s Essential Elements

Holacracy consists of a variety of elements that are used to reorganize the governance structure of an organization. This section will look at the principles of a holacratic system that were applied to a remote team.

Roles instead of job descriptions

MembersAndRoles

Holacracy’s organizational structure consists of multiple roles in multiple circles. The number of team members is not equal to the number of roles, as one role can be assumed by multiple people and one person can fill multiple roles.

A "Role" is an organizational construct with a descriptive name and one or more of the following:

  • A “Purpose”, which is a long term or even unrealizable goal that the Role must be driven by;
  • One or more “Domains”, which are things that the Role may exclusively control and regulate as its property;
  • One or more “Accountabilities”, which are ongoing activities the Role will enact.

Roles are defined through the circle’s governance processes and should be updated regularly in order to achieve the circle’s purpose within the shortest time frame.

The person that fulfills any given role is empowered to make decisions and execute assignments in the way that they think is best.

Key role takeaways:

  • There are no managers who can influence an individual’s decision;
  • Even the lead link of the General Circle has no power to change a decision;
  • Authority and responsibility are truly distributed between team members.

Everyone is responsible for maintaining the balance between the different roles.

Here is an example of the defined roles for a General Circle:

GeneralCircleStructure

We have 7 roles in this circle, which are fulfilled by 5 people. The "Treasurer" role, For example, is all about accounting and regularly reporting on the tactical meetings about the project’s current runway.

Circles

RolesAndCircles

All roles in a Holacracy are part of self-organizing circles. Circles are contained within each other, and each circle is assigned a clear purpose and accountabilities by its broader circle. However, each circle has the authority to self-organize internally to best achieve its goals.

The main difference between roles and circles is that every circle coordinates its progress through governance and tactical meetings.

Circles are connected by "Rep Links", which are people who attend meetings for both their circle and the broader circle to ensure their own alignment with the broader organization’s mission and strategy.

Key circle takeaways:

  • Every circle has a purpose to express, which is defined when a new circle is created (the purpose can be changed through the governance process);
  • All circles have accountabilities, which are regularly processed in tactical meetings;
  • Circles have domains to control, which, for example, can be for the website or social media;
  • Metrics and checklists are also a part of the regular tactical meetings, which provide transparency for each circle’s work and for all roles.

Here is an example of PARSEC Labs circles:

ParsecLabsCircles

We have a total of four circles, one is the PARSEC General circle and the three others are its child circles. There are currently no sub-child circles within the child circles.

Governance process

GovernanceProcess

The governance process is defined in the Holacracy Constitution and its main purpose is to create and regularly update the circle’s roles and policies. Holacracy lays out a structured process known as "integrative decision making" for proposing changes in governance and amending or objecting to proposals. This is not a consensus-based system, but one that integrates relevant input from all parties and ensures that the proposed changes and objections to those changes are anchored in the roles' needs (and through them, the organization's needs), rather than people's preferences or egos.

A circle has four core roles:

  • Lead link – The lead link is elected during the parent circle’s governance meeting and can’t be re-elected. The lead link contains the circle’s purpose and is fully responsible for the circle’s successes and failures throughout its existence.
  • Facilitator – The facilitator is elected for a set term during the circle’s governance meeting. The facilitator presides over the circle’s meetings and declares process breakdowns for all sub-circles.
  • Secretary – The secretary is also elected for a set term during the circle’s governance meeting. The secretary schedules meetings and makes note of the meeting’s outlook.
  • Rep Link – The rep link is an elected role used to represent the interests of a sub-Circle to its super-Circle.

PARSEC Labs communication circle core roles break down:

CommunicationsCircleStructure

This example shows that this circle has three core roles instead of four. We came to an internal agreement to not have the rep link role in our structure, as we are a small team and rep link’s responsibilities should be fulfilled by the lead links of each sub-circle.

Operational process

CirclePurposes

Holacracy specifies processes for aligning teams around operational needs and requires that each member of a circle fulfills certain duties in order to work together effectively.

Because circles are self-driven and there are no managers who allocate defined tasks, every circle has its own purpose. As a result, when team members are fulfilling their roles, they must always volunteer themselves to only work on the tasks which are aligned to each circle’s purpose.

Tactical meetings are the driving force behind the operational processes of circles and they are usually held on a weekly basis. These meetings have five phases:

  • The check-in phase – During the check-in phase, every participant shares and describes their thoughts on their current situation.
  • Metrics review – The metrics review process involves going over the important circle metrics to track any changes that have taken place since the last meeting. A project is a task that is shared by more than one person.
  • Project review – This is where we usually open our Kanban board and check the status of each task. Updates on a task should be short and precise.
  • Tensions round – During the tensions round, every participant has an opportunity to describe any concerns they have. These concerns become a part of the next meeting’s agenda.
  • Agenda round – During the agenda round we collectively go through the tensions collected in the previous round and we try to resolve them.
  • Closing round - here participants leave feedback about the meeting so that the process can be improved in the future.

After every meeting the secretary is responsible for posting the meeting notes. Here is an example of one of our meeting notes.

Conclusion

Our team was struggling for many months to find an organizational structure that can best fit us. At the beginning of 2018 we applied Holacracy to our team and now we can honestly say that it helped us to build an efficient, self-driven and open source community. If you like our new methods and organizational structure, feel free to - join us.

That is all for now. In the next article, I will share the story about how we switched our organizational model from anarchy, to a scrum and then to Holacracy, so you will be able to compare them all and determine what you think will work best for your team. I hope you have enjoyed this article and don’t forget to follow PARSEC Labs on social media: