8/19 – Brian J. Robertson, Holacracy

Russ Volckmann

Brian J. Robertson, Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2015.

holacracy-3dIn 2007 Integral Leadership Review featured a couple of articles about holacracy ( ;, Brian Robertson’s innovative organizational approach in the software company he built and his subsequent entrepreneurial activity.

On January 15, 2014 Forbes published a story about Zappos’ experience with holacracy: (

On May 29, 2015 FastCompany published an article about Zappos and holacracy. (

On July 21, 2015, I heard a discussion of holacracy on NPR: “Zappos: A Workplace Where No One And Everyone Is The Boss” (

Here is a quote from the program referring to the work of Brian Robertson:

Holacratic governance is the brainchild of Brian Robertson, a serial entrepreneur who sought better ways of running his companies. He likens the system to cell biology.

“You don’t have a boss cell telling the other cells what to do. Every cell has its own self-organizing process,” Robertson says. “And yet, they’re kind of grouped together into an organ that integrates them and itself acts as a whole entity.”

Robertson says about 300 organizations — including Washington state government and companies both large and small — are using or piloting holacracy. He says it makes organizations nimble and adaptable.

But, he admits, it can be a difficult adjustment, especially for organizations accustomed to a top-down hierarchy.

“There’s something almost safe and comforting, even when we don’t like it, about being in a system where there’s somebody else whose job it is to protect us, take care of us, nurture us,” Robertson says. “And when they don’t do that well, we get to be angry with them and blame them and hide behind them.”

This year, Robertson published his book, Holacracy. Given his interest in integral, it is truly significant that his work is being recognized on NPR. And it is significant that Zappos is not the only company trying this approach.

Holacracy is more than a structure of overlapping circles. It is a recognition that to bring significant change to an organization it takes time. When we are changing organizational structures, we are changing more than the formal division of labor and job descriptions. We are changing culture, we are changing the expectations in the relationships among people in the organization. We are redesigning processes. This is what Laske and others refer to as transformation.

It is estimated that a successful holacracy organizational change process takes about five years. And, despite the basic structural design, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, it is a learning process – and the structure supports learning. A must read for folks who are invested in organizations everywhere.



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