Lost in the Holacracy
March 30, 2015 1:36 PM   Subscribe

In 2013, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh announced plans to reorganize the company as a holacracy, or a management structure that replaces job titles and hierarchical relationships with self-organizing units. The move has generated resistance from Zappos employees; so much so that, in a long memo, Hsieh says he is going to "rip the bandaid" and give employees until April 30 to either get on board with holacracy or take a severance package. Meanwhile, Hsieh and his close associates are having difficulty saying what the principles of holacracy even are. Commentary on the memo from Andrew Hill and Kim Nash.
posted by Cash4Lead (190 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
"The people management aspects of the manager role are valuable in what the book refers to as Orange and Green organizations, but do not make sense in a self-organized and self-managing Teal organization. "

They should have went with a more professional color, like white.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:40 PM on March 30, 2015 [19 favorites]


Holacracy is a radically different management system that changes how an organization is structured, how decisions are made, and how power is distributed.

And when you get to chair the Governance meetings, you learn about all those people Lord Xenu put in volcanoes.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:43 PM on March 30, 2015 [32 favorites]


i.e., here's how we shed a bunch of headcount by sending the lukewarms running for the doors, leaving the true believers to pick up the pieces and self-organize.

I wonder if this counts as constructive dismissal?
posted by fatbird at 1:48 PM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


That all-hands email reads like a copy of Who Moved My Cheese inscribed to "BAIL OUT BAIL OUT BAIL OUT."
posted by The Gaffer at 1:48 PM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Hypothetical situation: Five years from now, Zappos has transitioned into a functioning, thriving holacracy. I, a consumer, order a pair of shoes from Zappos. I open the box when it arrives, but discover that instead of shoes, the box contains six crazed weasels who launch themselves, furiously, at my face. I subdue the weasels and tend to my injuries, and without hesitation book a flight to Las Vegas. Enraged, I storm into the inner sanctum of Zappos headquarters and shout, "WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?"

What happens?
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:48 PM on March 30, 2015 [89 favorites]


super disappointed this doesn't seem to have anything to do with holograms a la Star Wars
posted by desjardins at 1:49 PM on March 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


Their FAQ says: "Job titles in a Holacracy-powered company are largely meaningless, though some companies still choose to use them just so the outside world has something they recognize and understand. But within the company, they are totally irrelevant when it comes to power, authority, etc. Instead, people are assigned to one or several Roles. Roles represent a function of work (e.g. "Social Media Marketing" role), even though unlike a job description, roles don't need to represent a 40h/week amount of work (e.g. "Webinar Presenter" role) .

It's true, there are no "managers" with Holacracy. Some of the work typically done by managers is now baked into the system itself (e.g., deciding who is accountable for what, which is done via the governance process in Holacracy). Some other work typically done by managers still needs to get done, but instead of centralizing it all into one job, it is broken down and clearly defined into Roles. Finally, there is a core role in each circle called the Lead Link, which by default includes several accountabilities typically attributed to managers (e.g., assigning people to roles in the circle, or resource allocation)."


No no, I'm not a MANAGER, I just have the Role of Lead Link! It's different for reasons!
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:50 PM on March 30, 2015 [23 favorites]




This seems to be the main difference: "In one situation, you might have authority over your colleague's role, and in another situation, your colleague might have authority over your role. I certainly can't see THAT causing any problems!
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:51 PM on March 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


I can't... what? What is this? Who thinks that this will give you a product? Or money? Or even hay with which to feed your llamas?
posted by suelac at 1:51 PM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Enraged, I storm into the inner sanctum of Zappos headquarters and shout, "WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?"

An incredibly large weasel, the size of a Fiat 500, struts into the foyer. He studies your scratches and bruises with glittering eyes and asks, "What seems to be the problem?" Suddenly, you've lost the urge to complain.
posted by betweenthebars at 1:53 PM on March 30, 2015 [78 favorites]


So let’s say you’re the head of social media, but you’re really bad at Twitter, but your accountant is great at it — that can be his role.

Uh. Okay.

I certainly can't see THAT causing any problems!

No, no, no. There's a simple solution. See, whoever is holding this conch shell is the only one who can speak.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:53 PM on March 30, 2015 [86 favorites]


Holacracy was incubated [ugh] at Ternary Software, a software development company [oh, of course] founded and led by Brian Robertson.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:54 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I heard about that memo a week ago. It is a total shitshow over there. The worst is the customer service reps, who now set their own schedule. As a result, nobody is there during peak hours.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:54 PM on March 30, 2015 [21 favorites]


This seems to be the main difference: "In one situation, you might have authority over your colleague's role, and in another situation, your colleague might have authority over your role. I certainly can't see THAT causing any problems!


Oh, that I can handle, because that's just functioning project teams. I lead a team for Project A, and Coworker 33 is on the team, and answers to my deadlines etc. But I also am a technical specialist on Coworker 33's team, which is doing Project B. So I answer to her for her deadlines.

If that's holacracy, that's pretty standard in a lot of places. But it's functional, not structural, and it doesn't replace traditional lines of authority like who approves leave and conducts reviews and signs paychecks. It overlaps with it, and supplements it.

But none of my experience seems represented in any of the handwavey woo-woo I got from the Re/Code article.
posted by suelac at 1:55 PM on March 30, 2015 [21 favorites]


Enraged, I storm into the inner sanctum of Zappos headquarters and shout, "WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?" What happens?

Frank Zappa rises from the dead?
posted by Cash4Lead at 1:55 PM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


I would love to work in a holacracy, as it would make it much easier to hide my laziness and disinterest.

It probably sounds like I am kidding here.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:55 PM on March 30, 2015 [99 favorites]


desjardins: “super disappointed this doesn't seem to have anything to do with holograms a la Star Wars”

See, I'm over here nursing my own disappointment that this didn't have anything to do with mandating that all employees greet each other in Spanish.
posted by koeselitz at 1:56 PM on March 30, 2015 [52 favorites]


Holacracy: It really whips the llama's ass.
posted by madajb at 1:56 PM on March 30, 2015 [21 favorites]


What happens?

Well did you organize the weasels?

DirtyOldTown: My first thought was George Costanza's "I could go hog wild in there!"
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 1:56 PM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


As a result, nobody is there during peak hours

OK, that's nonsensical.

I eagerly await updates.

Also, didn't Amazon buy Zappos a year or so back? Wouldn't they have a say in these management decisions?
posted by suelac at 1:56 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Holacracy! Participatory "circles" that negotiate "roles" with "transparency" while having no actual power over their workplace! What a truly magnificent nascent form of doublespeak and mystification — it's like a management theory that has osmotically absorbed Occupy so well that it knows how to twinkle subversively.
posted by RogerB at 1:58 PM on March 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


In the picture heading that qz.com article, Tony Hsieh's head is sitting on his neck at an angle that strikes me as deeply unnatural. One might even say, Linda Blair-like.

Just saying, it would explain a lot.
posted by ostro at 1:59 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Faint of Butt: “Enraged, I storm into the inner sanctum of Zappos headquarters and shout, ‘WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?’ What happens?”

Cash4Lead: Frank Zappa rises from the dead?

Or Roger Troutman.
posted by koeselitz at 1:59 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


showbiz_liz: Holacracy was incubated [ugh] at Ternary Software, a software development company [oh, of course] founded and led by Brian Robertson.

...my instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:03 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


it's like a management theory that has osmotically absorbed Occupy

That comparison actually occurred to me as well... along with memories of my long-suffering friend's complaints that the loose organizations structure often resulted in the most strident maniacs outlasting or shouting down their opposition.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:03 PM on March 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


I love when companies do things like this. Trying out new organizational models, especially ones that seem so obviously broken and crazy, is fascinating. We can't combat structural inequalities without trying new structures. While most new structures will fail, it is very difficult to predict which ones will fail. Trying it on a moderately sized company like Zappos is an excellent test situation for seeing what the relative strengths and weaknesses of a particular model are.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:03 PM on March 30, 2015 [48 favorites]


Holacracy® is a workplace management technique ... that apparently does not recognize that organizations are made up of people...

...invented by software engineers as a non-hierarchical corporate system that seeks to eliminate employee and management egos. There are no titles, no chatter about personal life allowed, no bosses who can tell anyone what to do or when. It is a unified, organically evolving organization that moves toward a singular purpose.

Oh my.
posted by rtha at 2:03 PM on March 30, 2015 [30 favorites]


What I really want is video of someone from the Center for Workplace Democracy, once they pick their jaw back up off the floor, trying to make sense of the cultspeakish managementese in these documents. If it weren't actually a fairly creepy cooptation, it'd practically seem like a garbled parody of their politics.
posted by RogerB at 2:04 PM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


I was just about to buy a pair of weasels... er, shoes from Zappos. Wondering if maybe I should shop elsewhere...
posted by twsf at 2:05 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is a unified, organically evolving organization that moves toward a singular purpose.

...where Resistance is Futile?
posted by aught at 2:06 PM on March 30, 2015 [16 favorites]




The worst is the customer service reps, who now set their own schedule. As a result, nobody is there during peak hours.

Holy shit. My wife raves about their customer support reps. But I also know if Zappos starts showing any downtick in that reputation she will fold faster than Superman on laundry day.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:07 PM on March 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


The devil's Management's finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist.

- Charles Baudelaire
posted by benito.strauss at 2:07 PM on March 30, 2015 [32 favorites]


Oh god so first thing I wanted to find out is what a "teal organization" is of course. Turns out it comes from here which comes from the "Integral Theory" of this guy who you will notice is one of the prominent blurbers of aforementioned book! This isn't just your basic SV bullshit - this goes so far back into self-referential mumbo-jumbo I can't even.
posted by atoxyl at 2:08 PM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


In every business organization I've ever been involved with, this would turn into Lord of the Flies within six months at the outside, I'm not kidding. We'd all be half naked and screaming, chasing Piggy around with pointed sticks and murder in our eyes.

Nobody who has even a remote concept of how human beings work could begin to think this is going to end well. In fact, I would - and I'm totally serious here - assume that anyone who thought this was a good and workable idea for "re-engineering" their organization was somewhere on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum.
posted by Naberius at 2:09 PM on March 30, 2015 [46 favorites]


Enraged, I storm into the inner sanctum of Zappos headquarters and shout, "WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?" What happens?

A filthy bearded hippie looks up from his shoelace mandala and replies "Well, YOU are, man, if you want to be" before returning to his work.
posted by contraption at 2:11 PM on March 30, 2015 [103 favorites]


Wow, a lot of mockery for what's just a different idea than people are used to. Any substantive issues aside from mockery?

It's ashamed that we're all so used to top down hierarchical institutions that we can only mock any other idea.

There are plenty of flaws in our current method of top-down only management. Maybe one of the largest is the complete disconnect between the higher-up decision makers, and the people who actually work with the systems passed down.

A task oriented system could add much needed feedback in operations.

I don't know how or if this one would work, but I'm interested to see it try.
posted by malrimple at 2:12 PM on March 30, 2015 [47 favorites]


So much woo! It's a floor wax and a dessert topping!

Our company used to have a CEO, now retired, that went absolutely ape-shit for every new management idea and organizing principle that came down the pike. Some were OK, many were...not maintained after he retired, or even after the next great idea popped into his head. (He was a good guy, though, and his heart was in the right place, even if he had some impulse control issues with adopting these sorts of corporate management panaceas). He had a huge hardon for Zappos's previous management style, and used to cite them as a model of a successful, consumer-focused retail operation to anyone who'd listen. Our company is not in a market space at all similar to theirs, so this was just admiration - he just liked the way Zappos focused on their customers' needs. I shudder to think at what a deep barrel of shit we'd be in right now if he had sat next to Tony Hsieh on a random Southwest flight and heard his spiel about holacracy...
posted by mosk at 2:13 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hsieh wouldn't be the first CEO who got obsessed with management esotericism. It's mysterious, fun, titillatingly dangerous, and promises all kinds of outlandish rewards. Still rooting for him and Zappos, though.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:13 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


HOLY SHIT

This is literally insane. The re/code article reads like an excerpt from Egger's The Circle except that was a dystopian work of fiction.

Jorgenson explained that he was in charge of categorizing collisions and figuring out interesting ways to measure them. He said he had chosen a Defcon military-ranking system for socializing. A Level 2, for example: If two people stop within an eight-foot radius for 15 seconds.

He thinks that through collision studies we can come to understand how healthy this new tribe is. “Groups working together functioning correctly are immensely rational — it’s the reason humans evolved in tribes. We can, as a city, get a sense of how rational the city is, how good it is as a whole.”


This is literal crazy talk. This quantification of social interactions without any regard for actual results is... I just keep saying insane over and over again. It's all fucking crazy.
posted by GuyZero at 2:13 PM on March 30, 2015 [43 favorites]


Once management starts handing out copies of 'Who Moved My Cheese", it's time to GTFO.

Might be a time to get into the online shoe selling business, too.
posted by Catblack at 2:14 PM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


“Tony keeps it tight, keeps it within the llama.”

This is an actual quote from the recode.net article. If you just read the primary article and skipped the recode.net one, I strongly encourage you to read it. All three sections. Including the one devoted solely to llamas. No, this is not a metaphor.
posted by ostro at 2:14 PM on March 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


From this article....

One night, over dinner with Hsieh and his friends at Carson Kitchen, a new high-end restaurant in what was once the rundown John E. Carson hotel for men, I lost track of the conversation, reached for a pork slider, considered sipping my Fernet shot, and suddenly realized they were fiercely debating how to explain to me a Holacracy concept called “circle elections.” The conversation had escalated.

“That’s not how I’d define it at all!” said one young Zappos employee named Alexis.

“What you’re saying is not Holacracy,” another responded.

Hsieh interjected: “If this were Holacracy, this would not be allowed.”

“Okay, I’m just going to finish this fucking sentence — Holacracy affords every person sacred space,” Alexis said. “There’s also a dark underbelly — it requires every person to be transparent with their tensions, which is often thought of as masculine. Like, if I think Don’s an asshole …”


Ah. You can't have holacracy without some holes now, can you?

I joke, but holy fuck this is going to give me nightmares that someone in the large-ish organization I work in is going to get this notion into their head and try to "leverage" it as a new methodology.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:14 PM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is like someone took anarchism and subtracted all the actual positives, right?

I mean, sure, maybe everyone will no longer have boring, staid old titles, and people will "self organize"....but I bet the pay structure will stay the same, and if the workers decide to 'self organize" so that people get, say, paid parental leave or the right to wear green and silver liberty spikes to meetings or something, I bet the boom will be lowered pretty damn quick.
posted by Frowner at 2:14 PM on March 30, 2015 [51 favorites]


Shoes come in, shoes go out. You can't explain that.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:15 PM on March 30, 2015 [28 favorites]


stoneweaver: yes, let a thousand flowers bloom, but at the same time this is toying with people's livelihoods in ways that seem to me incredibly callous and disturbing.

Based on the re/code article in the post, this is a system that its practitioners describe as "less about people", and that requires employees to exhibit traits which are "often thought of as masculine". I may be picking up on a dog-whistle of some sort, but to me this speaks to the worst and most exclusionary motivations of the "hacker" ethic and suggests that this is in large part about people trying to get rid of everyone who works in a different style than they do so that they can "just get stuff done" without worrying about "all this people stuff".

There is a certain kind of computer programmer who thinks that the only people who are capable of doing good work are the ones who resemble them -- and generally these people just happen to be white and Asian men. This is a very bad way to run a company, and it seems like holacracy comes from this sort of mindset.
posted by goingonit at 2:18 PM on March 30, 2015 [51 favorites]


I mean, the main feature of contemporary management theory is to attempt to compel everyone to act and speak at all times as if their paid labor is a hobby and we live in a financially equal society.

Work is not a "tribe" (which is a creepy and offensive enough term to use on the face of it). Work is the system where the people with the money tell you what to do, accepting your advice when it doesn't cut into their money and accepting your pushback only so much as they need you to feel happy. Some jobs are great! Some jobs are fun! Some jobs are self-actualizing! But they're all about people who are compelled to sell their labor to other people with more financial and structural power.
posted by Frowner at 2:18 PM on March 30, 2015 [83 favorites]




Holacracy was incubated [ugh] at Ternary Software

According to LinkedIn, a company with three employees. According to their website... Someone is squatting the domain. Boy, holacracy really worked out well for them!
posted by five fresh fish at 2:19 PM on March 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


Enraged, I storm into the inner sanctum of Zappos headquarters and shout, "WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?" What happens?
  ________  ____  ___   ______  __________  ____  ____  __  ___________
 /_  __/ / / / / / / | / / __ \/ ____/ __ \/ __ \/ __ \/  |/  / ____/ /
  / / / /_/ / / / /  |/ / / / / __/ / /_/ / / / / / / / /|_/ / __/ / / 
 / / / __  / /_/ / /|  / /_/ / /___/ _, _/ /_/ / /_/ / /  / / /___/_/  
/_/ /_/ /_/\____/_/ |_/_____/_____/_/ |_/_____/\____/_/  /_/_____(_)   

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:19 PM on March 30, 2015 [51 favorites]


City Science co-founder Dylan Jorgensen at work in his entrepreneur dorm room at the Gold Spike Hotel & Casino

WTF part 2...
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:20 PM on March 30, 2015


It's ashamed that we're all so used to top down hierarchical institutions that we can only mock any other idea.

Anybody focusing on the idea of a non-hierachical institution as the problem here is missing that the whole thing is soaked in decades of new-age obfuscation having to do with something called integral theory. If you can read the links coming off that page and not find it reminiscent of literal, actual cultism I don't know what to tell you.
posted by atoxyl at 2:20 PM on March 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


From chavenet's link:
Holacracy was invented by Brian Robertson, a 35-year-old former programmer with barely any management experience. He created Holacracy in 2007 because he had a "burning sense that there has to be a better way to work together," he said in an interview with Fast Company.

So it's a management style born out of engineer's disease. This will wendell.

Not that what they teach you when you get an MBA seems to be more useful, but at least there, they're pretending to try.
posted by Hactar at 2:23 PM on March 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


Seems like it should be "holocracy", anyway.
posted by uosuaq at 2:23 PM on March 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


...invented by software engineers as a non-hierarchical corporate system that seeks to eliminate employee and management egos.

Never trust anything created by a software engineer. (Signed, a software engineer.)

And ego is all some software engineers have.
posted by Foosnark at 2:27 PM on March 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


I read that damn Delivering Happiness book after a VC told me to post pitch meeting. This....this recent development doesn't surprise me in the least.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:27 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


MegaLOL at that FastCo article:
Adopting Holacracy isn't cheap or easy. The system has its own set of rules and lingo, and is complicated to implement. The Holacracy parent company, HolacracyOne, helps companies transition by offering consulting services that run from $50,000 to $500,000, depending on how long it takes to achieve self-sufficiency.
It's all so flat and unhierarchical and holistic! What could be more democratic and open than the boss paying his personal cult gurus theory experts to come in and tell everyone how to self-organize to his satisfaction?
posted by RogerB at 2:27 PM on March 30, 2015 [21 favorites]


It's easy to make fun of Holacracy, and it certainly deserves skepticism. But I appreciate the attempt to do something different. Growing companies is hard, and the structure of the usual bureaucratic 1000+ company is terrible. Also Hsieh and Zappos have historically been respected for building a good company culture, so I'm willing to pay a bit more attention to this effort than a simple kneejerk reaction.

OTOH, it certainly is risible. Maciej Ceglowski, who often has a gift for English, had this characterization:
This Zappos memo about ‘Holacracy’ reads like the Khmer Rouge as interpreted by Dilbert.
Many other trenchant comments on his Twitter account.
posted by Nelson at 2:32 PM on March 30, 2015 [42 favorites]


It's also -- well, look. I'm a cog in the machine. I'm a competent cog, and I do my job, and I respect the mission, and I try to get along with the coworkers who apparently think my competence threatens their ambition. But I'm just a cog.

I don't WANT to be building the new organizational structure. I just want to work my compressed work schedule with my alternate Fridays off, and occasionally take a long lunch, and go home.

And under this type of regime management style, the loudest most annoying coworkers are going to be the ones establishing how everything works and setting project priorities. Which is deeply stupid and short-sighted.

Happily (sort of), my workplace is so. very. hierarchical., and is never EVER going to change that up. So I'm not at risk from Holocracy. But I feel bad for the people who are.
posted by suelac at 2:33 PM on March 30, 2015 [19 favorites]


I find it fascinating that they're using the -cracy suffix, rather than the -archy suffix, which makes me wonder if they know why all the other governments systems are called fooarchies -- oligarchy, monarchy, anarchy, etc., but there's that oddball one that's called democracy.

Hint. It's not a nice reason. "-cracy" is basically "forceful rule." The term for the original Athenian government by citizen vote should be demarchy*, but the elite in Athens called it democracy, because they wanted to tar it as just a polite form of rule by the mob.

So, when you see holacracy, keep that in mind.


* And now you know why Alastair Reynolds calls it that. Why is there no Now You Know emoji?
posted by eriko at 2:34 PM on March 30, 2015 [53 favorites]


I originally thought that this was "Hola-cracy" in the sense that everyone says "Hola" as they serendipitously encounter each other while passing through the entrance to Zappos' offices.

Boy was I wrong.
posted by ethansr at 2:35 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I expect it would have been better received delivered shit sandwich style.
posted by 99_ at 2:36 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


And under this type of regime management style, the loudest most annoying coworkers are going to be the ones establishing how everything works and setting project priorities. Which is deeply stupid and short-sighted.

Under this type of management style, I'm not sure anyone will every be able to figure out or agree upon what the management style actually is, though they will all know very clearly what color it is.
posted by atoxyl at 2:37 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dylan Jorgensen, who is co-leading the "collisionable" bit, apparently has a "entrepreneur dorm room" in a building that boasts "oversized cornhole games, a hopscotch setup and a human-sized Jenga game," not to mention "secret passcodes to certain rooms" that are allowed to slowly filter out. Also, Soylent is his "preferred food."

So, thing is, maybe this stuff does work for him. But that doesn't really tell me anything, because anybody who would voluntarily, as an adult, live in a 260-sqft dorm room with a shared kitchen (in spite of what must be a pretty decent income, no?) and consume primarily Soylent has a set of personal values and incentives that are so deeply different from mine that I can't imagine one could usefully generalize from his experience to mine.
posted by ostro at 2:38 PM on March 30, 2015 [27 favorites]


In a machine, a small turn of the big cog at the top can send lots of little cogs spinning. The reverse isn’t true―the little cog at the bottom can try as hard as it pleases, but it has little power to move the bigger cog.

Whoopsies! Someone didn't study gear trains!

Overall, it's a great concept and one worth studying. But jeez, awful lot of selling going on for a "deal or GTFO" email.
posted by disconnect at 2:39 PM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wonder how Semco has been doing since the publication of The Seven-Day Weekend. I highly recommend it to anyone who is intrigued by the concept of workplace democracy and transparency, and whose chains haven't been on so long they have begun to look like jewelry to them.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:40 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seems like it should be "holocracy", anyway.

From Robertson's "History of Holacracy®:"
After some brainstorming we landed on “Holacracy” as a leading contender, and then adopted it formally some months later. It captured the spirit we were looking for — governance of and by the organizational holarchy; through the people, but not of or for the people. It also had the benefit of being an entirely new made up word — there were exactly zero Google hits for “Holacracy” when we created it, which gave us an entirely blank slate to start conveying to the world our intended meaning of this new term, and what to expect from the operating system it branded.
I guess "hola-" instead of "holo" is intended to suggest rule proceeding from the entire "holarchy," instead of from individual "holons."

I find it fascinating that they're using the -cracy suffix, rather than the -archy suffix

I imagine there were already Google hits for "holarchy," so they couldn't just stick an ® on it and call it a day.
posted by Iridic at 2:40 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


We tried to implement Holocracy at my place of employment. The results were less than stellar & it has since been abandoned.

The consultants from HolocracyOne functioned like side-show psychics, essentially trying to cold-read whoever they identified as the manager of the group and finagle the team into convincing the manager that work was getting done. Meanwhile, the problems we encountered with holocracy were all a result of "incomplete implementation", a process that would have taken an estimated 2 years to complete. HolocracyOne hadn't been around for two years to see holocracy completely implemented anywhere by the time we abandoned them.

As a snarky aside, the 20-30 page rulebook we were all handed prominently featured an image of deadlocked gears on the front- and with that thought, I ask everyone to refrain from blaming software engineers for Holocracy. It took most of us about 30 seconds to realize which creek we'd just plopped our little kayaks into.
posted by elsp at 2:41 PM on March 30, 2015 [59 favorites]


Maybe they could leverage their weasels to get their hands on a Badger?
posted by blue_beetle at 2:43 PM on March 30, 2015


Hsieh says he is going to "rip the bandaid" and give employees until April 30 to either get on board with holacracy or take a severance package.

Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system!
posted by thelonius at 2:44 PM on March 30, 2015 [20 favorites]


Before you mock the hell out of this (too late), it's worth considering Valve, which despite some difficulties, has made something like this work. If you're not familiar with how Valve works and you're interested in these issues, read that PDF.

Now, there are some pretty good reasons why this kind of structure can work at Valve and might be a miserable failure at Zappos. Valve is privately owned by one guy and doesn't have to deliver results to shareholders or Amazon management. Valve hires with their structure in mind and is perfectly content to pass on otherwise well-qualified candidates who aren't good fits for a flat decentralized organizational structure. Zappos already has thousands of employees who are not proven fits for this new form of organization. Much of Valve's work involves working in teams to produce large-scale creative products, while much of Zappos' involves day-to-day time-critical operations to sell shoes and fashion. Valve can fail time after time and still succeed as long as their hits are big enough, while Zappos needs to consistently deliver day after day. I'm sure there are other reasons I might consider if I spent more than 30 seconds thinking about the problem, but I trust Hsieh has considered all this, no?
posted by zachlipton at 2:46 PM on March 30, 2015 [22 favorites]


Now granted, a lot of our organizational structure is still based on the same top-down hierarchy that was required to have one person in charge of thousands of people at the dawn of the industrial age. (Loosely paraphrasing from Berkun's "Year Without Pants" here, I think.)

So there's probably room for improvement. Turning the entire company into Buzzword Central is probably not the best way to do so, though. It's like the Tragedy of the Commons is baked into the design!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:49 PM on March 30, 2015


i work with a dude who is slow and stupid and almost in possession of his MBA. he's got to have something to do with this.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 2:54 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Before you mock the hell out of this (too late), it's worth considering Valve, which despite some difficulties, has made something like this work. If you're not familiar with how Valve works and you're interested in these issues, read that PDF.

Valve is incredibly successful at being a self-organizing company, but I think it's a terrible example of self-organization working in a broader sense.
  • Valve's employees are the best of the best.
  • Valves work is something that inspires incredible passion.
  • Valve has enough money to throw around that if a problem can be solved with money, they can solve it that way at their discretion.
Those three things are almost never true, especially not all at once. Valve would probably be successful if the management structure consisted of angry wasps randomly stinging employees.

On the other hand, imagine your place of work after management consultants arrive and and say "Hey, here's wasp stingers for everyone who wants the role of stingy-wasp" and then belittle anyone who says they don't like wasp stings.
posted by elsp at 2:55 PM on March 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


Again, it's worth recounting Jerri Ellsworth's experience with holacracy at Valve. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the concept there.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:00 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah I did link to a piece about Jerri Ellsworth's view in my comment. I do think there's a real issue that when you replace established hierarchy with a flat organization, it's easy to wind up with cabals instead (there is no cabal).
posted by zachlipton at 3:06 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


i'm totes using this corporate woo as inspiration for my dystopian future
posted by angrycat at 3:07 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


A management technique invented by software engineers? What could go wrong?

(I say this as a software engineer myself. I would never work for a company where the engineers designed the corporate structure).

At least they're giving them some money if they choose to quit. Thats better than most American companies would do.

(And on Valve: from what I've heard from other engineers they also have the advantage of being in the gaming industry, where so many companies are actively horrible all the time, and an industry where the work itself appeals to engineers more innately than selling shoes does, generally speaking).
posted by thefoxgod at 3:09 PM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


when i see something like this i briefly get carried away imagining that this is *the* setting in which i could succeed or thrive, that the reason i do so poorly and feel like such a piece of shit in office settings is because of how traditional and flawed they are and that with just the right tweaks I could really do great things with my skills within a corporate structure.

then i see something like goingonit's comment and i realize, oh yeah, these sorts of things aren't actually meant to help people like me be better. it's to help the people who are already on top out-better everyone else.
posted by ghostbikes at 3:10 PM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Valve exists by keeping Steam running and making money hand over fist on virtual hats/the keys to unlock same. "Valve Time" might work great for them, but most companies don't have that constant cash infusion that lets one wait years between games.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:13 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


also this seems to have an extra special modern-startup flavor of "let's find a way to reward the people who are networking social work-partiers" and "let's find a way to monetize those drinking-related social gatherings we tend to have in this hip cool young startup economy" which just alienates my shy, introverted, no-thank-you-i'd-rather-just-put-my-nose-to-the-grindstone-please ass even more. and tips things even further in the direction of type-a startup drinkbros.
posted by ghostbikes at 3:14 PM on March 30, 2015 [30 favorites]


Next up, all the managers award each other solid gold freedom vision endurance valor medals which unlock a fortune in potential bitcoins
posted by The Whelk at 3:16 PM on March 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


So what exactly are the actual material features that mark people who hold the actual power in a holocratic organization, despite whatever obfuscation the holocratic technique puts over these actual material power differences?

Is it ownership? More shares more real power? Or is it something more subtle than that?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:20 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Before you mock the hell out of this (too late), it's worth considering Valve, which despite some difficulties, has made something like this work. If you're not familiar with how Valve works and you're interested in these issues, read that PDF.

I just had a read of this, because I hadn't heard about the way this company worked at all. (I'm vaguely familiar with what they produce, though.)

My gut instinct is that it rewards the people who are better at networking, who are more outgoing, who are good at getting into little cliques and groups within the organisation. You'll get asked to do more projects, and be more productive, if you're constantly involved with the life of the company - going on work nights out, drinking with colleagues, constantly talking and blagging. The "do what you think is important" rhetoric seems to be just that - someone is deciding what's important for the company, however you dress it up. That's just how a company works. And without a traditional management structure, you can only find out what's important by networking.

So if you're the sort of person who prefers to quietly work on things, and you're not interested in networking and have your own life outside of work, you're likely to flop at such a company. You'll quietly work on something, do a great job, find out it wasn't really what the company wanted you to be working on, despite their do-what-you-want bluster, and find yourself out of the door.

I have issues with the way our society works right now, but this phoney non-hierarchical structure doesn't sit well with me at all. I'd much rather be given a task to do by someone who is unequivocally above me on a management structure, and then get on and do it.
posted by winterhill at 3:21 PM on March 30, 2015 [36 favorites]


So what exactly are the actual material features that mark people who hold the actual power in a holocratic organization, despite whatever obfuscation the holocratic technique puts over these actual material power differences?

Is it ownership? More shares more real power? Or is it something more subtle than that?


Think of the pecking order in your average American high school as a management paradigm.

You can scream in terror now.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:22 PM on March 30, 2015 [37 favorites]


Self-managing, self-organizing teams and organizations have been shown to work well in many cases. I'm afraid though that holacracy is just a branded management lingo for doing what a bunch of companies have been doing for a while. Furthermore you can get a bunch of ideas for how to successfully implement self-managed teams without having to pay a bunch of management consultants anything.

So while the end goal is admirable this does sound like a remarkable bit of snake-oil especially since they don't really have a bunch of free stuff that they are giving away but instead seem to be hawking promises of a brave new world if you just sign on the dotted line.
posted by vuron at 3:23 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


"type-a startup drinkbros" is an excellent phrase, ghostbikes.

If one wants to try a non-standard business, why not go with a worker-owned cooperative? One worker, one vote! Has worked for lots of companies!

But I guess it's not buzz-wordy enough.
posted by emjaybee at 3:27 PM on March 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


I can see this sort of thing working, sort of, at a place like Valve, whose entire business is in bits and bytes. I work in the logistics industry, which in large part is the industry that Zappos is in. That is the industry of storing and shipping goods. "No one can tell anyone what to do" sounds just great when you have several shipping containers from China filled with mixed loads of little boxes that need to be manually destuffed, sorted, palletized, and put away somewhere so that they can be picked and shipped by some other holocrat the next day. Because believe me, no one would ever choose to do that if they had any choice in the matter (especially not in summer, those things are goddamn ovens). But they'll probably just unload all that inconvenient physical reality on third parties anyway, if they haven't already.
posted by rodlymight at 3:29 PM on March 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


Just because your org chart will no longer have any visible lines doesn't mean they aren't there.

Holacracy is just clique-ocracy. Someone has power over you, but now rather than a boss it'll be a hidden committee of cool kids. Rather than formal hierarchy, it will be established by whispers and hints.
posted by chimaera at 3:31 PM on March 30, 2015 [24 favorites]


Oh, wowhoa! Is there nothing that can't be improved by disruption!?
posted by johnnydummkopf at 3:32 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is it ownership? More shares more real power?

Of course! Holacracy™ is maybe a way of coercing the underlings into negotiating power relations among themselves according to a pseudo-consensus mechanism, but it doesn't affect who owns the "system" that all the "holons" are working for at all. Wrapping the same-as-ever actual exploitative power relations in one more layer of obfuscatory ersatz liberation seems like the whole ideological point of the thing, as far as I can tell.

why not go with a worker-owned cooperative?

In Mondragon nobody gets to be the billionaire llama king!
posted by RogerB at 3:33 PM on March 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


For those interested in this type of alternative management system with a little less of the mockery, there's also Sociocracy, which has a lot of the same egalitarianism without going completely woo or being quite as mockable as holacracy seems to be. There are also a fair number of organizations practicing Sociocracy.

I've never yet met a holacracy supporter who'd read the Tyranny of Structurelessness, but I keep recommending it to them.
posted by freyley at 3:36 PM on March 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


Straight from the horse's mouth, holacracy (ala Zappos) is NOT the same thing as a flat org (ala Valve), it's... something else. I don't know what, just something.
posted by muddgirl at 3:37 PM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Straight from the horse's mouth, holacracy (ala Zappos) is NOT the same thing as a flat org (ala Valve), it's... something else. I don't know what, just something.

This strikes me as a "blackmail vs. extortion" sort of difference.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:49 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Straight from the horse's mouth, holacracy (ala Zappos) is NOT the same thing as a flat org (ala Valve), it's... something else. I don't know what, just something.

Sure, I guess. But is this (Holacracy's internal version of whatever they call an org chart if everybody is in circles instead of hierarchical boxes) really that fundamentally different from Valve's model of moving desks around into teams and some people winding up more equal than others? I'm sure the Holacracy people will say it's completely different in ways I'd need to attend a seminar to understand, but is it that different from a day-to-day perspective?
posted by zachlipton at 3:49 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


it's... something else

Heh. It's own proponents can't articulate that thing either, so none of us should feel bad for being confused.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:50 PM on March 30, 2015


OK, I'm watching the holacracy video. So the main difference is that, instead of having to ask my boss for the authority to make some process change, do some job, or get some resource, now I have to tell a committee that I'm going to do it, and they get to tell me what I should do differently?

Honestly, maybe it's because I already work for a nimble company with a relatively flat heirarchy (I think on the org chart there are 3 people between me and the President), but this seems more like a process for structuring meetings that already occur at good companies, plus renaming jobs so that people's feelings don't get hurt.
posted by muddgirl at 3:54 PM on March 30, 2015


"It's a radical approach and we're passionate about trying it," says CTO Brent Cromley.

Seems like a perfectly cromleyulent organizing principle to me!
posted by snofoam at 4:00 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


But is this (Holacracy's internal version of whatever they call an org chart if everybody is in circles instead of hierarchical boxes) really that fundamentally different from Valve's model of moving desks around into teams and some people winding up more equal than others?

Accountabilities:
- Removing constraints within Holacracy Ecosystem that limit the Circle's capacity to express its Purpose or Accountabilities

- Seeking to understand Tensions conveyed by any of the Circle's Circle Members, and discerning those appropriate to channel into Holacracy Ecosystem for processing

"Flat organization" is one of those too simple/too easy ideas that's an easy sell because it's so simple/easy like a "flat tax." I don't know if what's underneath "holacracy" is similar or dissimilar to "flat organization" in practice but whatever it is it's sold in an opposite way, via Scientology-esque obfuscation, which is think is the more interesting aspect here.
posted by atoxyl at 4:09 PM on March 30, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, some people on my team (including our boss) sat through a pitch from some people who have some publishing software stuff that might or might not be helpful to us. They were unable to explain to us what problem their software would solve, and how it would make our work easier or more efficient. We decided to not use their product.

This holacracy thing sounds like that. If Zappos management as it now stands can't explain what it is and what problems it would solve, they really shouldn't be threatening to let go of people who won't get on board. Get on board what?
posted by rtha at 4:10 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Before I came across this FPP, I was reading something about Scientology, and I gotta tell you, right now it and holacracy are really jumbled together in my brain. That can't be good.
posted by adamrice at 4:14 PM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


“In terms of conversations, it streamlines what you talk about,” he said. “Any time you talk, you have an objective. You don’t talk for the sake of talking."

Nope. No engineer invented this, no sir.

"Over the last two years, three prominent Downtown Project affiliated entrepreneurs have committed suicide. I wondered whether this obsession with efficiency and streamlined speech may have made people feel more isolated."

The hell you say.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:19 PM on March 30, 2015 [27 favorites]


"Flat organization" is one of those too simple/ too easy ideas that's an easy sell because it's so simple/easy like a "flat tax."

Oh god please do not conflate this latest bit of management woo with an umbrella as broad, varied and as flexible as flat organization, which has actually worked in numerous forms.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:23 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


If I were some kind of visionary, out-of-the-box-thinking CEO of a company that was purchased by a larger company and now needed to get rid of all their staff, I might try to save face by doing something so crazy and cutting edge that after everyone ended up leaving I could say "It failed because I was too far ahead of my time!"
posted by snofoam at 4:23 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Gore and Associates of Gore-Tex fame: Managerless since 1958 (Previously)
posted by larrybob at 4:28 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


“Any time you talk, you have an objective. You don’t talk for the sake of talking."

wow someone absorbed the entirely wrong lesson from this Calvin and Hobbes strip.
posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 4:29 PM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't know what they expect out of an "organically evolving" anything but can someone mail me samples of the creature the marines end up killing at the resolution of act IV?
posted by Slackermagee at 4:30 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Before I came across this FPP, I was reading something about Scientology, and I gotta tell you, right now it and holacracy are really jumbled together in my brain. That can't be good.

That's just cause you where talking without objective and your mouth got full of thetans
posted by The Whelk at 4:30 PM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Maybe it's because I'm an engineer, but I'm really struggling with the lack of concrete examples of how this is supposed to work. Like, I don't see a single case study on their site or blog or wiki?

Also, the fact that they call any business rule not defined by the constitution an "app" makes me laugh.
posted by muddgirl at 4:35 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


If I were some kind of visionary, out-of-the-box-thinking CEO of a company that was purchased by a larger company and now needed to get rid of all their staff, I might try to save face by doing something so crazy and cutting edge that after everyone ended up leaving I could say "It failed because I was too far ahead of my time!"

Since you are talking about Amazon, you should know that the acquisition happened 6 years ago. You should also know that kooky ass management systems predate Amazon, probably the entire 10 years they in business before hand. As far as I know, they made the whole "if you can't deal with our crazy shit, here's X months severance no questions asked" thing popular.
posted by sideshow at 4:35 PM on March 30, 2015


Oh god please do not conflate this latest bit of management woo with an umbrella as broad, varied and as flexible as flat organization, which has actually worked in numerous forms.

Of course it does, though I think mostly in smaller organizations and it's doesn't just fix all the problems people want it to. Other commenters in this thread are conflating their disenchantment with the fad for "flatness" among startup people etc. with this thing, and my point is that there's actually another whole level of bullshit here.
posted by atoxyl at 4:37 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Engineers are always convinced they can design the perfect system.
posted by Nevin at 4:39 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


BTW, I found promotional interviews labeled "case study" in the resource library. An interview is not a case study.
posted by muddgirl at 4:42 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh god please do not conflate this latest bit of management woo with an umbrella as broad, varied and as flexible as flat organization, which has actually worked in numerous forms.

There are two kinds of organizations:

- those that are prescriptively hierarchal
- those that are descriptively hierarchal

There are certainly organizations that aim to be flat. None achieve it.
posted by GuyZero at 4:42 PM on March 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


> Engineers are always convinced they can design the perfect system.

Not the good ones.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:46 PM on March 30, 2015 [25 favorites]


It would be great if they had a business anthropologist or two onboard to document what actually happens over the next couple of years.
posted by palindromic at 4:49 PM on March 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


I guess "hola-" instead of "holo" is intended to suggest rule proceeding from the entire "holarchy," instead of from individual "holons."

I'm aware of their supposed "etymology" for the term, but if you know any Greek it's ugly as shit and means nothing. But maybe that's apt. They sound like a bunch of hypacrites anyway.
posted by uosuaq at 4:51 PM on March 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


The Holacracy parent company, HolacracyOne, helps companies transition by offering consulting services that run from $50,000 to $500,000, depending on how long it takes to achieve self-sufficiency.

I've been doing some reading lately about the birth of certain strains of modern management thinking in est and other cult-like "human potential" movements of the 70s. Holacracy, with its phony rhetoric of empowerment and revolutionary change, fee-based enlightenment, and Scientology-like jargon ("clear work", "clear structure") seems firmly in this tradition.
posted by ryanshepard at 4:56 PM on March 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


ryanshepard give us those book/article titles, i am fascinated by Dilbcult human potential movement / capitalist weirdness
posted by beefetish at 5:00 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


What the heck is going on here?
To track entrepreneurs, they will follow their movements via cellphones, and task the Downtown Project private police force (“The Rangers”) with monitoring body language and behavior (Did you wave hello? Did you hug or shake hands?). Your startup’s performance (How good were sales this month?) will be added to the data mix.
So many questions...
posted by mhum at 5:05 PM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oooh, here's something closer to a case study, albeit unintentionally: For the online retailer’s call center employees, more caller demand means more pay. I thought Hseih believed in self-organization? I thought circles would be writing their own business rules?
posted by muddgirl at 5:08 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


> Engineers are always convinced they can design the perfect system.

Not the good ones.


Yeah, if you have an engineer telling you they can design a "perfect system" they are either bad at their job, inexperienced, or both. Most engineers will have great stories about the bugs or issues they missed in previous designs.
posted by thefoxgod at 5:10 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Engineers are always convinced they can design the perfect system.

No, that's just Kevin Flynn. Real engineers are always* convinced they can design systems that solve problems within given constraints to some specified degree of precision, and can make reasonable decisions about the various trade-offs implied by those constraints.

*Not always, actually. But we try, and the situations where success is least certain can be some of the most enjoyable problems to work on.
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:12 PM on March 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


ryanshepard give us those book/article titles, i am fascinated by Dilbcult human potential movement / capitalist weirdness

Right now, I'm working on Art Kleiner's The Age of Heretics: A History of the Radical Thinkers Who Reinvented Corporate Management, which I recommend. Written by a former Whole Earth Catalog editor and Stewart Brand acolyte - so not exactly a skeptical, critical analysis - but a good overview all the same.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:14 PM on March 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm Mr. Manager.
posted by Brocktoon at 5:15 PM on March 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


This sounds like a hell of a lot of extra work on top of already having a job. Great if you like work and have no life outside of it, I guess. The bits about all the enforced socialization, with any non-work conversation forbidden, sound pretty nightmarish.

I mean, it's not like the traditional hierarchies aren't nightmares too. I can't deal with that either.
posted by egypturnash at 5:26 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


"If you think of the organization as a giant ball of yarn — you can plan out how to untangle it — or everyone can draw out their own tension. That’s Holacracy.”

Bro. I can see three tangled balls of yarn from where I'm sitting. If everyone grabs on to one ball of yarn at once and "draws out their own tension," there will literally be a giant tangle in the middle. Literally, if you do not locate at least one end, you are fucked. Maybe consider a different metaphor.
posted by clavicle at 5:43 PM on March 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


So my takeaway is...


Order all the shoes you want like ...now.
posted by The Whelk at 5:44 PM on March 30, 2015 [22 favorites]


"Well, I think your proposal has a lot of merit, and we definitely want to move forward with it; however, first we'll need to talk to the Neo-Maoist cadres down in finance, and judging by their big character posters, they're being pretty tight with discretionary spending this quarter. I think they still have alliances with the Six Sigma Syndicalist Society and the Accounting Vanguard of the Third Path, so we might be able to get some leverage there. On the other hand, we could talk to the Sacred Templars of Saint Ludwig, but you might have to swear fealty to the Duke of Burgundy. Don't bother with the 12th Falangist Legion- all they want to talk about is their fantasy football league."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:54 PM on March 30, 2015 [45 favorites]


Every time I see the term "holacracy", I imagine Gwen Stephani singing/chanting "I ain't no holacrat girl..."
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:57 PM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oooh, here's something closer to a case study, albeit unintentionally: For the online retailer’s call center employees, more caller demand means more pay.

That Forbes article makes the whole thing sound even more terrifyingly grotesque. To quote:
"allows workers to set discretionary hours and compensates them based on an Uber-esque surge-pricing payment model: hourly shifts with greater caller demand pay higher wages. The goal of Open Market was to create a “free-market system,” Goldstein says, and strike a balance between the rigidness of customer service center scheduling and what the company says is its dedication to giving employees time to pursue other opportunities at Zappos, like extra training. “We wanted the [customer service center employees] to work more flexible hours, eventually 100% flexible, and reward them based on how much or how little customers need them to work,” he says."

"The longer the hold time, the higher the customer demand, the more the employees working that shift would get paid."

"The employer-employee relationship becomes more “transactional,” Schweitzer says."

“If you look at the market economy, with things like Uber and TaskRabbit,” Schweitzer says, ”we’re moving toward an economy that has [loosened] the chains between the employer and employee, and it’s going to create opportunities for greater efficiencies. But we’re going to have to shake some of the long-held beliefs and relationships that we’ve had.”
So . . . . . the goal of this "free-market" system is to give the call-center employees "time to pursue other opportunities at Zappo's" - i.e., do more work for Zappo's. "[R]eward them based on how much or how little customers need them to work" sounds a hella lot like a variation on companies giving everyone just under the hours needed to qualify as full-time work - "Golly, Jane, sorry you can't make your rent this month, but gosh-darn it, nobody really called during your shifts, so your paycheck's pretty small." And when management starts talking about "transactional" relationships with their workers and "create opportunities for greater efficiencies" you know damn well this is all about the benefit for the company's bottom line, probably as a result of paying workers less in money and benefits, and all the talk in the world about improving working conditions or work/life balance is just horseshit.

You want people to work weird hours because that's when you need them the most? Hire people willing to work those hours. And the best way to find people to hire is to pay them enough so that they're willing to work the odd hours because they're willing to trade odd hours for high pay. Pretty fucking simple, companies have been doing that for decades without needing some Uber-style free-market pseudo-philosophy behind it.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:59 PM on March 30, 2015 [33 favorites]


Yeah, seriously, soundguy99. I worked overnight Sunday shifts at the help desk when I was 20 because it paid time and a half, and holidays paid double. Slow as can be AND more money? Yes, please.

This also reminds me of my recent Scrum training where I struggled in vain to get a straight answer about "ok, what if NO ONE wants to work on that task?" "Well, it must not have business value." "No, in this case it's something that has to be done no matter what." "Then someone will do it." "And if they don't, no one has the authority to assign it to them, and it doesn't get done..." ad infinitum.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:11 PM on March 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


On one hand, we have a company turning into a living lampoon that's about to be devoured by it's own surreal disregard for it's basic function and on the other it's where I buy shoes. It would be hilarious if it didn't sort of suck, too. Business management seems to be losing it's grasp on humanity by simply being so far from it.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:11 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


We can't combat structural inequalities without trying new structures.

Sure we can.

Mostly because a lot of "structural" inequalities are largely inequalities because the people at the top gave themselves more, and those under them less, and they were culturally applauded for it, and there was no-one with the legal power or inclination to stop them.

See: the drastic rise in pay difference between CEO's & regular workers, the many studies proving that real income has stayed level or gone down over the last 50 years, while productivity has gone up. And the many countries where this doesn't or hasn't happened because laws have teeth, and governments are willing to enforce those laws, and where it's culturally not as acceptable to be as greedy as humanly possible.

IOW, maybe we can try to improve the "standard" corporation before we go haring off after some wild-eyed half-assed restructuring, because we have history and examples that prove that things don't have to be as bad as they are, even operating within the current framework.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:43 PM on March 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


Looks like there's a whole book on Holacracy coming in a few months, we we can all immerse ourselves in this exciting new field, er, system, er, paradigm.

And if one needs any more demonstration of how out-there the Zappos founder is, just think for a moment about the entire premise of the Las Vegas Project: bringing MORE people into what is a waterless desert that shouldn't (and likely won't) exist a few decades from now.
posted by twsf at 6:49 PM on March 30, 2015


"No one can tell anyone what to do" sounds just great when you have several shipping containers from China filled with mixed loads of little boxes that need to be manually destuffed, sorted, palletized, and put away somewhere so that they can be picked and shipped by some other holocrat the next day.

They'll contract temps for that. Probably already do. And all the holocrats will be happy to order them about. Because the temps are uneducated, or immigrants, or just plain unlucky, so obviously not like us.
posted by TimTypeZed at 7:02 PM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I worked at a company that had something like this in place. Instead of a manager telling you what to do, you pretty much had to attend the CEO's weekly parties because, well, when you have a bunch of no-lifer startup types together after hours, they talk about work, and they decide things about your job, so if you decided to miss a party, you could walk in on Monday to find your job had entirely changed, you were working on an entirely different project, or you no longer had a job because the drunken totally-not-a-cabal realized after several rounds of shots that you weren't a team player because you weren't at the party.

Yay new paradigms!
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:10 PM on March 30, 2015 [28 favorites]


TWO SHOES ENTER




ONE SHOE LEAVES
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:35 PM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Well I guess I get to be the nay sayer here.

I work for a company organized like this. It isn't called holacracy or anything else, and there's no preaching or upper management saying 'you must organize yourself like this or else'. It was just like this from the beginning as a startup (I'm told). Maybe it has to be this way from the start. I'm not sure how you could modify a more formally structured organization to be less structured.

We got gobbled up by a much, much larger, older company that was fading. We did so well we ended up making most of the profits for the big company. Middle managers in big companies like to expand their empires, and every so often one of them would try, and our boss (only one boss for everyone) would tell them "back off or I walk and many of the staff walk with me". Upper management would panic, then tell the middle manager that it doesn't matter what the millions of company rules say, back off and leave them alone. So we continue to get our startup-style free lunches and set our own hours and manage ourselves. In fact, the culture is now being forced in the other direction and the rest of the company is going through a reduction in the layers of management.

Points were brought up about laziness and point of responsibility. It is pretty much the opposite of what is suggested. Each design gets a person responsible for it. You manage your project, from concept through manufacturing to sales. If there are customer complaints, it comes back to you. If you are a lazy person, you very quickly stick out like a sore thumb. There are all kinds of people you work with just like you help out on other projects. But in the end, it comes back to you.

I hate working for large bureaucracies, so I'm thriving here. Maybe it isn't for everyone. But it can definitely work amazingly well.
posted by eye of newt at 7:46 PM on March 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


At this point, I'd sign up for a flat organization.

I spent the last three months watching my current organization implode because one guy got into the wrong position. Many of my co-workers are just now finishing second interviews. It's going to be an ugly, ugly spring. And this would be the third company in a row that I've seen this happen.

On the plus side, we now have plenty of MBA's around to tell us everything that we're doing wrong.
posted by underflow at 7:53 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've accepted the fact that I will most likely never see a literal shitstorm. Thank you Universe, for making me feel better.
posted by triage_lazarus at 8:00 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


My gut instinct is that it rewards the people who are better at networking, who are more outgoing, who are good at getting into little cliques and groups

So, like life, then?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:43 PM on March 30, 2015


You manage your project, from concept through manufacturing to sales. If there are customer complaints, it comes back to you.

Which may very well work for some kinds of companies - we're talking about Zappo's here, an online shoe retailer. They don't concept or design or manufacture anything except the website and customer service policies and maybe some shipping & ordering logistics. They're seriously not all that different from the Sears & Roebuck of the early 20th century. So Hsieh's claim that they need to move to some kind of amorphous shifting amoeba-like pseudo-structure looks like either lunacy, hubris, or a smokescreen for employee abuse. Or some combination thereof.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:03 PM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


I love that the org charts for this Holacracy thing are designed to look like lotus pods.

They produce a very similar reaction in me.
posted by xiw at 9:11 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


If I wonder if he knows that Jeff Bezos is personally exposed to going to jail for Sarbanes-Oxley certification violations, when he writes this:

"On our backend HRIS system, employees will still have 'reporting' relationships solely for the purposes of maintaining compliance (e.g. SOX) requirements because we are part of a public company. This compliance requirement will be largely invisible to most employees and should not be confused with legacy reporting structures which will no longer exist.)"

Read together with earlier discussion of the dissolution of the finance function, it seems that he is actively planning not only to have no functioning SOX-mandated control system but to fake out his bosses that the old one still exists.
posted by MattD at 9:17 PM on March 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


Looks like there's a whole book on Holacracy coming in a few months, we we can all immerse ourselves in this exciting new field, er, system, er, paradigm.

Oy. No. Make it stop. I know people who will be on this like stink on shit.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:18 PM on March 30, 2015


My gut instinct is that it rewards the people who are better at networking, who are more outgoing, who are good at getting into little cliques and groups

So, like life, then?


Here's the shit of it: there's several really worthwhile skills that are completely orthogonal to, or actually on occasion mutually incompatible with, skill at networking within hierarchical organizations embedded within capitalism.

I know it's unfashionable nearly everywhere to talk about this sort of thing, the types of skill that involve working with some material other than simply human society and behavior. But man if I don't appreciate those peoples' skills; really, I think the only ethical thing for anyone with people-networky skills is to identify the people who are good with things other than just people and ensure that they too are given a say, sometimes a controlling say, in how things are done.

When we exclusively valorize people-networky skills (the ones that become crucial when we've descended into utter barbarity), we end up, well, all frantically trying to sell fakety-ass shit that doesn't work to each other. So while on the one hand I understand the impulse to give in to a certain type of idealistic cynicism and roll your eyes at the possibility of bad networkers sometimes being listened to, I admit the possibility that maybe we can actually do better than life at its worst.

(and yes I know I'm drawing a false dichotomy between people-skills people and not-people-skills people.)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:22 PM on March 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


Also, the memo seems to be conspicuously lacking in references to warehouse or shipping operations. Could it be that the people who actually make sure the container contents match the purchase orders, break down the crates into shoe boxes, make sure the label printers are talking to the web store front, and take care that the right shoe boxes get on to the right UPS trucks with the right labels, are exempt from, our outsourced from, the policy?
posted by MattD at 9:24 PM on March 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


MattD: Read together with earlier discussion of the dissolution of the finance function, it seems that he is actively planning not only to have no functioning SOX-mandated control system but to fake out his bosses that the old one still exists.

Well, they did say that if the accountants are better at tweeting than the social media manager, then hey, they should go to town doing that rather than worrying about internal audit, controls or compliance. Let's see how that holds up in court.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:40 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


MattD, I'm pretty sure that Zappo's warehousing and fulfilment is handled by Amazon now.
posted by jade east at 9:42 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Back in 2010, not long after Zappos was acquired by Amazon, I attended a talk by Tony Hsieh, the Zappos CEO, where he talked about his management philosophy. This was well before this current Holacracy and collisions craziness, back when Zappos was merely eccentric. And by "eccentric", I mean stuff like strongly encouraging (possibly mandating?) co-workers to spend time together outside of work and offering new hires a payoff (around a thousand bucks or so) after an initial training period to leave the company, thereby ensuring that the only people that stuck around were really, really dedicated to making a go of it at Zappos. Also, if too low a percentage of people took the payout to leave, they'd start increasing the payout.

Anyways, the most interesting thing I learned about Hsieh from his talk was not about his management philosophy but about his origin story - like a comic book hero and/or villain - which kind of explains why Zappos is so damn weird. Zappos is actually Hsieh's second company (third if you include his investment firm). He actually made his initial fortune in the first dot-com boom with a company called LinkExchange. He founded this company himself and grew it to the point where he sold it to Microsoft. But after Microsoft took over, he noticed how the culture of the company changed to be more corporate and bureaucratic and how sad he was that he no longer recognized the little start-up company that he founded. So, one of his main goals with Zappos was to make a company that would be able to preserve the culture that he wanted. If I remember correctly, he made it sound like preservation of company culture was job #1 and almost everything else was incidental. My impression was that even their legendary obsession with customer service (rivalling even Amazon's customer service) was as much a consequence of his idea that the culture of the company should be customer-focused rather than something like Amazon's idea that if you put the customer first, revenue and eventually profits will follow.

My other big takeaway from that talk was my impression of Hsieh personally. His seeming obsession with making sure the people in his company all reflected his values and culture made him seem to me a bit like a cult leader. A friendly and mostly harmless cult leader but a cult leader nonetheless. Given all of this more recent stuff, I can't help but wonder if the 2010 Tony Hsieh is like the 1950's-era Dianetics L. Ron Hubbard while the 2015 Hsieh is becoming the 1970's-era batshit-crazy Sea Org Hubbard.
posted by Pseudonymous Sockpuppet at 10:15 PM on March 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


My gut instinct is that it rewards the people who are better at networking, who are more outgoing, who are good at getting into little cliques and groups within the organisation...
So if you're the sort of person who prefers to quietly work on things, and you're not interested in networking and have your own life outside of work, you're likely to flop at such a company.
--winterhil

Except...no.

As mentioned, I work at a company like this. I am quite the opposite of outgoing, and, in fact, quite enjoy working quitely on thngs. I don't watch sports so lots of social conversations turn awkward when someone tries the universal conversation starter "Did you see that game last night?" But it mostly doesn't matter because I'm pretty good at my job, and people learn that they can count on me, and I quickly learned of the people I need to do my job and can count on. That's the only networking you really need to do. Yes, you have to be able to do at least that much. Maybe other companies do it differently. Ghostride The Whip mentioned one where you have to show up at parties. I'm glad I don't work there because I do not show up at parties.
posted by eye of newt at 12:13 AM on March 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


Haven't we done this already? Isn't the corporate structure we have the natural result of thousands (millions?) of years of self-organisation?

The regression to the mean takes longer when you start with an extreme.
posted by ddd at 1:21 AM on March 31, 2015


This is like someone took anarchism and subtracted all the actual positives, right?

My first thought was that it's worker self management from the mirror universe.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:31 AM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hola, cracy, I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya...

I'd really like to know whether there's a relationship between America's religious foundations and the fact that most of these management trends tend to look like cults.
posted by pseudocode at 3:21 AM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


In every business organization I've ever been involved with, this would turn into Lord of the Flies within six months at the outside, I'm not kidding. We'd all be half naked and screaming, chasing Piggy around with pointed sticks and murder in our eyes.

I haven't even finished the thread, but i had begun to write this and more.

I've been involved in "leaderless" flat-structure arts organizations like this. There's maybe one guy who simply exists to be the man with money and stuff who is the mostly-silent benefactor or organizer or lease holder or whatever who you can call up if the roof caves in or some huge problem arises, and the rest is just "self managed" in some way.


The way this works is that the best manipulators are the managers. At first you get people who exert control through sheer force of will, intimidation, and being the loudest. But once they get hugged to death and everyone agrees they're fucking shit up, you end up with the people who know exactly what will set off alarm bells and work to manipulate people in to favoring them so that they simply get what they want 100% of the time, and anyone who disagrees with the New Thing Everyone Agreed On And Is Working Towards is the REAL butthead trying to get their way and, hey, why don't you agree with the consensus? we all came up with it together!

It's a popularity contest, and it's perfectly structured to make anyone who points out "hey why are we all doing exactly what these 3-1 people want?" look like crap.

Pretty much, we'll see what happens when a few older and more clever middle school bullies get to run a large successful corporation.


The end result, by the way, to save the trouble is that the vast majority of good talent leaves. And any NEW good talent that shows up is quickly driven away. Some, even quite a few good people remain who either don't see it or are determined to fix it but lots of smart and just generally worthwhile people you want around run the other way as fast as they can after a few attempts at righting the capsized ship.
posted by emptythought at 3:31 AM on March 31, 2015 [9 favorites]


FYI as I understand, Holocracy was not necessarily invented by software engineers, but is actually a re-branding of an older governance system called Sociocracy that grew out of Quakerism. Basically Holocracy is a trademarked version of Sociocracy so that HolocracyOne (and only them) can sell expensive consultations to companies.
posted by axon at 6:05 AM on March 31, 2015 [7 favorites]


So what I'm hearing is, this is an anti-pattern
posted by thelonius at 6:15 AM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Now, I will say this for the Neo-Maoists: they've explicitly stated that they're trying to bring us down from within, and I have no idea what Tiger And Hummingbird Are Friends- Our Forces Advance On One Hundred Fronts even means; but they are really well-organized and disciplined, and those jackets are a refreshing change from business casual. Oh, look- there's Ed, our former VP of Procurement. He's a Stylite monk now...Ed! Brother Ed! HEY ED, GOT A MINUTE?"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:42 AM on March 31, 2015 [7 favorites]


This thread is seriously inspiring me to write a YA dystopia (pretty much based on The White Skull's comments alone).
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 6:56 AM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


I kinda love the rise of the Crazed Unchecked CEO. Like the Starbucks guy with the race thing, or the Lululemon guy who named his company that because "it's funny when Japanese people try to say it" (that's true, BTW). Didn't picture Tony Hsieh to be one of them, but in retrospect it makes a sort of sense.

Also, it's fun to laugh about stuff like this, but if Jeff Bezos ever goes off the deep end, the world at large is potentially in for some deep trouble.
posted by jbickers at 7:12 AM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


People seriously need to read Jo Freeman's essay, The Tyranny of Structurelessness. It makes me say, "I told you so" to so many phenomena ranging from Occupy Wall Street to this Holacracy nonsense. Holacracy doesn't eliminate hierarchy. It simply transforms the hierarchy from something visible (and hence challenge-able) to something invisible (and hence more insidious and impossible to dislodge).
posted by jonp72 at 7:13 AM on March 31, 2015 [16 favorites]


Also, it's fun to laugh about stuff like this, but if Jeff Bezos ever goes off the deep end, the world at large is potentially in for some deep trouble.

Damn straight. He already has the delivery drones. He's just one lab accident away from making Skynet.
posted by jonp72 at 7:14 AM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


or the Lululemon guy who named his company that because "it's funny when Japanese people try to say it"



I most certainly did not.
posted by Alexander J. Luthor at 7:50 AM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


This sounds like crazy control freak politics disguised as flat organization. As others have said above, self-organizing teams are Already A Thing and work really well in a lot of instances. However in my (software) background, it means "within this team, people work together to figure out how to apportion work and get things done" and not "within the whole company, people make up job titles and just do whatever they want." I hate strict hierarchies, but most people need and want *some* kind of structure.

I also want to respond to this comment:

This also reminds me of my recent Scrum training where I struggled in vain to get a straight answer about "ok, what if NO ONE wants to work on that task?" "Well, it must not have business value." "No, in this case it's something that has to be done no matter what." "Then someone will do it." "And if they don't, no one has the authority to assign it to them, and it doesn't get done..." ad infinitum.

Since I do Scrum and have done training, I need to say that this sounds like ... well, bad Scrum training. In a sprint (work period), the team is supposed to accept the highest priority items (stories) from the business up to their capacity (which they decide). They then decide what tasks need to get done to complete the stories and people take the tasks. Obviously there are "not as fun" tasks but people have to get creative and flip a coin or something. If the task is needed and no one does it, then the story isn't completed, the demo/sprint review crashes and burns and eventually there's accountability. First the team should discuss in the retrospective why they failed and maybe put pressure on THAT GUY who doesn't help the team or whatever. But over time, if individual people never take the boring tasks and try to carve out a little mini-kingdom, then functional managers get involved. I have run various Scrum teams and usually teams sort it out, but I have occasionally had to fire people. By the way, evaluating the team as a team (HR gets a heart attack here usually) helps a lot.

Egos are the biggest problem. Luckily at my current job we don't have that issue. Example: We are having office construction done. We had to move a huge pile of heavy cube walls before the construction workers arrived. My boss who is VP of Technology just moved them all because he thought I seemed busy. That totally rocked.
posted by freecellwizard at 8:07 AM on March 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


Holacracy® is a workplace management technique that apparently does not recognize that organizations are made up of people...

That's right. Which is why we here in the legal profession adhere strictly to the tenets of Soylecracy. Because all organizations are Green. And made of people.
posted by The Bellman at 8:07 AM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


In fairness, Holacracy purports to solve a very real problem that I have encountered-- management in bogged down in a schedule that has entirely back-to-back meetings all day. Employees are rewarded for creating new initiatives and implementing them. However, to be able to do this, they need to get buy-in from management, which means getting their attention and then making a political case for the initiative, then getting the immediate manager to get buy-in from colleagues, and finally allocating resources to the employee. This kills a lot of innovation in utero and makes advancement depended on politicking and understanding how to move the levers of bureaucracy. So the question is how do you get people to innovate in large organizations without having to become master-politickers? It looks like the idea of holacracy was to create a small-startup environment and figure out how to make it scale. The problem is that these structures are inherently unscalable, and you have people who don't WANT to have their jobs evaluated by how innovative they are and their ability to create new initiatives. Forcing everyone into that role is a formula for dissatisfaction. As is forcing everyone into the role of "bureaucracy manipulator."
posted by deanc at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


My first thought was of the Vaclav Havel play, The Memorandum.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 9:57 AM on March 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've been thinking of this all day.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 10:00 AM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


My work is like this. Well, there are still managers, but not a lot of them and they take a few steps back. I love it, and I'm way more productive than I would be in a command-and-control hierarchical environment.

Yes, I could imagine a scenario in which teams are lazy and either don't take on tasks as a team or don't complete the tasks to the best of their ability. However I have not yet seen that happen, even once. People who aren't highly self-motivated tend to leave of their own accord.

I'm averaging roughly 8-9 hour days, too, so it's not like a zany startup environment with people up till midnight for weeks at a time.

Also we are around 10x Zappo's size so it can work at very large companies.
posted by miyabo at 10:21 AM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a programmer myself, I can't think of any group worse at putting together functional organizations than software developers (musical theater majors? drunk fraternity brothers?). Most "organizational innovations" seem to come down to the underlying goal of the loudest extroverts trying to corner the most power while leaning as hard as they can on introverts who'd rather just avoid conflicts. Works out well for software development as your most productive coders tend to be the conflict-avoiding kind.

For a company like Zappos that succeeded almost entirely because of their customer service, I can't imagine this being anything but an unmitigated disaster.

Good to know there's at least one company other than my own that I can be happy to not work for.
posted by ghostiger at 10:30 AM on March 31, 2015 [6 favorites]


My work is like this. Well, there are still managers, but not a lot of them and they take a few steps back. I love it, and I'm way more productive than I would be in a command-and-control hierarchical environment.

Yes, but this a big difference from Holacracy as practiced by Hsieh. What it sounds like you have is a "flattened organization" but not dogmatically tied to any particular organizational doctrine or theory. The problem with Holacracy, as implemented by Hsieh, is that it is inflexibly unstructured in response to changing circumstances, rather than simply an organization with a pragmatic commitment to reducing unnecessary layers of management.
posted by jonp72 at 10:34 AM on March 31, 2015


They then decide what tasks need to get done to complete the stories and people take the tasks. Obviously there are "not as fun" tasks but people have to get creative and flip a coin or something. If the task is needed and no one does it, then the story isn't completed, the demo/sprint review crashes and burns and eventually there's accountability. First the team should discuss in the retrospective why they failed and maybe put pressure on THAT GUY who doesn't help the team or whatever.

Yeah I don't really "do Scrum" but having had to watch their videos recently and - well I rolled my eyes at the jargon more than a few times but I must have a very different conception of "self-organizing" than the person who made that comment or work with a much less dysfunctional team. Nothing about "make a list of tasks and let the devs decide among themselves how to get the work done" seemed particularly outrageous for a small company.
posted by atoxyl at 10:41 AM on March 31, 2015


"The longer the hold time, the higher the customer demand, the more the employees working that shift would get paid."

Wow. Imagine all the ways the call-center folks could game that.
posted by adamrice at 10:49 AM on March 31, 2015 [5 favorites]


'“You should run your startup like a cult,” one of Silicon Valley’s most successful investors, Peter Thiel, advises in his recently published book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.'
posted by blech at 10:52 AM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


> '“You should run your startup like a cult,” one of Silicon Valley’s most successful investors, Peter Thiel, advises in his recently published book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.'

And that's the thing that creeps me out about this. I don't mind when people try new organizational structures for companies, but to do it at Zappo's — where there's already a be-fanatical-about-work-or-leave ethos — is to sidle past the Cult Zone.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't be allowed to start companies and only hire the people that really really really want to work there. I just hope that sort of fanaticism doesn't take hold in the software industry because I am a programmer who wants to do a good job for 40 hours a week without having to know anything about my company's “core values.”
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:06 AM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


'“You should run your startup like a cult,” one of Silicon Valley’s most successful investors, Peter Thiel, advises in his recently published book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.'

Well if you're running a VC-funded startup, you basically have to. These are businesses that have to grow from 0 to one billion to succeed. To these guys, starting a business that's worth only $15 million is a complete failure. There's no way to believe that kind of growth is not only possible but inevitable without running a cult.
posted by zachlipton at 11:14 AM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


the little cog at the bottom can try as hard as it pleases, but it has little power to move the bigger cog.

Do you even torque Bro?
posted by MikeMc at 11:46 AM on March 31, 2015 [9 favorites]


But this mandate has left me wondering, if this change is so beneficial, and Zappos has already been operating this way since 2013, why is a top-down mandate even needed? Clearly, teams are either struggling under this system or are outright refusing to participate.

Bud Caddell, Why Self-Organizing Is So Hard
posted by jonp72 at 12:33 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


"ok, what if NO ONE wants to work on that task?" "Well, it must not have business value." "No, in this case it's something that has to be done no matter what." "Then someone will do it." "And if they don't, no one has the authority to assign it to them, and it doesn't get done..." ad infinitum.

Oh good god, I don't know the first thing about Scrum, but I do know customer service and "if anyone wants to do it" is completely irrelevant to "Does it need to get done?" JESUS.
posted by psoas at 1:52 PM on March 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


Holacracy: It really whips the llama's ass.

:(
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:33 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


I read this as hoplocracy, and figured I could take over with my aspis and dory.

Upon further reading, it's not as I imagined, but I've heard about these "corporate raiders" who may well use them.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:41 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


More seriously, I've worked for top-down, matrix, and task/team orgs, and each one has pros and cons. Anyone who wants to create a new business structure should have to read The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman // Joreen
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:50 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


The thing about cults is that only the creep at the top benefits. Everyone else has to drink the kool-aid. And that just isn't healthy.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:01 PM on March 31, 2015


The thing about cults is that only the creep at the top benefits. Everyone else has to drink the kool-aid. And that just isn't healthy.

They don't even get name-brand Kool-Aid. They get Flavor-Aid instead.

All joking aside, anyone who says "Hey - let's operate like a cult!" is completely fucked as human being and not to be trusted.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:24 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the multiple recommendations for Tyranny of Structurelessness. Wasn't aware of it.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:33 AM on April 1, 2015



Enraged, I storm into the inner sanctum of Zappos headquarters and shout, "WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?" What happens?

Aw, c'mon... can't we get
    ____   ________  __ ____   _   __ ____                                     
   / __ ) / ____/\ \/ // __ \ / | / // __ \                                    
  / __  |/ __/    \  // / / //  |/ // / / /                                    
 / /_/ // /___    / // /_/ // /|  // /_/ /                                     
/_____//_____/   /_/ \____//_/ |_//_____/                                      
  ______ __  __ __  __ _   __ ____   ______ ____   ____   ____   __  ___ ______
 /_  __// / / // / / // | / // __ \ / ____// __ \ / __ \ / __ \ /  |/  // ____/
  / /  / /_/ // / / //  |/ // / / // __/  / /_/ // / / // / / // /|_/ // __/   
 / /  / __  // /_/ // /|  // /_/ // /___ / _, _// /_/ // /_/ // /  / // /___   
/_/  /_/ /_/ \____//_/ |_//_____//_____//_/ |_|/_____/ \____//_/  /_//_____/   
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 12:40 PM on April 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think a lot of fads that are about changing organizational structure conflate three things:

1. Structure - every organization needs one. It needs to be well-understood (and therefore easy to understand), otherwise people who want to devote all of their time and energy into playing political games will take advantage of ambiguity and constantly stir up drama. They will sense that no one understands what is going on and try to get things their way by being the loudest. Holocracy seems incredibly confusing and lacking in clear definition. Flexibility can be a good thing but people also need to be able to know what to expect.

2. Hierarchy - not every structure needs to be hierarchical. There can be different degrees of hierarchy. Holocracy seems to be pretending to be a flat structure at certain times, and a hierarchy at other times. Very confusing. Also, people are used to hierarchy. Less hierarchical structures, in my opinion, can lead to better decisions getting made, when people who have direct knowledge of the issues at hand are listened to, rather than always deferring to people with fancier titles. But people need to learn how to be in more democratic organizations, it doesn't come automatically.

3. Culture - culture is more important than structure, actually. If people trust each other, things tend to work out better, if people don't, then it tends to be a mess even if you have a good structure. Zappos is so bent on getting people that buy into their values, that they are constantly making people prove themselves, which has got to be pretty exhausting and bad for morale.
posted by mai at 10:01 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


It just occurred to me that this whole thing seems like a dodge to try to get the benefits of an employee-owned enterprise without having to actually cut the employees in for a piece of the action.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:06 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


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