113: Principles for Work Design Infrastructure


Podcast Show Notes #113 Why Holacracy is not new and not an improvement. How would we know what is?

Carol’s Lesson: Examine the various ways that Holacracy is not different from traditional hierarchical businesses.
Critiques of Holacracy from Harvard Business Review to Strategy & Management

  • The most surprising revelations is how the evaluations are each offered from an old mindset that means they can’t see what is really missing.
    • They seem to be trying to pull the efforts like Holarchy back toward the traditional systems rather than critique them against what could be even more effective.
      • There are always two choices: self-managing versus top-down management.
        • But then to do that you have to know what to compare it to, what third choice is available if you want to go anywhere else.
          • If you assume the problem is hierarchy itself then you focus on two questions:
            • How do we get rid of levels
            • How do we organize to get the work done without an oversight.
          • Hierarchies can be problematic, particularly when they are conceived of as layers of people focused on getting work done, by breaking it down into smaller and smaller pieces.
            • The issue here is that makes it hard to see the whole with some people, assumed to be better at making decisions and solving problems.

Principles of Work Design

  1. Connect the business, and everybody in it, directly to the World (industry, market, global dynamics).
    • For example, when we work with businesses, we put together an overarching team which is rotating in membership but reflective of the whole of the Core Team.

Responsibilities and Composition of the Core Team

      • It is responsible for all over corporate direction and its delivery.
      • Keep global imperatives from social justice and planetary vitality embedded in their work and front of mind.
      • Meet on a recurring business and work with focused consideration on the organizational choices are having on financial, market, technology and organizational effectiveness.  
      • Metaphorically rides the boundaries of the business and makes sure there are fences and gates to keep the flow working for their stakeholders but with very clear guidance.
      • They are made up of respected leaders from all levels and functions, and are thrilled to learn and add more.
      • There are fiduciary leaders on the team so that quick decisions can be made without power exported to a top.
      • This is an auxiliary role which is one of four the organizational members can take on for a set period of time.

2.  Ensure that business is working with wholes and not parts.

  • The machine era brought things down into smaller and smaller parts.
  • Holacracy does not change the work itself except as individuals or problems call for it. It is left in the small work chunks but are not now managed and carried out by the people close to the work without a boss directing or evaluating.
  • Our work designs are organized around customer groupings based on the core characteristics they share.
    • Move from organizing around the work itself and the people doing it to the Organizing around the customer nodes in their market who draw from the people doing it (Market Field Teams).


Market Field Team Responsibilities and Composition

        • Strategize for their outcomes and carry their ideas directly back to work teams.
        • Are the strategist as well as research and development team for that set of customers.
        • Everyone is on a team and all teams are drawn from the whole organization so it is easy to have every team know with 24 hours what is being launched, revised, evaluated.
        • They can immediately connect in their natural work teams and look at the role they can play.
        • It requires no handout from one layer to another with the risks of loss of understanding as in telephone tag.
        • Challenges can move the same way back out into each Market Field Team, as they are called.
        • This is a second role that every member of the organization takes on and tends to stay with a customer focus for decades although movement is supported and not uncommon
        • Third role beyond their day to day work is to build Innovation in Support of Customer Evolution into the requirements of everyone’s job.

Concepts of How People Work Together- Daniel Pink

  • Daniel Pink explains in his book Drive how incentives have very little value or effectiveness in motivating people.
    • If you pay people by “piece work” (for each piece the make or call they complete) incentives do work.
    • But for anything complex, needed discernment, then they work against being effective.
    • Explains why and what to do and introduced some grave class one errors into work design, at least giving us a way to assess Holacracy’s choice.
      • He advocated giving feedback to people instead, which we spoke to extensive in episode #108 and in my new book The Regenerative Business about why feedback is not only not helpful it undermines most of what makes human innovative and alive.
    • But he also formed ideas, about what is important to humans, far more than incentives and rewards.
      • According to Pink, three things drives humans: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
        1. Although they are related to what really drives humans, it is not precise enough and has led to much misunderstanding.
      • Research instead has suggested that what drives human might be said to be:
        1. Contributing Uniquely, alongside others, to real outcomes in which I can experience my role.
        2. Developing and become more able every day than we are today with places to apply my new found ableness.
        3. Experience Significance through affecting other’s lives meaningfully.
    • Pink’s three concepts have been framed as something for an individual to have access to, as a separate being.
      • It actually structures a reactive organization, rather than a regenerative one.
      • Most critical idea: The customer’s outcomes becomes the reconciler, not the person close to the work or in the old system the boss decides.
        1. You have people talk from the shoes of the customers who they know them from being on the market field teams until they get an idea better than their current ones.   
    • The purpose is not an individually contained experience, but something we serve that others are pursuing.
      • We commit to help them achieve their purposes. It has led many people to think they have a purpose to serve. It is not about our purpose, but in a business, what the people we serve have as a purpose.
    • Mastery is unachievable and in fact not work pursuing. It fosters perfectionism rather than putting stretch into our lives by gaining more ableness over time based on what we are committing to serve. In our next episode #114, we will look at a better alternative.


Business Second Opinion Podcast_ This set of Show Notes is an overview of  Business Second Opinion Podcast #113. Available where you listen to podcasts including iTunes, Audio Boom, Stitcher. Or the website.


And read more blogs and Show Notes on www.BusinessSecondOpinion.com. Join the newsletter and get a background paper. Follow us on Twitter @businesssecondopinion. Suggest topics and HBR articles on which you want Carol’s Second Opinion.  And finally, pick up a copy of The Regenerative Business, by Carol Sanford, with much more about how to build a regenerative work design. at www.carolsanford.com.

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