Most people don’t often get the chance to fully use their potential in the workplace. Young people especially often have to wait until they reach the executive level in the company before their voices will be heard. And we all know it can take years to climb the corporate ladder. You may be surprised to learn, however, that even so-called flat organizations, often end up with management systems that reinforce traditional hierarchy.

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The Dutch design company Concept7 has experimented with a number of ‘management styles’ over the years. Their objective has always been clear: to foster freedom and empowerment in their employees. In March of 2014, they decided to fully embrace Holacracy. The entire staff has now been working within the new structure for the past year and a half. Laura, a staff member at Concept7 decided to share her story with us.

Never stagnant

“The people that work here are really more like entrepreneurs than employees. To be happy in our work, we need freedom, not only to be ourselves, but also to take our work to the next level. Working within traditional positions in a company does not usually support a sense of freedom to reach upward. Holacracy fits in with our way of thinking, because in Holacracy, every step is a step in the right direction. We are never stagnant; never standing still and not changing.”

“The people that work here are really more like entrepreneurs than employees.”

Role and soul

“I think that if you want people to come first, you need a system that allows you to separate the individual people from their work-related tasks. In Holacracy there is no barrier to being friends with your colleagues, but when you need to get your work done, you think and act from your role, which is distinctly different from a ‘position’ in the traditional business sense. When I’m focused on the tasks I need to get done, I’m thinking from within my particular role and relating to my co-workers from that role. But the role does not define me as a person; I am still me. This has improved my ability to focus. From within my HR role, I can have a difficult meeting with a colleague, but once that conversation is over, we can say ‘Great, that’s been clarified.’ And then we can put aside our roles, and switch to, ‘So, do you have any plans for tonight?’ This helps us create a balance. Life at work can be difficult at times, because there is always personal stuff going on between co-workers. Holacracy gives us the opportunity to have both ‘role’ and ‘soul’ in the workplace.”

“When I experienced Holacracy for the first time, there was a sense of home-coming for me. I immediately felt comfortable with it and didn’t really have to do a lot of adapting. It just felt natural.”

Making things better

“In the past, when I had a sense that things could be better or different, I never had the freedom to actually change anything or make improvements. There was always someone higher up who would decide on the ‘right’ action. Now that we are working with Holacracy, I am empowered to make things better, participate in making decisions and improve my work environment. I feel I have just as much of a say as anyone else. Even though I’m young, I feel I get just as much respect as anyone else, even the founders of the company.

“Working with Holacracy, I am empowered to make things better, participate in making decisions and improve my work environment.”

Boundaries and freedom

“I feel like I now have the ability to act in the best interest of my colleagues, the company and myself. I am aware of the objectives, which we have formulated together. This has provided me with clarity about where the business is going and also where I’m going and what I need to do to contribute my part of meeting those objectives. Another thing that is very important to me is the idea of setting boundaries. There are certain responsibilities that fit within the boundaries of my particular role(s). Within those boundaries I am free to act as I see fit. It seems like a paradox that having boundaries can enable people to be more creative and resourceful. But within those boundaries they’re not afraid to try new things; they feel safe in taking initiative and taking their work to the next level.”

Qualities that can be helpful for people working with Holacracy

Action-oriented – “When I experience tension, I do something about it. If this is not in your nature, Holacracy may not work for you. I think that if you don’t use Holacracy in the way it is intended, it could have the opposite effect and weigh you down.”

Self-motivated — “Having entrepreneurial qualities like self-motivation is very helpful when implementing Holacracy.”

Building a safe space

“For me, Holacracy is a lot like building a ‘safe space’. However, I think that building it is possible only when everyone plays by the rules. If even one person doesn’t, it can create problems for everyone. Holacracy gives a lot, but I think it also requires a lot from each person. Some people are not necessarily comfortable with this degree of self-management. Some people prefer someone telling them, “Now do this, and do it this way.” Not everyone is comfortable with the degree of freedom and responsibility that Holacracy affords.”

“If I make a mistake and fall on my face, so to speak, I can just get right up again and feel good about myself, instead of feeling stupid.”

A trusted system

“In the past, whenever I experienced tension I didn’t know what to do with it. I now know that experiencing tension is not only perfectly normal, but can even be helpful in improving things. I now have a trusted system that makes me feel safe enough to release my tensions, instead of taking them home with me. Taking tensions from the workplace home and discussing them with your partner can make you feel overwhelmed and stuck. It may sound like a very big claim, but I really feel that Holacracy has helped to liberate me on some levels.”

Laura’s visualization of Holacracy

You are in a room, the window is open and there is a pair of glasses on the table in front of you. This room is a comfortable place; it feels familiar and safe. You pick up the glasses, put them on for the first time and look out the window. Suddenly you are able to see everything around you; the glasses are making the outside world look so clear. You can see mountains, roads and forests, as well as the individual leaves on nearby trees. Now you have to make a choice: either stay in your comfortable, familiar room or go out and become part of this astonishing scenery. It is up to you. However, once you have put the glasses on, you are called to go outside. Once out there, you can see several roads that may take you to your goal. It is up to you to pick the one that will take you to the top of the mountain.”

“This is what Holacracy is like for me. As soon as we began to implement it, I felt I could see things so much more clearly for the first time, just like putting on those glasses. I no longer felt lost in my surroundings and I was able to step out and become part of something bigger.”

This article was written for Energized.org in co-operation with Esther Teunissen. First published on Medium.
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