Mark Vletter, founder of Voys and Devhouse Spindle, has always believed in self-organization in the workplace. He envisioned a system that would create an environment of equality and fairness for his colleagues. Voys, Spindle’s ‘big brother’, used a no-management paradigm (the Voys-model) for several years before Holacracy was introduced. The team was clear about the path to follow — believing in each person on the team, giving people freedom within their roles and letting them fuel the development of the best telecom provider in the market.
“My core values have always been around equality, fairness and honesty. This is the foundation of everything we have done here. ”
The right values and efforts were in place but Mark felt that there was still a missing piece of the puzzle. He was looking for a proven system that would allow Voys and Spindle to reinforce equality and provide clarity on what everyone’s responsibilities were. Both companies have now been using Holacracy as their operating system for a little over six months. With his blunt honesty, Mark shares his insights into what Holacracy has changed, not only for Voys and Spindle’s team but also for him personally.
“We wanted to find a foundation from which to implement individual accountability without creating a hierarchy”
“Before we adopted Holacracy, we had done a test and discovered the two main problems in our company: We were lacking clarity around responsibilities and we were lacking a system to provide effective feedback on people’s work. People wanted to be more goal-oriented. These were the main challenges in our old system. Once we became aware of this, we wanted to find a foundation from which to implement individual accountability without creating a hierarchy. We initially tried to fix our old system but then we discovered Holacracy, which automatically provides solutions to the problems we had been struggling with.”
Voys is the fastest growing B2B telecom provider in the Netherlands. Devhouse Spindle is a shack full of nerds coding on the world’s leading communication platforms. The companies employ more than 80 people.
“Holacracy brought us accountability, entrepreneurship, and faster evolution. The first year, when I went on vacation the company halted while I was away. The year that followed, the company continued operations during the holidays, but it didn’t evolve. The past few years the company evolved a bit while I was away, and this year — with Holacracy in place — lots of things improved during my absence.”
“In the past, there would be a stack of operational work waiting for my approval; if not physically on my desk, at least in people’s minds. It is great to see how far some people have advanced during the past five months; some of them are much better at implementing Holacracy than I am.”
Getting things done in a company
“Holacracy is not a complete system; it doesn’t say anything about a company’s culture, onboarding people and so on. All it does is organize the work. But it does this really well. You could call it a method for getting things done in an efficient way in a company. I really like the metaphor about an operating system. Holacracy is an operating system for us. Getting people involved and helping them to become entrepreneurial is the most crucial and difficult part, in the long run.”
Treat Holacracy as a proven system
“The system consists of many rules and it’s not easy to implement Holacracy. But, when you analyze it, it makes so much sense. We treat Holacracy as a proven system; we never had any debate on whether or not a part of it is good or bad. We take it as a whole. The system has evolved this way for a reason. We don’t want to develop a new system; we want to adopt a proven one.”
Holacracy is not easy
“Learning Holacracy is like learning how to play Monopoly, but, with a two centimetres thick rule book. Without the help of someone who has played the game before; in my opinion, that is almost impossible. Therefore, if you are thinking of implementing Holacracy at your company, my advice would be: hire a coach. Seriously: hire a coach. Of course, you can learn how a tactical meeting works, but when there is nobody around to explain what the secretary has to do, what the role of the facilitator is, or what a Rep Link does, it gets really difficult in practice. When you implement a whole new system in your company it is really important to have someone who will handle the difficult questions, and there will be a lot of those, believe me.”
“Holacracy allows organizations and its business processes to develop and validate much faster. In Lean, you have the build, measure, learn cycle for developers. Holacracy enables the same process, but for a company. With the world evolving at an exponential speed, there is always an opportunity to learn and improve. If your company doesn’t grab this opportunity, it’ll cease to exist.”
“Holacracy allows organizations and its business processes to develop and validate much faster.”
“One of our colleagues made a nice comment after one of our governance meetings. He said: ‘This is the third radical reorganization this month and again nobody even noticed. And every time the change doesn’t interfere with our everyday work, it just empowers us to work better’.”
“If we were using an ordinary system and we wanted to introduce a major restructuring, it would stop the entire team; it would be a major thing for people to have to adjust to. But no one complained about a missing circle, changed structure etc. This is just an example and it shows how much faster and easier changes are adopted within a Holacratic company.”
“I feel that Holacracy has made me much more effective and it has made me conscious of what I do for our organization. When I come back from several weeks of holidays and there is nothing waiting for me, well, maybe this is a sign that I’m not needed here as much as I thought I was. Why do I even have a Lead Link role? Someone else may fulfil it better. In the meantime, I can use my time and energy in parts of the company that are located in other countries and that are still in the starting phase. My skill set is much more needed there.”
Published originally on Oct 27, 2015: