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Riding a Bicycle by Committee

January 30, 2012, 12:00 AM

What’s the Big Idea? 

At a time when the legal status of the corporate corpus is the subject of intense political debate, organizational entrepreneur Brian Robertson maintains that businesses aren’t acting human enough. Instead of allowing the corporate organism to sense and respond to changing conditions, Robertson argues, management often treats it like a giant, lurching marionette – choreographing its every movement and contingency plan in advance. 

Robertson’s company – or should we say, the autonomous business entity within which Robertson operates – HolacracyOne, offers alternative management structures that aim to “liberate the soul of organizations.” An approach to structure and governance that decentralizes the power and clearly defines the roles in organizations, Holacracy calls itself an entirely new “operating system” for businesses.  

So how does it operate? A blog post of Robertson’s on the Holacracy’s legal governance strategy is revealing. Rather than simply paying lip-service to the concept of employee partnership by calling people “team members” or the like, Robertson advocates eliminating employees entirely. Everyone who works at HolacracyOne, Robertson writes, “gets a K-1 tax statement rather than a W-2, just as a partner in a law firm does; they have a legal voice in the governance of the organization.” And lest these partners have too much control over the organization’s destiny, HolacracyOne has a constitution that protects its (the business’) personal interests. 

In this video, Robertson critiques what he sees as the wrongheaded and inefficient “predict and control” mechanisms by which most businesses are run. He proposes structures that allow a company to “sense and respond” organically to internal and external tensions. 



What’s the Significance?  

While it is not entirely clear that organizations have “souls,” Robertson’s point is well-taken. Businesses today need to be more efficient and adaptable than ever before to compete (Robertson might say ‘evolve’) in a volatile marketplace. This is especially so in the tech sector, which is in a continual state of seismic flux, and which will undoubtedly continue to grow and to shape the culture of every other sector. 

At the same time, if businesses are to be treated as organic entities with their own destinies and protected interests – if this is indeed the wisest and most efficient way forward – then those structuring them should take the utmost care to protect the interests of the human beings with whose lives they intersect. 


Follow Jason Gots (@jgots) on Twitter

Image credit: Shutterstock.com



Riding a Bicycle by Committee

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