Our 12-year-old company had already been through 2 major changes - from our 1st Act: an Open Source company called SQL Fusion working with MySQL AB from 2003 to 2005 to our 2nd Act: website builder & productivity tool company from 2005 - 2011, to our 3rd Act; an application and software building company from 2011 to the present. We are now on the verge of another change. While we’ve transitioned to a work-for-hire perspective with others externally, we are still fine tuning how we work internally and interpersonally.
The Fourth Act
It seems like our company is moving into its 4th iteration. First came our adolescence, then came our awkward teenage years, our crazy times of experimentation in college, and now we are on the cusp of adulthood. Many changes are happening internally with new faces, new goals and new directions. It’s shaping our vision and how we want to implement process and leadership as a company.
Our captain, Philippe Lewicki, had heard of Holacracy and even had gone to a workshop on it since it piqued his interest a year ago. The rest of us at HTML Fusion had heard Philippe mention it, but we still didn’t understand what it meant until we implemented it.
Intermission: What is Holacracy?
To quote in verbatim: “Holacracy is a social technology or system of organizational governance in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy”
In plain english, it's a way of running a company without managers in a flat hierarchy. No one reports to anyone. You have your responsibilities and the group holds you accountable to that.
It’s a little more nuanced than that but that's a good starting point. With the ability to make decisions autonomously and move quickly, the concept is catching on with many startups, including the team at Medium. Zappos is the largest company to date to introduce Holacracy. You can read about Zappos story here.
Enters Holacracy Stage Left
Holacracy is here and well, what do we do know? Philippe had a meeting with everyone explaining that he wanted the company to move into this style of “management”, we voted on it, and “ratified the constitution”. Hooray - we are officially a non-hierarchical company!
The managerless style of working and cooperating was a bit strange at first. In the beginning, our weekly meetings were 2 or 3 hours long. They felt awkward as we referred to others by their Roles and not names (one of our first meetings was disastrous and people were confused, hurt and it was all over the place). But we soon got the hang of what the meetings entailed and what was considered valid for each meeting. We’ve learned that criticism here is constructive and not personal.
Exit Stage Right
This move hasn't been for everyone and a couple individuals had decided to bid us adieu. I think we knew that was a possibility going into it. Its just always hard when people you work with and are friends with leave. But that’s life in any company.
The Climax of the Plot
This major shift has brought forth issues that are fundamental to how we run this company (notice I said “we” and not “I” since the company now belongs to us all). This is a good thing in Holacracy; tensions are named and discussed so that they can be dealt with and not left to fester. That in and of itself has won me over - I see us really making progress in becoming the kind of company and environment we want to be.
I couldn't be more excited as we turn this corner. Look for upcoming articles on lessons we have learned in Holacracy!