Roles instead of titles give autonomy to employees
This became the basis from which Brian Robertson founded his software company, Ternary Software, on a completely new organisational model, that he called Holacracy. It consists of three main components. The first one being that work is not organised around people, their job descriptions or job titles, but is distributed into roles. Each role is a function of a project, and each person can have many roles in many different teams and projects.
When a person fills a role, she has authority to take any action that makes sense to get that job done. The purpose and the responsibility of the role is written down, so everyone knows exactly what´s expected from their and all other roles, and therefore also where the boundary of the authority of the roles go.
- Furthermore, work is not initiated nor delegated from a boss somewhere above you. If anyone senses a need for a new project or task, and no-one has anything against it, you can set up a new role. And as that project evolves, more roles are often added to the team. Compared to traditional organisations where the boundaries of peoples´ jobs are often unclear and blurred, and you therefore spend endless time asking for permission and sit in painful meetings to avoid stepping on someone´s toes, all roles in Holacracy are clarified, and people have full authority to use their judgment whenever they see a need for change in their work, Brian Robertson says.
e explains how this not only speeds up decision making, but also increases employee motivation, since everyone can act as soon as they see a need for change. Which in turn speed up changes in the organisation.
Governance can be changed all the time
But even with roles being clarified and roles explicitly written down, the way that people work together still often needs to be modified, as in traditional organisations, where it quite often creates conflict and tension. This led to the second important feature in Brian Robertson´s Holacracy: the so-called governance meetings that all teams hold regularly to adjust, modify and finetune roles, power of decisions and the way people work together.
- In traditional organisations we have all these job descriptions, that nobody ever looks at because they are totally irrelevant to our actual work. Managers tend to spend a huge amount of time micromanaging all the tension and conflicts and politics that arise from disagreements over who does what. This was another thing I wanted to change, and so I created a specific process where teams can change their own governance in a so-called governance meeting, where roles and policies can be adjusted according to those small needs for changes that always appear when people work together, says Brian Robertson.
He believes that the reason these tensions are much easier solved in a Holacracy is that, since work is distributed into roles and not to people, the discussion is depersonalized.
- And this is the beauty of the method. The focus on roles depersonalizes many of the issues that normally create friction in organisations, because people take it personally when someone points out that they are not delivering what was expected or agreed. But if someone does that at a governance meeting in a Holacracy, I cannot take it personally, since it´s not a question of my failing performance, but a question of my role not being clarified well enough. And since my role is something we have defined together, it is everybody´s responsibility to adjust it or make it clearer, Brian Robertson explains.