Going to make a change...
Holy crazy? No, holacracy!

Reading time: 3 minutes

Top-down bureaucracy holding you down? Don’t feel empowered or trusted enough? Tired of endless analysis and meetings to set up meetings? Then join me on a holacratic adventure.

Imagine going to work in a completely flattened organization, and I mean completely. You don’t have a manager, as a matter of fact you don’t even have a job title, because none exist. There is no hierarchy. Think Lord of the Flies, except there’s no pig nor is there a conch involved at any point. And there’s probably less savagry too, or is there? I’ll get to that later.

Envision working in an environment that not only encourages, but requires complete transparency. But not in a weird way like Monica Bonvicini‘s two way mirror public bathroom exhibit that started in London.


And hey, while I’m completely off on a tangent talking about mirrors, let me just say that the idea of magic ad mirrors, mirror advertising with Motion Sensor and Magic Mirror, is one of those things that makes me wonder what depths advertisers won’t go to get in front of me. But I digress, yet again.

Where was I? Oh yes, I was talking about Zappos, or at least I was about to. Zappos, the very successful online shoes and clothing retailer, has gone completely off its rocker is going holacratic. Yes, a 4000 employee company that’s ditching the corporate structure in favor of 400 or so self managed teams. Feeling empowered yet?


Doreen: This is why we broke up. He always went for it.
Molly: My problem is, I’ve never been with a man who went for it.

I’ve got to admit, I’m a fan of bold moves. I think you always take away something you can apply to other parts of your life in the future regardless of the outcome. And this definitely qualifies. I love that Zappos examined how they could scale without introducing all the beaurocracy that always follows. Talk about getting outside the box.

I’m intrigued because on one hand you have a company with a lot to lose who cares so deeply about their culture that they’re willing to take the road less traveled and go for it.

But on the other hand I know all about good intentions, and I remember how Lord of the Flies unfolded. Civility was completely replaced by chaos, and innocence was forever lost. Okay, you’re right, that was a stretch just for dramatic flair – I’m sure the bright folks at Zappos have thought it through, and I for one am rooting for them.


“I ought to be chief,” said Jack with simple arrogance, “because I’m chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp.”

Probably the most ironic piece of this story is that Zappos was acquired by Amazon in 2009, which is known as having one of the most notorious corporate cultures where the median employee tenure is only about a year. Even Walmart, which isn’t known as a worker’s paradise, has a median tenure of three times that of Amazon.

If you believe the hype, holacracy is utopia-like where most of the power is distributed to everyone who is empowered to pursue whatever they’re passionate about in a politics-free environment. And who wouldn’t love to be encouraged, if not expected, to take big risks without needing to consult with the chain of command (pardon my military background) first. I can decide what I want to work on 100% of the time? YES PLEASE! Where do I sign up?

I’ll admit, I’ve never been part of or even near a truly holacratic organization, but I have worked in a university culture that was quite decentralized, and not without its own set of issues, not the least of which was a power struggle between sister-units within the department. Think Congress where things tend to grind to a halt too often.

Jeri Ellsworth, a former employee of the holacracy at Valve, says at times it “felt a lot like high school” and had a “hidden layer of powerful management structure” despite removing the formal official hierarchy and job titles. Sounds to me a lot like what we used to refer to as the ‘good ole boys club’ or in other words, cliques. For it to work, I’d think it depends on acquiring exactly the right type of altruistic people with an entrepreneurial spirit. Of course, easier said than done.

What are your thoughts on this style of organization? Would you thrive in it? Would you miss having a boss?