Earlier this year, I had a discussion with a classmate on whether an organisation should choose a holacracy or hierarchical structure. My classmate argued that the conventional hierarchy is of course generally preferred, because power disputes are less likely to occur.
Furthermore, being particularly Singaporean, we had only experienced hopping from hierarchy to hierarchy endlessly, to a point that thinking of the hierarchy as the best choice was comfortable, instinctive even.
A conventional holacracy is a “customisable self-management practice for organisations” aimed to empower staff to make meaningful decisions towards the organisation’s purpose. In a holacracy, instead of a hierarchial system, an organisation is organised into circles and sub-circles.
At Design Prodigy (DP), I gained some insight into the potential of a holacracy-inspired system, and managed to witness how some of their practices reduce the risks of the conventional holacracy system (Fig. 1).
The DP team has drastically evolved over 13 years, and this has also allowed them to fine-tune their system with the benefit of experience. Modifying a holacracy system enables Design Prodigy (DP) to solve challenging problems more effectively.
These are three cutting-edge characteristics of DP’s holacracy model:
1. DP defines sub-circles by purpose instead of function.
In a conventional holacracy, a role contains a purpose, domain, and accountability.
In DP, roles are additionally defined by perspective. This gives each sub-circle an added dimension. In DP, sub-circles are broken down this way:
- Marketing design thinker
- Marketing scientist
- Marketing technologist
- Marketing orchestrator
To illustrate further, while a graphic designer in a conventional holacracy would simply be expected to produce web layouts and visual materials, in DP, she would be expected to apply her approach to just about any problem.
Hence, instead of functioning as a graphic designer who simply designs, she will be nurtured to become a design thinker who can apply her unique approach to a wider range of problems.
For instance, we had the graphic designer in our team look at semantic SEO from an extremely empathetic perspective, asking questions like “What kind of keywords would they search for?” and “How can the structured data better reflect that search intent?”. Having a perspective-driven purpose actually reduces potential diffusion of responsibility, because each sub-circle recognises that they can bring something different to the table.
Fig 2. Design Thinking Model
2. They encourage permeability.
Fig 3. My Interpretation of DP’s Holacracy-Inspired System
In order to avoid the painful struggle of defining each person’s role with ultimate clarity, DP also endeavours to make the boundaries between sub-circles permeable. So there can always be a free flow of information between employees (Fig. 3).
Questions are blasted across the room, calls are carried out on loudspeaker so anyone can listen in on important conversations and stay in the loop, and knowledge-sharing sessions are normalised. Far from being trapped to within what your sub-circle entails, your unique perspective is always welcome in any ongoing project that you might not even be directly responsible for, and this engagement is another key characteristic in DP’s holacracy-inspired setup.
3. They propel the company forward with the help of thought leaders.
By turning the words of thought leaders of Peter Drucker to Sun Tzu into gospel, DP manages to ground the mindsets of their employees whilst giving them direction. Once again, the ease in which novel ideas are absorbed can be attributed to permeability. When I expressed interest in Peter Drucker’s mantra “Marketing is business”, I was very promptly lent a book written by one of Drucker’s disciples for me to align myself with The Ways (thanks Xin Tian!).
This last characteristic, which is perhaps also the most important, ties together the perspective and permeability of DP’s people, propelling the company forward together as a whole. It seems like the best way to provide cutting-edge digital marketing services is when you are appropriately served by an equally cutting-edge management system.