Tag Archives: Systems Theory

Can an Holacratic Organization Be Successful?

Because of some of the work that I’ve done, one of the things that really interests me is organizational structure. I like peeking into the ways in which an organization functions because I think that we can learn a lot about how and why they succeed. As a result, when I heard that Zappos was going to be transferring over to an holacratic organization, I was very interested:

During the 4-hour meeting, Hsieh talked about how Zappos’ traditional organizational structure is being replaced with Holacracy, a radical “self-governing” operating system where there are no job titles and no managers. The term Holacracy is derived from the Greek word holon, which means a whole that’s part of a greater whole. Instead of a top-down hierarchy, there’s a flatter “holarchy” that distributes power more evenly. The company will be made up of different circles—there will be around 400 circles at Zappos once the rollout is complete in December 2014—and employees can have any number of roles within those circles. This way, there’s no hiding under titles; radical transparency is the goal.

Typically, when people think about organizational structure, three systems come to mind: divisional, functional, and matrix. [Note: as an aside, I wrote an answer for a question on Quora a couple of weeks back about how organizational structure can support an organization’s strategy.] A divisional structure is one in which there is a degree of redundancy to the organization (each division has their own HR, accounting, etc.). A functional structure is one in which there are “shared services,” such that there would be only one HR, accounting, etc. Lastly, a matrix structure is a hybrid of the two.

Now, Zappos is throwing all that out the window and is adopting a new kind of organizational structure: holacracy. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea if they’re going to be successful. I don’t think anyone can honestly say whether Zappos will be successful in this change and in fact, I don’t think we could definitively say that this organizational structure works (or doesn’t) based on how Zappos performs under this structure. However, it’ll certainly give us a window into how a bigger organization (1500+) functions in this kind of structure. From what I’ve read, this is the biggest organization to attempt to use a holacratic system.

One interesting tangent I find to this discussion about holacratic organizational structure is this idea of holons and who’s associated with this idea. I first heard about “holons” in conjunction with Ken Wilber. I’ve written about Wilber only a few times here, but he’s someone who’s certainly worth checking out, if you haven’t already. He presents some fascinating ideas on a number of topics. That’s not to say that he’s right or wrong, but he’ll certainly present a perspective that you likely hadn’t considered. And if you’ve been reading me long enough, you know that I’m a major proponent of perspective. With regard to Wilber, I’m, in particular, thinking about the work he’s done with Spiral Dynamics. That is, I wonder if, in order to ensure that an holacratic organizational structure is successful, would the “participants” of said organizational structure need to be from 2nd or 3rd tier of development or the “yellow” or “green” memes in spiral dynamics.

What’s Wrong with the Dallas Cowboys?

Yesterday evening was the last game of the 2013 NFL regular season. It featured the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys — bitter rivals — in what was a game where the winner was crowned the NFC East division champion. Both teams took very different paths to the game. The Eagles started the season quite poorly, losing 5 of their first 8 games. The Cowboys finished the season quite poorly, losing 3 of their last 4 games (including the game last night against the Eagles). The one win in the last 4 games for the Cowboys was in the game just before last night’s game where the team’s QB, Tony Romo, played through a season-ending injury to lift the Cowboys to victory.

As Tony Romo was one of the team’s stars, most people didn’t give the Cowboys much of a chance of winning last night’s game. However, there they were, in the waning minutes of the game, with a chance to win. What happened instead? A mental error. The Cowboys have been making mental errors near the end of the game more frequently than they had been in decades past. More importantly, there have been these mental errors when the game is on the line.

Let’s back up for a moment and look at the Cowboys as a franchise. They are one of the most storied football teams in the NFL and certainly one of the most lucrative. In the ’90s, they had what could be called a dynasty when they won the Superbowl in 3 out of 4 years between 1992 and 1995. In the decade of the ’90s, they only missed the playoffs twice (1990 and 1997). In that one decade, they made the playoffs more times than they have in the past 14 years (6 times). What happened?

In 2000, Troy Aikman, the star QB of the ’90s for the Cowboys, retired. In the time between Aikman (and Romo), the Cowboys had a potpourri of QBs that I’m sure most people would rather not remember. In 2006, when Romo took over as the starter in the middle of the season, the Cowboys went on to make the playoffs. They went on to make the playoffs in 3 out of the first 4 seasons that Romo was the QB, but haven’t been back to the playoffs in the last 4 seasons.

Based on how some of those seasons ended and/or how some of those playoff games ended, it seems evident that Tony Romo is in dire need of a sports psychologist. If we go back to the 2006 season playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, Tony Romo dropped the ball when the kicker was attempting a go ahead field goal with less than 100 seconds left in the game. Or the playoffs in the next season when the Cowboys were tied for the 2nd best record in the NFL. Tony Romo threw an interception in the end zone with less than 10 seconds to go in the game. Or last season’s final game when all the Cowboys had to do was win and they were in the playoffs — Romo threw 3 interceptions. Last night Romo didn’t play, but if we can look at more than one game this season when Romo threw an interception when the game was on the line (against the Broncos and against the Packers).

Because of how the game ended last night, with the Cowboys QB — again –throwing an interception when the game was on the line, I wonder if there might be something else at play here. A couple of years ago, I wrote about some of the problems that the Vancouver Canucks goalie was having in the Stanley Cup Finals and how there might be something else that was affecting play. I wonder if that might be happening with the Dallas Cowboys’ QBs right now.

Part of the reason I talked about the success of Troy Aikman and the Cowboys during the ’90s is because I wonder if something changed — energetically speaking — with the “position” of the Cowboys QB. I know that this might sound strange, but it’s an option worth considering. Tony Romo has been one of the best QBs — statistically speaking — since he’s been in the NFL. He’s already thrown for 50 more TDs than Troy Aikman did in his career and Romo has played in 50+ less games. Romo currently has a 95.8 career passer rating. Currently, that ranks him 5th highest — all-time. Assuming Romo is able to recover from his injury, he’ll more than likely pass Troy Aikman on the all-time passing yards list, where Aikman currently ranks 30th. Tony Romo has been a fantastic QB for the Cowboys — statistically. However, when the game is on the line, things haven’t exactly gone his way. As a result, I’m lead to believe that, a) a sports psychologist is in order, and b) maybe there’s something energetically at play that’s affecting the organizational position of “Dallas Cowboys QB.” It might behoove Jerry Jones to call someone who can figure it out.

Ecology: Systems Theory in Action

John Green‘s crash course in world history has ended (it had to some time, right?) and he’s now onto a new topic: literature. This version of crash course is going to be smaller (only about 12 weeks), but I’m still excited for it. He’s already two weeks in, so if you’re interested — I’d check it out.

As John Green’s crash course ended, I thought I’d check up on what Hank Green’s new crash course was going to be. Hank, being John’s brother, also does crash course. His first crash course was in biology. As much as I enjoy learning about “life and living organisms,” I didn’t think that my time (at this point) was best used by keeping up with this course. In fact, I did watch a couple episodes to see if I might be wrong (but I wasn’t).

So — what’s Hank’s new crash course? Ecology! I am so in!!

Ecology is a branch within biology that deals with the relations/interactions between organisms and their environment. In essence, ecology is a perfect example of the importance of systems theory. Aside from my elementary school days, my only exposure to ecology was when I picked up Integral Ecology at Chapters to thumb through it — on several occasions.

Hank’s already into the third week of crash course ecology, so if you’re interested, it’s time to catch up! Here’s the first one: