In Part 1 of the blog series: Coding the Arctiq OS I briefly introduced the concept of Holacracy and explained why Arctiq chose it to be the underlying operating system for the organization. In Part 2, I am diving deeper to explore why Holacracy is a good fit as a self-management platform for Arctiq. I will further share with you our journey of architecting and installing the ArctiqOS as well as share some successes and challenges we came across along the way.
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It was a little more than a year ago, that the concept of Holacracy was first introduced at Arctiq. We were then a team of 13 people and a relatively fresh face in the Toronto Tech Community. The company had experienced some significant growth that year and the partners (owners) knew that based on the momentum generated, the growth trend would only continue. Isn’t that a good thing, you would ask? While growth is the ultimate goal for any business, there are known operational challenges that creep up to the surface, and these are never straightforward or easy to deal with. There comes a time in every organization’s lifespan when a shift from nimble decision making to creating more structure needs to happen in order to support growth and successfully scale. Typically, an organization would seek to hire managers and naturally, Arctiq was facing the big decision of layering in management to strengthen the operational foundation of the company. Was hiring managers going to address operational challenges at Arctiq? The partners didn’t think so.
Arctiq has never really been operating as a traditional management hierarchy, so the idea of hiring managers to address operational inefficiencies felt counterintuitive and did not align well with the company’s overall purpose and culture. How do we maintain our culture as Arctiq continues to grow? To answer this question, it was time Arctiq looked for alternative ways of running their organization and explored what the future of work at Arctiq will look like. Arctiq helps clients modernize their approach to IT delivery by enabling them with bleeding edge technology tools and processes, and our team achieves that by living the culture through our values of being Social, Collaborative, Open, and Community focused. The approach of looking for an innovative system to run Arctiq’s operations followed this same pattern.
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Prerequisites for Arctiq OS
Before going into the journey of our Holacracy roll out, it is worth highlighting that Arctiq’s success as a company is largely attributed to clearly knowing its organizational purpose and go-to-market strategy – focus on open source, solve problems, be community leaders, and deliver foundational emerging solutions – as well as our inward looking programs – staff freedom, flexibility, empowerment. It is important to the partners that Arctiq continues to evolve in line with the company’s culture.
“The most exciting breakthroughs of the twenty-first century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human." John Naisbitt
Before adopting Holacracy, Arctiq already identified as a flat organization with transparent decision making processes and operations. The search was on for an agile management framework to reinforce Arctiq’s culture while providing more structure and clarity to all team members. Ideally, the partners knew they wanted to empower the team rather than hire a traditional management layer. Through Holacracy they saw a path to achieving clarity by identifying the roles people fulfill or energize, allowing for maximum autonomy to execute within a roles’ domain along associated accountabilities. Building upon the culture that is Arctiq, we turn to Holacracy as our official governance and operating system to provide organizational structure and clear communication.
Installing ArctiqOS: Successes and Challenges
To become a truly Holacratic company there needs to be a shift in power and authority. In most traditional organizations today, power is concentrated at the top with one person like the CEO or a senior manager.
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This needs to shift to a distributed authority model where rules are set out by the constitution that governs company’s operational processes. In Holacracy, instead of departments there are circles that are made up of roles (and their accountabilities). The roles are what makes up the organization and they are filled by people who are fit to energize them. Any team member may fill multiple roles and act within the authority set out by that role, working towards its overall purpose.
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This setup promotes role autonomy to self-manage instead of someone else telling you what to do. Holacracy enables Arctiq to:
- complete tasks faster
- speed up decision making
- increase day to day collaboration
- eliminate micromanagement
- promote individual contribution and input
- constantly iterate the business (and its processes)
- and ultimately promote a happier (more involved) team
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“In a forest, there is no master tree that plans and dictates change when rain fails to fall or when the spring comes early. The whole ecosystem reacts creatively, in the moment.” Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness
Installing any OS requires proper tooling to enable an enjoyable day to day experience. GlassFrog is a software tool built to support organizations practicing Holacracy, helming document and visualize the entire company (in real-time). The tool lets you see a bird’s eye view of the organization, search all roles and accountabilities, and provides crystal clarity and transparency. GlassFrog software as well as the educational materials and the guide to bootstrapping Holacracy are all free resources available to help you start redefining the way you operate your organization. For Arctiq, all the efforts in rolling out Holacracy have been internally driven, after all Arctiq people are the ones who know it’s structure and processes better than any outsider. We took advantage of all the support content available online, through Holacracy coaching sessions in GlassFrog and by tapping into global and local community of companies already reinventing their organizations today. As a starting point, Arctiq crafted the initial circle structure of the organization in GlassFrog with appropriate roles, defining its purpose and accountabilities.
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Today the initial circle structure has naturally evolved, we have dissolved circles and sub-circles and created new ones. Similarly, we have created and shifted roles around, editing accountabilities and role names as needed. The beauty of this framework is that it supports your present day organizational needs as well as future iterations of it.
“think like farmers: look 20 years ahead, and plan only for the next day.” ― Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness
Successes and Challenges
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Reflecting back on Arctiq’s journey as a self-managed organization I can say it was not all that easy to get where we are today, operating under ArctiqOS. Change is synonymous with uncertainty and therefore, promotes fear and resistance. Change usually brings more work, which breeds reluctance to embrace it. According to the Oxford dictionary the word “change” is defined as making the move from one system or situation to another. To successfully embrace change and become active users of ArctiqOS, we needed to think differently, adapt faster, learn the rules, play the game, on top of doing our day to day work. The work does not go away while implementing Holacracy. ArctiqOS energizes the team and provides transparency by listing every role’s accountability and purpose. This kind of clarity empowers the team with authority to act and contribute to the overall organizational purpose collectively. Collective clarity makes the day to day team interactions more enjoyable and more human.
Arctiq started the Holacracy journey about a year ago, but it has been in the past 6 months that everyone can attest to really digging in and playing the game. What happened in the past 6 months? One of key drivers behind the increased adoption curve was the creation (and investment) in a dedicated role to own the successful implementation of Arctiq OS. At this point we did not want to invest in an external coach, but were considering all available options. We looked internally to create a Holacracy trainer role with a purpose of successfully rolling out ArctiqOS. This role still exists today, tracking team happiness and experiences with Holacracy while promoting better adoption throughout this entire team. One of the metrics tracked by this role is the overall happiness metric of people’s experience with the Arctiq OS install process, which improved 14% over the period of 90 days (the 30-60-90 day roll out plan). Similarly, 24% improvement was recorded on people’s comfort level using the GlassFrog tool on a daily basis. Through anonymous feedback, the team admits that once they started actively practicing Holacracy the fear was gone, but not without feeling uncomfortable, unsure and scared to fail. Moreover, they felt improvements every time they came to meetings or submitted a tension – every time they played the game. Some admit to using Holacracy methods in a client setting or at the dinner table with family members to facilitate through a conversation or decision making process. Feeling energized by the process makes us better team players, communicators and in the end better humans.
“When organizations are built not on implicit mechanisms of fear but on structures and practices that breed trust and responsibility, extraordinary and unexpected things start to happen." ― Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness
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On the other hand, if I had to point to a significant blocker experienced while deploying ArctiqOS, I would have to say it was the implicit fear of letting go both from the owners and from the team. With Lead Link roles filled by owners of the company, power and authority was still concentrated at the top. Backtracking now to the late fall of last year when the initial company structure was first set up in GlassFrog, partners were leading the way in identifying company’s circles and roles, electing and assigning people to them. The rest of the team was observing and slowly starting to participate, but everyone was still very new to playing this game called Holacracy. With the partners naturally concentrating in leading roles, Arctiq’s organizational structure was resembling that of a traditional top down management setting even though that was not the explicit intent. They were feeling stuck.
Realizing and admitting that you are stuck is a huge mindshift in itself. Additionally, I will stress that the partners are very open minded individuals, willing to innovate and embrace change. Once they realized that they were potentially blocking the progress and success of ArctiqOS deployment, they were willing to make a step in the right direction by resigning from their Lead Link roles to make the necessary space for other team members to step in, making authority at Arctiq truly distributed. Reflecting back on this specific experience, I must say that it was one of the more significant challenges to recognize and overcome. It required team members to step up, start letting go of their fears, and to really start trusting in people. Having faith that work will get done encourages everyone on the team to play the game according to the rules, liberating others from the fear of stepping up and owning their role’s purpose and accountabilities.
Successes and challenges experienced deploying ArctiqOS are not unique to our organization. Having collaborated with the local community of companies on route to reinventing their organizations, I heard similar stories. The key here is to be moving on to the next, better iteration. The feedback loop will keep on giving as we continue to recreate the future of work in our organizations.
Next, in Part 3 of my blog series, I will write about how to get what you needed out of a meeting run under ArctiqOS with the agenda built on the fly, and dedicated facilitator and secretary roles. I will further share why Arctiq team members energizing different roles care about tensions and actionable outputs, and what that means to the rest of the organization.
Have questions? Please feel free to comment below or contact me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested to learn more about Arctiq or have a technical discussion? We would love to hear from you!