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March 2014
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TD Magazine

Word Wiz: Holacracy

What if you took a flat company and made it, well, flatter? In other words, you compressed all the layers of management, dissolved all departments, and even stripped employees of their titles.

What you'd be left with is a holacracy, a radical management structure in which authority and decision making are distributed throughout an organization comprised of self-regulating "circles." Zappos recently adopted this system, setting off a lot of buzz about the decade-old concept.

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Perhaps the most appealing characteristic of holacracy is that circles can assign tasks to the employees best suited to accomplish them, regardless of their department or title. This offers organizations a workaround to the bureaucracy surrounding typical role transitions, resulting in a more agile, adaptable workforce.

If a task is not performed as expected, "tension" reverberates through the circles, and the offending employee is given feedback by members of the circle or reassigned to another task. Although there are no managers, there are "links" between circles who ensure alignment with the overall business strategy and vision.

Is it a doomed experiment or sustainable model? Zappos, a very future-forward (and successful) company, will make an interesting guinea pig.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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