Holacracy: Definition, Benefits, and Real-World Cases


Holacracy is a revolutionary approach to corporate governance that replaces traditional hierarchies with fluid, self-managing teams. In this article, we’ll explore the concept of Holacracy, how it works, its origins, examples of its adoption, and special considerations, providing a comprehensive understanding of this innovative organizational framework.

Holacracy: rethinking corporate governance

Holacracy is a groundbreaking approach to corporate governance that challenges conventional hierarchies and introduces a new way of organizing businesses. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the definition, functioning, origins, examples, and special considerations associated with Holacracy.

What is Holacracy?

Holacracy reimagines the traditional corporate hierarchy by embracing a fluid, self-organizing structure. It allows team members to form distinct, autonomous teams that work collaboratively to achieve company goals. The rigid command structure is replaced by a system where employees have the authority to make key decisions within their area of responsibility.

How Holacracy works

Holacracy is characterized by its dynamic, non-hierarchical approach. Instead of the typical pyramid-shaped structure, it is composed of nested circles, each representing autonomous teams with multiple roles. Unlike conventional job descriptions, individuals within Holacracy undertake multiple roles, each with a defined purpose, domain, and accountabilities. This fluidity enables even top executives to assume leadership or subordinate roles as needed. Conflicts are resolved in regular governance meetings within each circle, empowering role leads to make critical decisions autonomously.

Pros and Cons:

Weigh the risks and benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Empowers employees with decision-making authority
  • Fosters flexibility and adaptability
  • Enhances employee engagement and creativity
  • May lead to role confusion
  • Challenges traditional leadership and management structures
  • Not suitable for all industries or organizations

Origin of Holacracy

The concept of Holacracy was derived from the term “holarchy,” which was introduced by Arthur Koestler in his 1967 book, “The Ghost in the Machine.” Holarchy describes the independent units, or holons, that exist within an organization and operate autonomously.

Brian Robertson further developed the concept of Holacracy while leading Ternary Software, a software development company, in the early 2000s. In 2007, he and Tom Thomison established HolacracyOne and published the Holacracy Constitution three years later. Several prominent companies, including Zappos.com, have publicly adopted Holacracy principles.

Examples of Holacracy

Zappos.com, an online retailer with over 1,500 employees, is one of the most prominent companies to integrate Holacracy into its management practices. According to Zappos, Holacracy enables every employee to promptly address and act on customer feedback, showcasing its potential for enhancing customer service and organizational responsiveness.

Apart from Zappos, other organizations, such as Liip, a digital agency in Switzerland, Springest, a Dutch learning software company, and Mercedes-benz.io, the online division of the auto manufacturer, have also embraced Holacracy principles.

Special considerations

While Holacracy presents a promising alternative to traditional corporate structures, it’s not without its challenges. Critics have labeled it as “hype,” and some companies that initially adopted Holacracy eventually abandoned it. Zappos, for instance, saw nearly 20% of its employees opt for severance rather than continue with the system.

In a similar vein, Medium, a blogging platform that embraced Holacracy in 2013, discontinued the experiment after three years, citing that it was hindering their work.

Despite these challenges, Holacracy continues to influence how organizations approach governance and decision-making.

Challenges in implementing Holacracy

Implementing Holacracy can pose several challenges for organizations, which include:

  • Resistance to change: Employees and management may resist the shift away from traditional hierarchies, as it requires a significant change in mindset and work practices.
  • Role confusion: Without clear guidance, employees may struggle to define their roles, leading to confusion and overlaps in responsibilities.
  • Training requirements: Organizations need to invest in training to ensure employees understand Holacracy principles and can effectively operate within this structure.
  • Adapting technology: Holacracy often requires changes in the organization’s digital tools and systems to support its decentralized decision-making process.
  • Leadership transition: Traditional leaders may find it challenging to transition into more facilitative roles, as Holacracy empowers employees at all levels.

Case study: Medium’s experience with Holacracy

Medium, a popular blogging platform, embarked on a Holacracy experiment in 2013, aiming to create a more innovative and adaptable work environment. However, after three years, the company chose to discontinue the experiment. Here are some key points from Medium’s experience:

  • Medium initially embraced Holacracy to encourage innovation and adaptability.
  • The system posed challenges for employees, hindering productivity and collaboration.
  • Medium decided to return to a more traditional structure, emphasizing the importance of finding the right fit for an organization.

The evolution of Holacracy in the tech industry

The technology sector has been at the forefront of experimenting with Holacracy. Many tech companies have adopted the framework, including Zappos, which became one of the early adopters. However, the tech industry’s journey with Holacracy has been both intriguing and complex.

The rise of Holacracy in tech

Initially, Holacracy gained momentum in the tech industry due to its alignment with the sector’s innovative and dynamic culture. Tech companies sought to enhance agility, responsiveness, and employee engagement through self-management.

Challenges and abandonment

Despite its promising start, several tech companies that embraced Holacracy later abandoned it. This raised questions about whether the system was genuinely suited to the tech sector’s fast

-paced, ever-changing environment. Medium’s experience is one example of a tech company reverting to more conventional structures.

Ongoing experiments

However, some tech companies continue to experiment with Holacracy, with results varying from one organization to another. As the tech industry evolves, it remains a space where alternative organizational models like Holacracy are continuously tested and refined.


Holacracy represents a significant departure from traditional corporate governance, offering the potential for enhanced flexibility, employee empowerment, and adaptability. While it may not be suitable for every organization or industry, its impact on the way we work and make decisions cannot be ignored. As businesses seek to navigate the complexities of the modern world, Holacracy remains an intriguing and evolving model for redefining how we organize and operate.

Frequently asked questions

Is Holacracy suitable for all types of organizations?

Holacracy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It may work well for organizations that value flexibility, adaptability, and employee empowerment. However, industries with strict regulatory requirements or highly centralized decision-making processes may find it challenging to implement Holacracy effectively.

What challenges can organizations expect when transitioning to Holacracy?

Transitioning to Holacracy can be a significant change for organizations. Challenges may include resistance from employees, role confusion, the need for extensive training, adjustments to digital tools, and the transformation of leadership roles. It’s essential for organizations to be prepared for these challenges.

Are there industries where Holacracy is particularly effective?

Holacracy has gained popularity in tech companies, which often value innovation and agility. It can be effective in industries where responsiveness to customer feedback and rapid decision-making are crucial. However, its suitability depends on the organization’s specific needs and culture.

How can organizations address employee concerns about Holacracy?

Employees may have concerns about the shift to Holacracy, fearing uncertainty or role overlaps. To address these concerns, organizations should provide clear communication, comprehensive training, and ongoing support. Demonstrating the benefits of increased autonomy and engagement can also alleviate employee worries.

Can Holacracy coexist with traditional management structures?

Holacracy can coexist with traditional management structures to some extent. In certain organizations, it may be applied to specific teams or projects while maintaining traditional hierarchies elsewhere. This hybrid approach allows organizations to experiment with self-management without entirely replacing their existing structures.

Key takeaways

  • Holacracy replaces traditional corporate hierarchies with self-managing teams.
  • Individuals within Holacracy assume multiple roles with defined accountabilities.
  • Holacracy empowers employees to make autonomous decisions within their roles.
  • The system is not suitable for all organizations and may face resistance.
View article sources
  1. What is Holacracy? – OCIO. WA.gov
  2. Governance Meeting Process – Holacracy Foundation
  3. An Inside Look at Holacracy – LinkedIn