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InfoQ Homepage Podcasts Miki Szikszai and Sandy Mamoli on Adopting Holacracy at Snapper

Miki Szikszai and Sandy Mamoli on Adopting Holacracy at Snapper


In this podcast recorded after the JAFAC 2018 conference Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke Miki Szikszai and Sandy Mamoli about Snapper’s adoption of holacracy.

Key Takeaways

  • Clarity of purpose is key for an organisation looking to improve their ways of working
  • The sign of a good coach is when they realise they need to step away so the client can stand on their own
  • The most important skills are around collaboration, teamwork, innovation and empathy, not technologies and tools
  • Holacracy is a system to create a self-organising organisation where decisions are made at the right level with a hierarchy of purpose rather than a hierarchy of people
  • Holacracy amplifies the culture you already have – so get the culture right first

Show Notes

  • 00:45 Introductions – Sandy
  • 01:18 Introductions – Miki
  • 01:48 Looking for ways to maintain innovation as the company grows
  • 02:12 The background to Snapper’s agile adoption
  • 02:33 Building on an existing culture of collaboration
  • 03:03 What needs to be in place for effective agile adoption – clarity of purpose
  • 03:21 People who want to collaborate
  • 03:38 Passionate about the industry they work in
  • 04:05 Agile was about building on an existing good culture and finding ways to be more effective
  • 04:45 Being consciously incompetent about ways of working and looking for guidance on getting better 
  • 05:18 Looking for a way to create a culture that sustains itself
  • 06:24 Exploring some of the challenges and ways to expose and overcome them
  • 06:54 Recognising that the executive team were unintentionally causing bottlenecks in communication flows
  • 07:26 Transparency of information was the biggest hurdle to overcome
  • 07:56 The sign of a good coach is when they realise they need to step away so the client can stand on their own
  • 08:33 The existential crisis that prompted some discussions about growth and new ways of working
  • 09:38 The initial approach to growing the team was a “unicorn hunt” – looking for skillsets that simply weren’t available
  • 10:02 Identifying that the most important skills needed were collaboration, teamwork, innovation and empathy, not technologies
  • 10:24 Recognising that tertiary education institutions in New Zealand are developing people with these skills through their group project work
  • 10:42 Enumerating the skills these people brought to their work
  • 11:05 The story of the first graduate group and how they delivered an initiative
  • 11:35 Recognising that using this approach will require a different way of operating the company
  • 11:43 Developing an operating system for the company which will allow it to remain innovative while growing  
  • 12:12 The willingness to experiment and try cutting edge ideas
  • 13:16 Starting with reading the Holacracy Constitution and realising the potential in the approach
  • 14:33 Deliberately taking an experimentation approach – not assuming that it will work, rather exploring if it can and being prepared to abandon or adapt
  • 15:05 The first experiment was difficult and adopting it in a big-bang approach didn’t work well
  • 15:33 Stepping back and adopting the ideas in a small group to start with
  • 15:49 Describing the key elements of holacracy and the organisation drivers for it
  • 16:54 Using holacracy to create an environment where teams feel empowered to be innovative and figure out the best ways of working for themselves
  • 17:22 Holacracy is a system to create a self-organising organisation where decisions are made at the right level with a hierarchy of purpose rather than a hierarchy of people
  • 18:04 The tedious but necessary activity of defining roles in great detail
  • 18:29 The tedious effort of defining roles was necessary and very valuable
  • 18:41 Some of the observations from the role definition activity
  • 19:34 Identifying which roles are needed in a particular circle is an important and hard step
  • 19:48 Learning from using the holacracy meetings and identifying that  the purpose of the meetings is good, but the strict format was not a good fit for the company, so they changed the format while keeping the meeting intent
  • 20:25 It wasn’t a straightforward journey, but it was a valuable journey for Snapper
  • 21:28 Sticking with the principles rather than mindlessly following the rules results in very good outcomes for the organisation
  • 21:45 One example of the changes that came about was the senior technical people became coaches for the more junior people, and the role change was organic and easy 
  • 23:01 Getting push-back from team members when expanding beyond the initial team
  • 23:18 Some people chose not to go along with this way of working and left the organisation 
  • 23:36 The organisational practice of creating new circles
  • 23:58 The story of disbanding a circle and allowing it to be reabsorbed into the organisation, allowing the org design to flex
  • 24:48 People are able to organise and reorganise themselves based on what is needed at the time without needing any external permission
  • 25:52 Circles are not islands and communication flows across and between circles smoothly
  • 26:03 Describing the current structure of circles at Snapper and how they interact
  • 26:48 Any person can raise and identify a “tension” – a gap between where you are and where you want to be 
  • 27:03 Each circle has roles which link to the other circles responsible for helping circles keep aligned
  • 28:23 People can fill roles in multiple circles
  • 28:54 Describing the importance of the hierarchy of purpose and how it keeps circles aligned
  • 29:24 Holacracy has enabled the company to flex and adapt to change rapidly and dynamically
  • 29:40 Describing how a specific experiment was addressed and the way collaboration was exhibited through it
  • 31:33 There is still temptation to fall into the old ways of working they are conscious when it happens
  • 32:03 There is criticism that holacracy doesn’t have a customer focus, however this is overcome by adding the right purpose to each circle
  • 33:05 Advice for other organisations who may want to consider adopting holacracy
  • 33:48 Identify if holacracy is the right tool for you, and focus on the principles rather than the mechanics when adopting it
  • 34:15 Beware of holacracy as a way of entrenching silo behaviour – if the culture does not support collaboration then it can be used as a weapon
  • 34:23 Holacracy amplifies the culture you already have
  • 35:01 The language is important – new concepts need new words to help entrench them
  • 36:05 Getting started is hard, but becoming proficient makes it quite easy and very effective


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