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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

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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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