Leadership

My personal top 25 books, videos, and one podcast, to shape feminine leadership skills

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Here my personal list of 25 recommendations for books, articles, videos and exactly one podcast which have shaped and inspired my thinking and behavior towards leadership, the way I work and in general, how to be a good human being:) 

I personally believe, in order to form a decent understanding around leadership and be able to unlearn and develop a new mindset about what “leading” means in the 21st century, there is a bunch of different perspectives to be taken into account. I’ll focus my reading recommendations on five areas.

1. Our emotional landscape

2. Unleashed creativity-The oil of the 21st century

3. Our mindset

4. Femininity and the new masculinity

5. The general state of society

The number one area is to understand your emotional landscape. Even though we are so connected and constantly in touch with each other, developing strong human connection and relationships with each other, seems like the most complex thing in the world. Our organizational structures are changing and shifting dramatically at the moment. Being able to build strong relationships at your workplace won’t be a luxury but a necessity to work in flat and fluid structures. To do so, we have to look at our own emotional landscape in order to understand the other. Second, comes creativity. Unleashed human creativity is the oil of the 21. Century. So if you still believe that creativity is the secret skill of artists and designers, you better up your game and dig into it to expand your understanding on it and how creativity is very closely tied into the shift and the need from masculine to feminine leadership qualities. Thirdly, big paradigm and mindset shifts require us to check in with our current mindset first in order to understand if and how we can and should change it.

Fourthly, untangling femininity and the new masculinity and what that all means are a hot topic these days. How do we talk to each other? What is allowed? How does it change and shape our understanding about ourselves if roles and known behaviors structures are being massively disrupted these days? As a fifth area let’s have a look at what is happening in society. How is this world changing? Why are so many paradigms shifting? Where do we come from and where do we go?

Alright, are you ready? Here my top 25 content recommendations. Enjoy!

Our emotional landscape

  1. Rising Strong, The reckoning, the rumble, the revolution

For everyone interested in understanding the anatomy of failure, read this book. It will open your eyes to your professional and private life. So no matter if you just wading through a painful and mean break up or massively messed up at work, this book will walk you right in the arena of shame and failure. 

  1. Daring Greatly, How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead

Brené Brown´s TED talk about the power of vulnerability has been viewed over 34 million times. A number which speaks for itself I guess. If you want to dig deeper into her research about vulnerability, read this book.

  1. The gifts of imperfection, Let go of who you think you are supposed to be and embrace who you are

Another one of Brené´s books where she takes a closer look at shame and how it stands in our way to unleash our full potential. This book has helped me a lot in getting a better understanding of the invisible emotional net spun in different organizational structures.

  1. Braving the wildnerness, The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone

The latest book from Brené Brown explores the human need to belong. It’s been deeply fascinating to read about it and relate it to company culture and organizational design.

  1. Würde, Was uns stark macht-als Einzelne und als Gesellschaft / Dignity What makes us strong, as individuals and as a society

The latest book from Germany´s leading neuroscientist talks about dignity. It’s been one of those books which finally gave me some proper vocabulary to talk about something which I have always felt but couldn’t put in words.  Hüther explains in very easy words, why the 21. century is all about bringing dignity back to the workplace. And how this is not just a nice to have but why we better do it if we want our brains to thrive at highest capacity. ( The book is not available in English yet but I still wanted to include it in this list because it has to be read.)

  1. Non-violent communication

The concept about non-violent communication from Marshall Rosenberg is nothing new, for sure. Not at all. When I read it in 2016 for the first time though, I was struck by it because it feels, he still serves us a lot of interesting tools, needed for working in fluid, agile, flat structures.

  1. Radical Candor- Be a kick ass boss without losing your humanity

To be very honest, I have not completely finished this book but do think, it’s a very valuable read for everyone wanting to know more about giving feedback, receiving it and why your way of doing it might not have been the best and can use a bit of an update.  Here is also a really good article on it with the essence of it. 

Unleashed creativity: The oil of the 21st century

  1. Creative Confidence, Unleashing the creative potential within us all

When I read this book a while back, my former colleague (a designer) gave me a funky look at said, everyone knows that one right? Well, yes and no. It surprised me, again and again, to observe how many people outsource their own creativity to designers, marketing people or artists because they’ve been told to that this is the way how our world works. There are creative people and then there are uncreative people. For me, this is one of the most dangerous concepts we need to relearn as fast as possible in order to unleash everyone's creativity to the fullest potential.

  1. Change by Design, How Design Thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation

Yes. Some of you might think, why the heck did she put this classic book in here. I hear you. I put it in, as an example for the thousands of books out there about design thinking. And to be honest, because it’s the only book, I’ve read about design thinking after I finished my training as a Design Thinker.  If you have never read anything about Design Thinking, well, start with this one. And if you want more, read the article from my friend Boris from goodpatch here. 10. This is how we explain Design Thinking

  1. Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration

Interesting insights from Ed Catmull, one of the founders from Pixar on how to and how not to do creativity:)  I have not finished it yet, but will in the next weeks.

  1. Growth mindset The new psychology of success. How we can learn to fulfill our potential

Also a classic in my opinion.  For everyone who hasn’t read it, I think it’s a great book to give some more context and research about static and dynamic mindsets and ties in well with non-violent communication, failure culture and creativity.

  1. Delivering Happiness

I really enjoyed reading this classic from Tony Hsieh because he radically made culture and people a #1 priority for his business Zappos from the very beginning and shares how he did it and his thinking behind.

Untangling the new masculinity and femininity

  1. The Gender Knot

This podcast is produced by one of the smartest, funniest and fastest thinking humans I know and I’m damn lucky to call her a friend. Nastaran talks about femininity, masculinity, emotions, vulnerability,  men, women and our ideas about old and new roles and just everything related to us humans which we are struggling with to find answers to because the world seems upside down. Oh and just very casually the podcast has also made it to 50 Best podcasts to listen to right now by TIMES magazine.

  1. We are men enough

Justin Baldoni, a famous US actor has done something very very smart and brave. He put a show together where he invites men from all different areas and walks of life and talks about everything men hardly ever talk about. The best thing, he films it and makes it available to the public. It’s been really inspiring to see his efforts towards having those difficult conversation no matter if you are a man or not and crash those gender stereotypes big time.

  1. Why I'm done trying to be man enough

This is his TED talk from Justin Baldoni for the ones who have little time to understand, why it’s not just women who are redefining their role in society big time, but that it’s men too who better stop buying into the old masculine roles and shape up a new definition of what it means to be a man these days.

  1. We should all be feminist

One of my heroes, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie shares her perspective on feminism.

Mindset

  1. Give away your legos and other commandments for scaling startups

This article has influenced me a lot in my role and work in the past. For everyone working in a growing company and who is in a position to actively build and grow it, keep this in mind.

  1. Tribal Leadership, Leveraging natural groups to build thriving organizations

Really interesting book for everyone interested in flatter structures and self-organizing teams. I would probably even go as far and say, it’s a must-read for everyone interested in non-hierarchical structures.  

  1. The code of the extraordinary mind 10 unconventional laws to redefine your life and succeed on your own terms

This book was a present from a friend of mine and I have to say, I’m highly skeptical about that kind of books. I have to admit though, that the author managed to pull together quite a few interesting concepts and methods in order to understand, screen, delete and develop your mindset.

  1. The remarkable advantage of abundance thinking

I think the title says it all. We keep getting stuck in a very limited way of thinking. But this doesn’t bring us anywhere especially because it’s driven by fear. To cook up big visions we need to be in a mindset of abundance to cut through the noise and overload of information out there.

  1. Disruptive Thinking, Das Denken das der Zukunft gewachsen ist

Another German book which I believe is not available in English. It’s a good book which ties a lot of concepts together, works with nice visualization and brings some clarity to this big chaotic world out there.

Society, paradigm and structure shifts

  1. Sapiens,  A brief history of humankind
  2. Homo Deus, A brief history of tomorrow
  3. Antifragile, Things that gain from disorder

I added those books because I’m currently reading all of them (Yes, I usually read a lot of books ca. 20 books at the same time. No joke:)) and they have inspired a lot of interesting new thoughts and gave me some really sharp and interesting perspectives about our past and the world we are creating.

This is a highly subjective list of course. I’m seriously excited to hear from you, what books I should read and which ones HAVE to be included on that list. Like, I really mean it. Please reach out to me and let me know what you have on your reading list and would recommend me to read.  

Culture Design

10 simple elements to shape culture

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A brief overview of 10 elements which shape company culture

I’m often getting asked, what are concrete steps you can take to be more intentional in the way you work on culture. In this brief overview, I’m sharing 10 elements which can be seen as an inspiration. There are a probably a hundred more ways on what you can do. I’m sharing the 10 elements I used to work and have experience with.

1. Monday Preview

To kick off the week, have a meeting on Mondays for a quick check into the week. Hear very briefly what everybody plans to work on, what kind of events are happening and what kind of highlights are coming up or just asked everyone about the most fun moment on the weekend, etc. The idea is to start the week together and get an idea and sense of what’s going on.

2. Friday review

To close the week, have a longer and more in-depth meeting at the end of the week. Reflect and share activities and events that happened in the week, have a space for company-wide announcement or presentations and do a checkout e.g. with the I like, I wish, I wonder format or together.

3. One-on-One lunch

The bigger the team grows, the harder it gets to stay in touch and connection with your team members. 1on1 lunches give you the chance to connect and talk beyond work conversations. Make it a little raffle and match people together by chance, so you have a surprise lunch date every week.

4. Check-in talks

Plan check-in talks every 6-7 weeks or make it a weekly habit of blocking 30 min. For everyone in your time. The check-in talks are a time to reflect, give feedback but also talk about progress on learning and sharing next goals and ambitions for future development.

5. Onboarding

Make the onboarding of new people a fun experience. Instead of pouring a ton of new information in the minds and hearts of new people, create a little onboarding challenge where new people work themselves through and pull info rather than having them pushed in.

6. Team development sessions

Team development sessions are a time for the team coming together, and working on the “How do we work with each other?” Instead of waiting for this one big annual team retreat, make space for this question on a more regular basis. Give space for everyone to bond, connect and meet each other in a different rhythm and dynamic than the normal day-to-day work setting. This here is a great page from Hyper Island which gives you loads of different exercises and tools to work with and facilitate those team development sessions.

7. Feedback/Debriefs

Make time for a project debrief and individual feedback sessions. The more you get into the habit of debriefing with each other, the easier it gets. Sometimes spending an hour on debriefing a product launch or a particular project saves you a lot of hassle, time and conflicts in the next project. Giving feedback to each other but also on work or processes in a constructive, positive and solution-oriented way is always tricky and challenging. Giving and receiving feedback often feels more like walking over a minefield. You know you will step on some. Yet, you don’t know when and how. Yet, we only grow outside our comfort zone right.

8. Review lunch with new team members

After 4–6 weeks of joining, new team members share their first impressions, ask questions and have an extra space to onboard with the organization. In my role as Culture Lead, I used these lunches to get fresh feedback and new perspectives on how new team members perceive the work environment.

9 . Affair week

Every few weeks, everyone in the team gets matched “his/her affair” for a week. You’ll have lunch and a coffee date with your affair, spend a day working next to each other and engage in a fun team game at the end of the week, where one “couple” gets the chance to win. The affair week is a fun format to empower a dialogue across all departments and get a sneak peek into each other’s work.

10. Team events

Make it a habit to get out of the office together as a team. Explore a new sports activity, go to a museum, to a restaurant, go on a trip together. Go out partying and get to know the sides on each other which you don’t bring to the office. Never ever underestimate the incredible effects of partying and having fun together:)

Culture Design

Let’s talk about Culture Design!

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My take on Culture Design

Having worked in the tech scene in the past 4 years, it often baffled me to see the amount of money and resources spent on developing and designing products, designing pitch decks, flying around the world for events and meetings and in comparison how little time and money are spent on people. On designing organizations and culture to create places of work which enable people to do excellent work and thrive. It often surprised me to hear, that culture is only a topic on the crowded agendas when conflict arises, when people leave or when the business is stagnating.

With culturedesign.org I’m aiming to share big parts of my work I’ve been doing in my role as Culture Lead at the Berlin-based startup company Mimi Hearing Technologies, and my experiences I gained over the past 10 years in various workplaces. Together with collaborators around the globe, I aim for present best practices, share existing research and science and design easy to use tools for anyone doing cultural and organizational design work in companies like founders, leadership teams and brand and people teams. For me, culture is happening at the interfaces of strategy, product, brand, and people. It’s not an “add-on” or “nice to have” but an essential part of every organization since it’s the operating system of humans.

Culture Design is, designing the way how we work with each other based on our human needs while respecting our very own software of emotions. Fun fact: We don’t have to do massive user research and long hours of workshops to find out our needs. Thanks to years of research we know what we need to thrive, tap into our creativity, deliver excellent work and be healthy and inspired while doing so. The way how we design our life as society has never been more diverse. Known and static structures are evolving and we have already started to redefine and redesign community, family, friendships, and relationships. New business models call for an update of our mindsets and the way we educate. It seems the big sea of uncertainty only gets bigger day by day.

But here some good news, we are still humans!

It doesn’t matter if you are a 22-year-old millennial tech entrepreneur or a 50-year-old Corporate Veteran. It doesn’t matter how many tech tools we put in front of us. We as the human species share the same needs and run on the same software of emotions.This software hasn’t changed. Yet, our brains are often still wired in the old way of hierarchical and static thinking because we haven’t run a proper update for ourselves.

So even though most of us might need to run some serious updates and fix some bugs, the basic human software hasn’t and won’t change. Here are a few thoughts to show you my current state of thinking about culture in organizations.

  • It’s us people who define and create culture through our actions, decisions, and behaviors.
  • Culture is that thing which makes people thrive or leave.  
  • Culture Design is often a secondary thought.
  • Culture Design starts the moment you found a company and put a new team together.  
  • No, there is no service yet where you can subscribe to company culture.
  • It’s one of those rare things which can’t be bought with fresh investment.
  • Culture is no magic work but it needs constant and dedicated attention.
  • Ping-pong tables and free breakfast is an easy but not useful way out.
  • If there is conflict, you can bet that it’s often not a fact-based conflict. Conflict arises in most cases because of us, because of people being people.
  • I don’t think that flat organizations are the holy grail. I strongly believe that all sorts of structures will co-exist. What might change is the misuse of those structures for playing power games.  
  • Putting down values and hang them up on the wall does not equal “having a great culture.” Without using them as guiding elements for product decisions, business decisions, in the brand and communication on a daily basis, defining values are waste of time and money.
  • The agile and hyped Startup world seemed to provide a blueprint for the question of „How do we work? How can established organizations transform and develop to keep up with the rapidly changing world?“ Yet, I personally believe, there is and won’t be a blueprint solution.  
  • The way how we work together has to be defined every time again. It’s us people in organizations that have to define our own culture and structure with regards to the desired outcome, again and again.
  • Culture Design is about people, our relationship to each other and us in relation to the desired goal of the company and organization we are part of.

About the people element in Culture

It is the way we connect, get appreciation, get challenged and grow. It is about our mindsets. The way we see the world and understand systems. How do we accept authorities? How do we make decisions? It’s about our needs in an organization. How do we give or wait for permission or do it ourselves? It is about our understanding of leadership. How we lead ourselves first. About our experience and relation with power dynamics. If we go ahead and make stuff happen or if we wait for an authority to sign things off. The way how we react to feedback, critique, and conflict. The way we react to a stressful situation. If we are able to leave our egos at the door lead or if we are blocked to do that. If we are driven by power or purpose. The way we are wired. The way we think, reflect and act.

About the relationship part

How do we organize work? How do we connect? How do we relate to each other? How do we get work done? How do we lead, follow and inspire each other? How do we learn from mistakes as a team? How do we acknowledge and celebrate successes?How do we walk through mistakes and failures in order to come out less fragile and smarter? How do we hold each other accountable and call each other out? How do we enable or disable each other? How do we show up for each other?

People in relation to the desired goal

Who sets goals and strategy? Who makes decisions? Who does what kind of job? What skills are needed? How do we hire and fire? Who is responsible? How do we develop and support personal growth? How do we grow as a team? How do we stay innovative? How do we define success for ourselves? How do we measure performance and skills? I strongly believe that the answers to those questions are to be found within and from every organization itself. Finding them might not be easy at all times but this is the field of Culture Design. Identifying the most important questions, coming up with solutions, test them, iterate on them, start again, optimize and keep going. Culture work is not static and will never have an end as long as the company is running and people are deciding to come together every day again to innovate, to create, to check off tasks, to push limits and to enjoy working with each other.

culturedesign.org aims to become a rich source for all topics around Culture Design. To inspire but even more, to give you concrete steps and guidance.

Stay tuned for more news and upcoming events. Reach out if you have a challenge you need support with or share your story and concrete strategies how you design culture at your organization to inspire others. 

 

Holacracy

A personal reflection on working with Holacracy #2

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Six Challenges I experienced while working within the Holacracy system

With Mimi Hearing Technologies, I worked in a Holacracy system for about 2.5 years. Holacracy was implemented by the team itself in a slow process from mid-2015 onwards, almost 1.5 years after the company was incorporated. Back then the team was around 13 people. I joined the team in 2014 as their first employee. Since then I was part of the core leadership and was filling ‘lead link’ roles in Communication/ Brand and Culture. Having had the chance to implement and work in such a system within in fast-paced startup environment has been a unique learning opportunity for me.

Last year I left the company after almost 4 years and took time to reflect and look at the different elements of the Holacracy system. During the last years, I had countless conversations about the system itself, why it doesn’t seem to work and what does work and if self-organization is the future of work. This is the second blog post from a series of posts, taking a closer look at some elements of the Holacracy system. It can be seen as an attempt to offer a perspective from a hands-on and very pragmatic experience of working with it.

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1 On roles

Changing and defining roles and purposes of roles are a hassle. It often felt like a burden on top of everything else. It is probably up to every organization to decide, how detailed you would want to define roles. The time invested to draft roles obviously depends on the level of details you need in the roles. All of this sounds great in theory. With more and more people come more and more roles. One of the challenging things is, how do you make sure that the team knows, who fills which role? And how do you make this transparent? And how do you update the team on constant role changes? Having smart tech tools in place to display might be one solution. I still do wonder how to tackle this problem sufficiently. Even though you might have a lot of freedom and chance to fill more than one role, for me it comes back to the same thing of comfort and security: If roles are constantly changing, people are confused at some point. Nobody has the brain capacity to relate more than four roles with a human being. Therefore, the ideas and concepts are great, yet, here I see a lack of a pragmatic connection to real work life and the nature of humans.

2 It felt too technical and inhuman.

After some time of working within the system, the first critics came up. One of the things which were brought up quite regularly was the need for having space or platform for “sorting out real tensions” between people. It seemed like there was no space dedicated to frustrations which built up. It might have been because we “used the system” wrong, yet, maybe it was just a flaw in the system. Personally, I often felt like working within a cold complex system of rules which I will never be able to fully comprehend if I don’t spend a week only reading books on Holacracy. Holacracy often felt like it turns human relationships into mechanical transactions. It tries to neglect human emotions. By making relationships transparent and putting down what and who gets what from whom, you introduce a great level of transparency. Yet even if processes are transparent, humans still run on emotions. And those emotions are the same in a hierarchical or flat organization.

3 People have emotions

For me, it felt, that Holacracy tries to define every single interaction between people. What it doesn’t tell us in the Holacracy constitution, is the fact, that you have people coming from all walks of life bringing in a lot of different experiences, expectations and ways how to talk, relate and work with each other. People are coming from very different work cultures and are hardly ever used to the amount of freedom and responsibility Holacracy demands. It also doesn’t tell you that humans have emotions and react to things. Since this isn’t part of the constitution, an engineer who will implement the system, will try to solve every problem the team has with Holacracy, with going back to fix the process but not trying to dig a bit deeper and tries to understand, that why things don’t work isn’t because of a process. I’m convinced a lot of things don’t work because humans have emotions programmed into their DNA and machines don’t.

4 Structure and rigor

Having a clear structure for everything is good and bad at the same time. It can be a safety net or a cage. Sometimes, deviating from the path is what humans need to do.That requires strong leadership. If the one who is looked at when things get difficult avoids strong leading moves, a structure can feel ridiculous. I had more than one moment where I felt like a little robot because we didn’t act smart but just followed “the rules.”

5 Complexity, rules, and framework

When you see the constitution, I always had the immediate reaction to close the tab right again or just find something different to read. When we adopted it in 2015, the constitution back then was even more expansive than the today’s version. Two of the founders educated themselves and went ahead with the implementation process of it. That was good for the beginning. Soon we realized, every single new person who walks into the team needs a proper onboarding on it. So we tried our best. Yet, it hasn’t been enough. What it needs for people coming into a Holacracy organization is an internal mindset reset and update. This takes time, and time is the scarcest resource in a startup as we know. Coming to point

6 It is time-consuming

Working in a startup means, you are pushing the limit. Our team pushed the limits and worked on a really innovative product. It was challenging and exciting.

We were busy. Because you are building something completely new while creating a company. We had launch after launch.We really pushed hard and achieved a lot. So, why is that important to mention? It means we all had a time-intensive crazy job already. We loaded a lot on our shoulders. And because we are young, ambitious people, we thought we just work with the latest innovation in the organization space. Most of us worked too much. Holacracy felt like an extra job to take care of for me personally. At some point, it felt more like a burden than an empowering system. I think this was also the point when my curiosity and interest turned into a rather juicy criticism and led me to fundamentally reflect and question the system.

Holacracy

A personal reflection on working with Holacracy #1

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Seven elements of the Holacracy system which I like and influenced my style of working and thinking 

With Mimi Hearing Technologies, I worked in a Holacracy system for about 2.5 years. Holacracy was implemented by the team itself in a slow process from mid-2015 onwards, almost 1.5 years after the company was incorporated. Back then the team was around 13 people. I joined the team in 2014 as their first employee. Since then I was part of the core leadership and was filling ‘lead link’ roles in Communication/ Brand and Culture. Having had the chance to implement and work in such a system within in fast-paced startup environment has been a unique learning opportunity for me.

Last year I left the company after almost 4 years and took time to reflect and look at the different elements of the Holacracy system. During the last years, I had countless conversations about the system itself, why it doesn’t seem to work and what does work and if self-organization is the future of work. This is the first blog post from a series of posts, taking a closer look at some elements of the Holacracy system. It can be seen as an attempt to offer a perspective from a hands-on and very pragmatic experience of working with it.

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1 “What do you need?”

If I should take only one element from my experience with working in a Holacracy structure, it would be this question. It fundamentally changed the way how I think about problems, blockers, and conflicts. The question is asked by the facilitator in a tactical meeting. Running through the meeting agenda with the goal to solve tensions, is the core of the tactical meeting.The focus of the meeting is to have everyone bring up tensions which block work. The goal is to find one next step in order to keep going. It’s not about discussing step three, four and five. It’s only about the first. When presenting your tension and being forced to say, what you would need to get going, your mindset shifts immediately into problem-solving. The facilitator asks the person who contributed a tension “What do you need?”The facilitator doesn’t ask, which is your problem, what happened, etc. The focus is on the need of the person who has a tension. When a next step is found the facilitator asks “Did you get what you need?” The way how you approach any kind of challenging task, any problem or conflict suddenly changes. It mentally shifts you from a problem to a solution and next step based thinking and filters out unnecessary arguments and conversations about potential future problems.

2 “Will it bring the company backward?”

Another powerful question usually asked during governance meetings. The system encourages a, “try out fast, iterate and change later” approach. When looking at a proposal or idea to change something, there is often the tendency to block something, rather than trying it out. We humans dislike change. It’s uncomfortable, it means we need to move and review and well, get out of the comfort. “Will it bring the company backward?” is a great question because it pushes you to try stuff out. If it wouldn’t bring the company backward, you better try it because it might actually be beneficial.What I found very interesting to observe here is the fact, that we kept forgetting the “try out fast, change later” approach. I assume, when living in a fast-changing world, working in an agile environment is sometimes just a bit too much. Some things are ok like they are and don’t need to be changed. The feeling I often had is, that you can’t really keep up with the speed things change in the organization. It’s beautiful and difficult to digest at the same time.

3 Meeting structure

Tactical and Governance Meetings are the two main forms of meetings in a Holacracy structure. Both of these meetings have a very different goal. By distinguishing between operational tensions in tactical meetings and structural questions in governance meetings you can reach a higher level of clarity and don’t have to mix them when tension arises. On top, the structure of those meetings is very rigid and gives you a lot of guidance and direction, simply by just following the structure. It felt stiff and sometimes even ridiculous in the beginning. Yet, it has been the rigid structure which made meetings with more than 10 people incredible efficient at times. (Not always though.)

4 Roles

When I talk to people about their jobs, their work, and their challenges, I often have to find out, that my way of looking at jobs, roles, and tasks has changed through the role-based thinking in Holacracy. The system aims for a higher level of clarity by defining all the roles you are filling as clear as possible. What I observed is that people suddenly understand they can be more than just “one job description.”They can play out several of their talents. And doing that isn’t weird or awkward but accepted and normal. What it does is, it takes away the weight from one label and having this as the main identifier for you as a human. For example. Tobias is THE designer. That’s how you would hear people introduce themselves or others. And it would be the same to a large extent in a Holacracy organization. Yes, Tobias is a designer but he can also hold the role of the event organizer and brand lead, etc. The system allows people for a higher freedom to bring more of themselves into an organization than just one skill or talent. They are allowed to show more of their talents, they are encouraged to take away their boxed up thinking. Roles can bring much clarity. Another crucial element about roles is the fact, that you don’t have to fill them a 100%. Sometimes, you “hold” a role, because there is no one else in the company who could do it. You know, you are not the best 100% but you can maybe fill this role up to 30%, or a 50% of what would be needed. What it allows you as an organization is to assign roles to people without having to hire someone immediately, OR not having it done at all. The tricky thing with these roles which are not the “main role” for someone, the roles which are not the 100% fit for people is that you need to stay in touch about how someone is getting along with them. It needs a constant dialogue about the workload and the skills required by it. One of the articles which really influenced my thinking was “Give away your legos. Molly Graham describes in this article that it is crucial to stay in a mindset of growing and developing when scaling a team and an organization. That you can’t hold on to jobs and roles but that you would want to “give away your legos” to grow more. A role-based thinking can allow for such a way of looking at jobs to be done

5 Facilitator/Secretary Role

The facilitator and secretary roles are a crucial element in the meetings. As easy as it sounds and as common or usual it might be for a lot of people in meetings outside Holacracy, having these two roles can make a real difference to any meeting. I got used to these two roles so much, that it is almost exhausting sitting around a table with a bigger group without a defined facilitator and secretary. The facilitator has the task to help solve the needs from of participants. This role can play a key role in a successful meeting. Yet, being a great facilitator is an art itself and not everyone has a talent for it. It’s about listening, clear communication, understand when something needs more clarity, understand what speed the meeting needs if you lost people if everyone is still engaged and sense if something is off. If you give this role to someone inexperienced, it impacts the quality of a meeting. The secretary role is supposed to keep track of the next steps and document and organize the meeting itself. Taking the facilitation part of the meeting out of the hands of the lead link role is a great element in Holacracy. The lead link in Holacracy is not allowed to be the facilitator. By that, the “lead” is restricted in a way of potentially playing power-games in meetings.

6 Decision making

Big and difficult topic. Looking back, making decisions and knowing who is responsible for which decision is a challenge in a rather flat structure. I would say, decision-making was still a major area of improvement. (At least when I left last year in August). Instead of looking at decision-making on a broader level, there is one element in the governance meeting which I do think is very valuable. In Holacracy lingo it’s called “Integrative Decision Making.”I won’t explain now how it works because you can read this up here. What it comes down to is, hearing everyone out who has a seat at the table. Everyone who is present at the meeting has the possibility to propose changes, ask clarifying questions, utter objections and vote. This is one of the moments within the system where the idea of distributed authority is in full run. You suddenly hear questions you didn’t think of, you hear objections you didn’t think of, you have to dig a bit deeper in explaining because there might be people on the table who have little idea about your field but will be affected by your proposal. As much as Holacracy preaches distributed authority, a decision is the moment when you act it out. When you decide on something and it happens, you execute authority. What I often observed (also about myself) was a certain kind of hesitance towards making a decision. The moment you decide, you are stepping into your power and lead. You stir and give direction. That can be scary. My observation was, that a lot of us hesitated because what happens if this isn’t turning out well? In the end, what holds me back from making a decision was fear. The fear, that what I decided was wrong, not helpful or that I can’t cope with the consequences. A big portion of feeling comfortable with making decisions come with experience and having the trust established amongst the team. I observed myself becoming much more at ease with deciding during the last years. I found myself often not ready for deciding things which I have never worked on or experienced before.I often asked myself why that was? If you want that everyone feels at ease with making decisions you need to ensure a good way of how to deal with things when they don’t go well. When a marketing campaign didn’t work out the way, it was hoped for. When a product launch deadline was set too tight. When a hire doesn’t turn out to be as great as expected. It’s in these moments when trust is built and where you experience either a moment of shame or a collective spirit of understanding, analyzing and learning.  

7 Transparency

One of the big goals of the system is trying to be more transparent. Making roles and jobs to be done, processes, decisions, and problem solving more transparent. Having a rigid structure for everything to not let some sort of social bond between two people decide how and what should be done. I must say, a lot of these things are incredible to watch and see in action. Quite often new team members commented on the fact that everything is so open and transparent. What helped here is definitely the fact that the team was willing to play with open cards right from the start. If you are a young team who is not intoxicated by a political and strategizing sort of thinking it is much easier to set up a high level of transparency right from the beginning. It is another challenge to maintain it but I believe, if transparency isn’t part of your organizational DNA and mindset right from the beginning, establishing it later costs a lot of energy and resources.