The idea was invented in 2007 by Brian Robertson, a software engineer then in his late twenties. Holacracy’s “constitution” is now on version 4.0, having been adjusted after feedback from the 200 or so mostly small firms that have adopted it. Mr Robertson was inspired in part by a description of holarchy in a 1967 book, “The Ghost in the Machine”, by Arthur Koestler, a Hungarian-British intellectual. Koestler argued that the brain is made up of holons that are autonomous and self-determining yet also fundamentally dependent on the brain as a whole. In a similar spirit, Mr Robertson says that the whole that is a firm should consist of overlapping “circles”, each a team of employees who have come together spontaneously around a specific task.
In this section
Many rivers to cross
Sharing à la française
Dankners in the dock
The dedicated followers of fast fashion
The holes in holacracy
With about half of Zappos’ workforce trained and inducted into holacracy, there are now 180 circles, and when the roll-out is completed at the end of the year there will be around 400. Each employee will typically be in two or more circles. Their role, and the mission of a circle, can change frequently, to reflect the evolving needs of the firm. As part of the adoption process, the chief executive must give up his title, as Mr Hsieh has done, to become the “ratifier of the holacracy constitution” and “lead link” in an overarching “company-wide circle”—though in the event of deadlock over how to proceed, he will regain his powers as final arbiter.