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Coloring Outside the Lines: The Challenges and Opportunities of Holacracy

According to many, including myself, holacracy is one of the keys to optimizing both the efficiency of a company and employee satisfaction. The high degree of autonomy and therefore freedom of movement often leads to more creativity and innovation in the workplace. However, there are a number of pitfalls when implementing holacracy. You ask all your employees to show personal leadership, and that can take some getting used to.

The oppressive effect of our education system

From an early age, we learn that rules are necessary for cooperation. This is taught early on, from the toddler room onwards. We learn to stand in line neatly, take breaks at set times, raise a hand to say something, and literally and figuratively color within the lines, otherwise, we won't get any appreciation.

While I am not against any form of discipline or etiquette, I do maintain that this method of training does not contribute to the development of personal leadership, which is essential in a holacracy.

This problem is exacerbated in higher education and universities. It is therefore not surprising that many of the most influential entrepreneurs of our time are high school dropouts. You are trained to adapt to an endless series of rules and processes, which will later curb you in business.

Suffocating processes and procedures

Many companies have a thick manual that describes exactly who does what and how within the organization. For a while, it was even fashionable to apply for ISO certification, which you only received if you had established in detail who was responsible for, for example, the purchase of a new pencil sharpener. Even the bakery around the corner wanted such a certification at the time.

Although Holacracy also requires some strict rules, all these learned rules and processes influence how the average employee initially deals with the autonomy and freedom of movement that Holacracy offers. After all, you have learned from an early age that rules and processes are necessary. Where else can you find support?

Instead of realizing that all those rules and processes are suffocating, employees feel a kind of natural urge to come up with even more rules and processes within a business environment. But are rules and processes really that natural?

Everyone has personal leadership qualities

When you see young children playing, they are completely absorbed in their own fantasy world, where rules do not exist. This almost seems to be a natural state. Despite the pressure from their education to adhere to rules and processes, you see that when a group of young adults goes on holiday together, they do not strictly adhere to rules and processes. Although sometimes there is someone in the group of friends who wants to plan everything, most of the time everyone strives for freedom. Things often take care of themselves, suggesting this is closer to human nature.

If these young adults start living together with a partner, no strict rules and processes are applied. Unspoken agreements may arise, such as that the person who cooks does not have to do the dishes, but this is usually handled flexibly. This seems more likely to be human nature than following all kinds of rules and processes.

We all have personal leadership by nature. Everyone has the ability to take responsibility for themselves and others. But in a business environment, we often seem to forego these skills because leadership does not correspond to following strict rules and processes. After all, you're expected to 'color within the lines', right?

It is sometimes more difficult to unlearn something than to learn it

If you have a deep-seated belief - because this has been drilled into you for years - that the only way to work efficiently is to follow strict rules and processes, it can be a big challenge to unlearn this. Firstly, because it has become a belief, and secondly, because you know no alternative.

Moreover, it is difficult to expect an employee to show personal leadership if he or she does not know what this entails. This requires training and coaching if a company decides to implement Holacracy. Employees will essentially have to learn to be themselves and not be guided by imposed rules and processes, but by their own common sense and insights, just as they do at home.

The average employee is fully capable of independently buying a house at the right price, in the right place, taking out a mortgage, insuring and renovating the house, etc., even if they are not a real estate agent, financial expert, or contractor. What they do here is show personal leadership within their own living environment.

If they unlearn that rules and processes are fundamental, employees within a Holacracy can learn that they can and must use their innate personal leadership skills to make the whole function.


Holacracy offers a radical alternative to traditional organizational structures, aimed at increasing both efficiency and employee satisfaction. This approach, which emphasizes autonomy and personal leadership, breaks with the conventional hierarchies and processes that are deeply ingrained in our training system and corporate cultures. While the transition to holacracy can be challenging given the years of conditioning to follow strict rules and processes, the potential for increased creativity, innovation, and employee satisfaction shows that these challenges are worth it. It requires a fundamental shift in thinking and action, both for individual employees and for the organization as a whole.

This shift towards holacracy not only illustrates the need for change in the way we work but also underlines the inherent human capacity for adaptation and personal leadership. If we dare to leave the well-worn paths of traditional business practices, we can create a workplace that is more in line with our natural tendencies toward autonomy and self-governance, which will ultimately lead to more engaged, satisfied, and productive employees.


What is holacracy and how does it differ from traditional organizational structures?

Holacracy is an organizational model in which decision-making is decentralized and distributed among self-managing teams instead of a traditional hierarchical structure. This model emphasizes autonomy, personal leadership, and flexibility, in contrast to the conventional top-down approach.

How can holacracy improve efficiency and employee satisfaction?

By giving employees more autonomy and freedom of movement, holacracy promotes creativity and innovation. This leads to a more dynamic work environment in which employees are more involved and feel valued, which contributes to both efficiency and satisfaction.

What challenges may arise when implementing holacracy?

The biggest challenge is the shift in mindset. Employees and leaders must move away from the traditional rule-based approach and learn to deal with more freedom and personal leadership. This may require an adjustment in mindset, behavior, and corporate culture.

Why is it difficult to unlearn traditional rules and processes?

Many people are conditioned from an early age to follow rules and work within structured systems. Letting go of these ingrained beliefs takes time and can be challenging, especially if one has no experience with alternative working methods such as holacracy.

How can companies support their employees in the transition to holacracy?

Companies can support their employees through training and coaching, aimed at developing personal leadership and adapting to a more autonomous work environment. This can be done, among other things, by offering workshops, and mentoring programs and by creating an open and supportive corporate culture.

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