Electronic Notebooks for Holacratic Companies: Using Digital Solutions to Streamline Organization

electronic notebooks
Electronic notebooks might increase the chances that novel social technologies and organizational structures, like Holacracy, actually succeed. Image source: Flickr user PICNIC Network

According to the website of the Holacracy parent company, HolacracyOne,1 Holacracy is “a new way of running an organization that removes power from a management hierarchy and distributes it across clear roles, which can then be executed autonomously, without a micromanaging boss.”

The Benefits and Challenges of Holacracy

Despite the loss of managers, Holacratic companies claim the work completed under this organizational model is more structured than the work completed in a traditional company. Individuals who are considered intelligent and competent enough to execute their tasks are given a new sense of “clear responsibilities and expectations.” Or, in the words of Wikipedia,2 Holacracy is a “social technology” that seeks to create a circle structure in which roles instead of job descriptions form the basis for accessing progress.

However, Fast Company warns that “adopting Holacracy isn’t cheap or easy…HolacracyOne, helps companies transition by offering consulting services that run from $50,000 to $500,000…Even for much smaller companies…which implemented Holacracy when it was just a couple dozen people in 2012, the journey takes multiple years and has a steep learning curve.”3

Additionally, there is some evidence that Holacracy’s goal of self-sufficiency and organization, which is supposed to empower and inspire workers, is not working according to plan. As one article in Forbes noted, 14% of employees left at the end of 2014, a significant increase on the 1% attrition rate.4 So what can be done to improve the efficiency of this organizational structure being adopted by a multitude of companies? And in general, what can be done to empower individuals but still maintain structure within an organization?

Electronic Notebooks Help Implement Holacracy and Other Work Structures like It

The idea of empowering individuals, from the CEO to the workplace secretary, is admirable and could indeed improve individuals’ relationships with the company at large and their coworkers. However, electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) could go a long way toward clarifying some of the misunderstandings that plague Holacracy in particular. Here are specific ways in which electronic notebooks can improve decentralized organizational models:

Monitor responsibilities. Electronic notebooks enable individuals to monitor each other’s work—not in a Big Brother context, but to ensure that the needs of the company and organization are being met. Electronic notebooks provide users with a login that enables them to access shared information. Though managers do not exist in the traditional sense in Holacracy, there are individuals with authority who can make decisions autocratically and thus can make decisions about the roles and responsibilities of a worker and the extent to which those responsibilities are being met. Electronic notebooks thus provide a repository where everyone could note the tasks of the day that were completed and those that are left to do. In this way, ELNs provide a clear outline of how an individual’s day was spent and a measure of their productivity.  

Clear rules. One of the major innovations of the Holacratic style is the emphasis on clear rules that apply to everyone within the company, but are also dynamic and subject to change. Thus, electronic notebooks again provide the perfect structure for such organizations. With ELNs, the rules can be carefully outlined and password-protected, thus providing insurance against random changes while also clearly providing an area for individuals to review and dispute rules. At the same time, because rules are subject to change, electronic notebooks also provide certain individuals with the authority to do so. Altogether, ELNs clearly support the tenets of Holacracy by incorporating dynamism, security, and clarity.

Collaboration. Electronic notebooks are renowned for their support of collaborative networks within the workplace. In workplaces that support Holacracy, this would be especially important. Collaboration between colleagues on various projects would be facilitated by using electronic notebooks, in part because the technology enables people to collect article clippings, notes, videos, and other forms of multimedia and writing within the software. Later, specific keywords can be used to search through the database, locating important materials from different teams across an organization. Thus, Holacratic companies using ELNs would help colleagues across divisions collaborate with ease.

In general, electronic notebooks have been used to improve the organization and productivity of a myriad of companies, and could be especially useful for those companies interested in adapting Holacratic structures. To determine how BIOVIA’s electronic notebooks can assist your company, please contact us today.

  1. “How It Works,” http://www.holacracy.org/how-it-works/
  2. “Holacracy,” August 10, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holacracy
  3. “Holawhat? Meet the Alt-Management System Invented By A Programmer And Used by Zappos,” March 30, 2015, http://www.fastcompany.com/3044352/the-secrets-of-holacracy
  4. “Is Holacracy Succeeding At Zappos,” May 23, 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2015/05/23/is-holacracy-succeeding-at-zappos/

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