Two Helpful Unwritten Holacracy Rules

1. “We are just people unless otherwise specified.”

The Holacracy constitution is like a rulebook for a game. The game of work. But how do you know when you’re playing the game and when you’re not? There’s no whistle. No uniforms. So, before we even get to the rules, we need to clarify when we’re “playing” and when we’re not. After all, if you’re playing soccer you can push and shove people, but if you do that on your way home you could be arrested for assault.

So, we need two things: 1) a clear default assumption about which context or space we will operate in; and 2) ways to clarify when we’re playing the game. So, first use the default assumption: “We are just people unless otherwise specified.” Because when doing the work of the organization, we use the rules. We talk about roles. We request projects. We look at accountabilities. But what about when you’re in the breakroom? Or walking down the hall? What roles are you in then? You’re probably not in any role. And that’s the important point here.

Now, let’s say you actually want to use the rules of Holacracy. Well, you need a way to clarify your expectation. You can do that in a few ways:

  • Ask, “Can I engage you in a role?”
  • The Lead Link role-filler tells you to do something: “Oh, actually, I’m not in role at the moment. I need a break. Ask me later.”
  • “Can I ask you something work-related?”
  • In the breakroom: “Can I ask you something from your Finance role?”
  • “Is that an official decision from your role, or are you just sharing your opinion as a person?”
  • Or, you’re already inside a specific circle’s tactical or governance meeting space.

And remember, “No,” is always an acceptable answer. Holacracy gives you the ability to shift into and out of role-space whenever it’s needed. And the only time it’s needed is when you’re making decisions or taking action on behalf of the organization. Otherwise, let’s just be human.

2. “It’s always up to me to get the clarity I need.”

Practicing Holacracy is a group effort. I help you — you help me. So, what happens when the former manager starts mandating things? They just expect things to happen. Well, the truth is, they’re 100% allowed to do that. It’s not great, but hey, we’re all imperfect. Since you know you don’t have to comply — there’s no issue. So, if you’re going along with their demands, without asking “Is that an official Lead Link prioritization, or are you just making a pitch for me to consider?” then the only person you should be worried about is you. It isn’t pushing back — it’s getting clarity. And it’s an extraordinarily supportive thing to do.

Now, of course it’s great if former power-holders practice good habits like saying, “I don’t have the authority to decide that for you,” or, “I’d like to pitchyou on revising the report…” Yes, that is a great habit. Yes, it helps. But we can’t expect everyone to be perfect all the time. Therefore, the only strategy that makes sense is, “It’s always up to me to get the clarity I need.”

Meaning, when I am communicating something, I should provide whatever clarity I think relevant — after all, I want to make it easy for others to respond to my messages (like mailing a letter to the right address). But I can’t possibly expect to always get it right. So, help me by asking clarifying questions. I want the right to be an imperfect human. If you don’t know what role I’m speaking from, or which role of yours I’m engaging, then for-the-love-of-all-that-is-holy-and-pure-in-the-world, please ask me.

So:

  • “Julie is still bossing people around,” becomes, “Julie, are you giving me a prioritization as Lead Link, or just sharing your opinion?”
  • “Bill needs to step-up more,” becomes, “Bill, I have no authority to make that decision for you — do you just want my opinion?”
  • “I’ve been waiting on Max for days now — it’s so frustrating,” becomes, “Max, what’s your next-action on the project? I really need it, so…is there anything I can do to help, or take something else off your plate to free up some of your time?”