Pando

Medium drops Holacracy, because Holacracy is "time-consuming and divisive"

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on March 7, 2016

From The Delivering Happiness Desk

Well, whaddya know? Blog platform Medium is dropping its use of the Holacracy management philosophy.

In a blog post published on -- where else? -- Ev Williams explained why the company has decided to “move beyond Holacracy...”

Our experience was that it was difficult to coordinate efforts at scale. In the purest expression of Holacracy, every team has a goal and works autonomously to deliver the best path to serve that goal. But for larger initiatives, which require coordination across functions, it can be time-consuming and divisive to gain alignment.

Holacracy also requires a deep commitment to record-keeping and governance. Every job to be done requires a role, and every role requires a set of responsibilities. While this provides helpful transparency, it takes time and discussion. More importantly, we found that the act of codifying responsibilities in explicit detail hindered a proactive attitude and sense of communal ownership.

In other words, Holacracy is great until you try to use it in a big company, at which point everyone gets bogged down with paperwork, and bullshit. At worst it was “divisive” and “hindered a proactive attitude” and “sense of ownership.”

None of this will come as any surprise to Pando readers, of course. Last year, I wrote about Holacracy’s other poster child -- Zappos (whose CEO, Tony Hsieh is a Pando investor) -- and how corrosive and toxic this particular brand of flat management is.

At the time, Zappos executives pointed to the success of Holacracy at Medium as a counter to my piece. I suspect they’ll now try to suggest that, in fact, Medium and Zappos are complete polar opposites. Just because it failed at Medium, they’ll argue, doesn’t mean it will fail at Zappos.  

It’s certainly true that Medium and Zappos are different companies.

For one thing, Medium is considerably smaller than Zappos, even after 38% of Zappos tech team (and 18% of the company as a whole) quit after Holacracy was implemented. For another, Medium began using Holacracy from day one, rather than trying to force it on employees later. If Evan Williams and his team found Holacracy divisive and hindering, and detrimental to giving employees a “sense of ownership,” God only knows how the remaining Zappos employees are finding it. (Where by “God” I mean, the long list of journalists who have written about the failure of Holacracy at Zappos.

And of course there’s one much bigger difference between Zappos and Medium: At least at Medium the CEO was willing to accept Holacracy wasn’t working, and make a change before everybody quit their jobs.