When people do something together, go skiing or operate a company, they meet to fulfill some shared purpose. As a school, BSL also has a purpose which is: “to provide a learning platform that enables individuals and organizations to thrive by co-creating viable business solutions for our planet and its people“. And learning happens not only in the classroom. It happens also every day for those who work at or with BSL. They are the professors and staff who make that learning possible and provide a living platform.
Working together may sound simple, but, as every professor who teaches human resources or management knows, all teams must agree on some sort of operations method. If they do not, they will meet with chaos. Why? Because differences in expectations about how to achieve the common purpose lead to misunderstandings.
At BSL, working together is taking on new colours and methods. With the start of the year 2016, BSL is implementing a new method of internal operations that is called Holacracy. It is an innovative organizational method which allows each collaborator to clarify how his/her job serves the purpose of the organization. This stands stark contrast to the traditional pyramid of hierarchy and decision-making power of most businesses or organizations. Holacracy facilitates a self-managing flat organization; it changes the inter-relational dynamic of the work place to such an extent that traditional approaches to employment, job-sharing, organizational culture and human resource management may need to be re-thought.
The highest goal of Holacracy is to ensure that all collaborators contribute of their own will to the vision, the purpose and the goals of the organization – BSL in this case. To achieve this, there are two elements in Holacratic governance that are truly innovative:
The first sets the pace of the inter-relational dynamic of the work place; it is that innovation which flattens the traditional pyramid hierarchy. Each collaborator or employee can voice felt tensions in specific meetings where these must be respected equally by all. Every time a collaborator finds that he/she is not able to fully contribute to the organization’s vision and purpose because some element in the work flow is not flowing, he/she can voice a tensions and propose a better process or solution. Such expressions of tensions are never accusations against anyone person, but expressions of concerns that a process is not as good as it could be. And this respect for every felt tension must be accepted openly by all regardless of their position in the business or organization.
The second innovative element is the integrated decision-making method. Since each felt tension must be accompanied by a proposal for a better way forward, it must also be possible for other collaborators to question the proposal’s value or limitations. Holacracy provides a legitimate meeting format where proposals and objections can be voiced and tested for their applicability, but never without every other participant’s agreement. For example, if a colleague voices an objection, it is immediately evaluated for its legitimacy and if accepted, tested on whether it would contribute to furthering the main purpose of the organization.
This innovative element makes the flat and self-organizing dynamic a reality: the traditional pyramid of command and control is gone. Each collaborator can propose to change a division of labor or the way that responsibilities are shared among colleagues. The integrated decision-making process guarantees that each participant has an equal chance to voice his or her views, to make new proposals, voice tensions, raise an objection to someone else’s proposal, or just raise a great idea to make a process more attuned to the organization’s ultimate purpose – to “provide a learning platform that enables individuals and organizations to thrive “.
Author: Olivier Brenninkmeijer PhD
Associate Dean, BSL