And suddenly, we were living in a new culture… How did that happen?

How do companies grow into new cultures? Can a given culture be changed? How palpable is a culture anyway? And if you wanted to change it, how would you go about it? These are questions that occupy Organizational Development consultants and researchers alike. At Business School Lausanne (BSL) we have decided to prototype new forms of organizations as a way to offer a living case study to our students. For the end of the year, I would like to offer a self-reflective piece about our organizational journey, from my own personal (and obviously limited) perspective.

On September 30, 2015, BSL had formally implemented self-organization as its new way to organize itself. Now, 1 year and 3 months later, we are looking at ourselves in disbelief. We have become a living and breathing organism with its own distinct culture and sense of purpose. And we wonder how this happened?! This blog attempts an analysis by looking at 6 distinct time period in the course of the last 15 months.

Step 1: October to December 2015 – We can learn this. The initial three months of implementing Holacracy were colored with a tremendous (good)-will to learn this new system. I think every single one of us put in discipline, time, energy, and an open trust. We learned the technique of Holacracy, got burned by what they unveiled in us regarding how judgmental and close-minded one is, we stopped and wondered, does this work? Some of us masterminded a massive systems-change that we proudly introduced in December 2015: from 2 circles, we shifted to 5 circles – in one go. A circle is something like a “department” or “business unit” – those roles that work together organize in a circle. Only later would we learn that this is absolutely not the way to go about solving “tension by tension”. We were still operating from a paradigm of hierarchy, quite unaware and unconscious but willing to try. We attempted to separate “role” from “soul” and forgot about the “soul” in the process, without knowing what to do about it. Holacracy told us – “just trust the process”.

Step 2: January to March 2016 – In the deepest of darkness. After these initial 3 months of openly learning the mechanics of Holacracy, our team dove into a dark place where we lost our previous natural sense of how to maintain personal relationships as a part of our professional collaboration. Suddenly, everything felt mechanic, cold, and distant and there seemed to be no place to connect from person to person. Our Holacracy coach kept on telling us: “Holacracy structures how you work together, how you want to relate to another, what we call ‘tribe space’ that is up to you to define.” We didn’t know what to do with this advice, “tribe space” was a term that didn’t resonate and sporadic attempts to create a “tribe space” were mostly left unattended. Critical colleagues raised concerns about a serious loss of trust in the team saying we have a big problem.

Step 3: April to May 2016 – Addressing dormant people issues. These dark three months forced some previously unaddressed and uncomfortable people issues to the bright daylight. We had learned to talk straight and to listen to another – one of the great benefits of Holacracy’s very mechanic technics. This dialogue culture enabled us to openly address pain points we didn’t have the courage to address before. We realized that not everybody would make it and we made generous offers to those that would not be able to dance this new journey of self-responsibility and co-creation with us at a much heightened innovation speed. These talks didn’t help the sense of darkness in the team, to the contrary, now the problems were in the open and things looked and felt bleak.

Step 4: June to August 2016 – Inventing a new recruitment process. Connected to step 2, we were facing some serious recruitment challenges that resulted from having addressed the people pain points. Quite unknowingly, we stumbled into a number of new practices that entirely overhauled our recruitment process. We started to ask very different questions to candidates, asked them to write an essay about how they might do in a self-organizing structure, and we used new strength-based assessment tools. We formalized with a policy that the committee consists of concerned colleagues that were intimately knowledgeable and concerned with the roles a new-hire would take. The blog “we are hiring for DNA” explains this well.

Step 5: September to October 2016 – Questioning the performance evaluation and bonus system. During the busiest time of our year, we also had to do our performance reviews. Given that we were new at self-organization, we didn’t quite know how to do this in our new setting. Those partners who cared formed a committee that defined in a few pragmatic sessions a process that seemed reasonable and time efficient. The result: a small disaster! By now, our team was entirely comfortable to discuss uncomfortable issues collectively and we quickly assembled a list of things that didn’t work. We agreed that we did no longer want to tie our financial bonus to our peer-based performance review. So how to advance? Simply, a call to those among us to self-organize and propose a better system for the coming year. This is an excellent example of what is called “safe enough to try”. We tried, it didn’t work so well, we still all accepted and embraced the consequences and vouched to do better next year. No hard feeling! As you can see, the goodwill and the trust were back – in a very new and different way. Not a trust in a boss or a hierarchy, nor a need to plead for personal favors, a trust in our way of making decisions, a trust in the ability for everybody to speak up and be respected, a trust that the others cared.

Step 6: November to December 2016 – The real test with titles and new-born authority. With our new-hires in place and with priorities cleared for the coming months, the question arose what to do with our old titles, in particular, “the Dean”. We recognized that our outside world demanded such a title and position, even if internally, we had delegated its accountabilities into a variety of roles and circles and the Dean no longer was a reality for us. There were 4 of us with external roles that at times resembled what is traditionally called a “Dean” role. In a governance meeting we discussed, argued, considered, reflected, rejected, improvised and eventually agreed that we shall be having the “Dean” title available to those who have an external representation need, clarifying that 4 people can use the title in 4 different special areas, such as academic programs, executive education, thought leadership, applied research. The website adjustment is still underway and shows how hot a potato titles are. Meanwhile, new authority arose elsewhere: we are making 3 significant leadership changes on January 1 in three key circles. Leadership in the sense of ensuring that resources and competencies are directed at realizing the mission identified. As my last act of “letting go”, the BSL Company Lead Link (a position even the Holacracy inventor Brian Robertson still holds at his company) will be energized by Carlo, while Branko takes over the School Lead Link and Massimo takes over the Support Service Lead Link. All of these appointments are announced as being intended for the year 2017, and we shall be seeing who has appetite and talent to embrace such roles thereafter.  Denitsa has risen to be our inspiration in her new people role, offering daily positivity challenges during the Advent months. David says that he feels there is more time that partners take to connect personally, creating a foundation to getting things done so much more easily. And last but not least, our newly invented Gap Frame Weeks have transformed the way the administration and the faculty interact with the student body, something that was palpable at our Holiday Season Party which was a huge success, independently organized by David. We are closing the year on an unprecedented high, “looking back at the pain with appreciation and understanding” (Aurea) and “feeling new wind beneath our wings” (David). Welcome 2017 – we are ready to embrace whatever is thrown our way!

Are these 6 necessary steps? Could we have anticipated or planned them ahead? Can you learn something from these? Do these steps provide insight into cultural transformation? I am not sure. And I am curious to continue with our “action research” to see if there is anything we and others can indeed learn, and if only in hindsight. And that is one of the purposes of a year-end reflection, too!

Kathy, I wish you strength to continue with your own personal journey of sense-making, most particularly in the coming year. It is a privilege to co-write this blog with you as it brings my own reflection about how to enable organizations to become sustainable and to contribute to the common good to new heights. Thank you for that and thank you for sharing so authentically your own journey with you last blog.

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs

We’re hiring for DNA!

Today started with a strange email in my inbox. One of the three final candidates in a current open position for which we are hiring wrote that he is retrieving his application. He explained that after having completed the two assignments we ask all advanced candidates in any position at BSL to complete, he understood after intense reflection that given the internal structure of BSL with our strong focus on business cases in sustainability, he would not be able to contribute to the overall goal of the circle for which he was under consideration to the degree he would wish. Interesting, I thought. The two assignments were the completion of a strength-finder self-assessment and an essay about Holacracy at BSL, and more precisely about how a candidate thinks of and places himself in the organizational context of Holacracy. This is the first sign that our recruitment process is truly working both ways. Thanks to a very transparent sharing of who we are and how we work with each other, a potential candidate has decided that this was not an environment for him. Brilliant! I feel that we have just made a big leap forward. A year ago, it would have been very possible for us to end up hiring such a person who would subsequently end up being a misfit with our organization, without having had the tools, wisdom and processes to screen for this hugely important cultural aspect.

This is a week full of people changes. A long-term collaborator will end his contract with us on Friday with his new energetic replacement having started just a few days ago. And another member of our team has gracefully announced that she will be leaving us to pursue other opportunities related to her dream. We are a small team and this is a lot of change for us. A colleague mentioned to me that somehow her circle felt as if the blood was changed in a person and that she needed yet to get used to how the new person would feel that her circle was transitioning into. When I shared with her the story of the email I had received, she smiled and said: “well, now, we are hiring for DNA”. She referred to a most recent hiring decision where we opted for the candidate who brought the most desirable attitude to us, at the expense of the perfect expertise his counterpart had offered. And indeed, I realize that what has happened over the past six months is that somehow, we have found our own DNA as an organization and that in our continuous adaptation of our recruitment and onboarding process, we have learned to create processes, questions and assessments that allow us to filter for this DNA when recruiting new members of the team.

This is something that has occupied many of us deeply over the past year as we have learned to find words and spaces to express how we sense that the organization needs to evolve. This is something that the tension-based process of Holacracy has invited, and maybe even forced, us to do. We have gone through a period where we found increasing courage to attempt to bring words to misalignments in this domain and in entering in daring, personal conversation about how to develop further and how to overcome our shadows and shed light on blind spots. We are in the middle of a newly developed self and peer assessment that those with an interest in designing such things have co-created. I am curious to see how honest and caring conversations we are able to have, with ourselves and with each other. I have opted to select those partners in the organizations who I suspect are the least happy or the most critical of my performance and I am hoping for real insights into how I can improve and develop. In my self-assessment, I have completed a view on myself that should shed light on my dilemmas, regrets, poor choices and areas where I judge lacking performance and I hope that this courage will be contagious so that my partners will be similarly critical in their care to help me advance. I so look forward to their point of view.

My heart was singing of joy as I walked out of a BSL company governance meeting (the super circle of most other circles) where a BSL partner joined us to express serious concern about a policy that had been introduced 5 months ago. We had adopted a “partner retention policy” from Holacracy One after a Holacracy Coaching training course a few of us had attended and which contained also steps of how to let go  (fire) an employee in case a committee would not vote to retain a partner. A policy that was entirely foreign to our HR practices but that seemed the way to advance with Holacracy. I doubt that many people were comfortable with the policy and yet nobody had expressed a tension about it, which itself was source of a tension for at least a couple of people. So finally, today, a partner addressed her concerns and in a most direct, open, daring and courageous sharing, deep fears, concerns and worries were voiced in such a way that the policy was suggested to be deleted. Except for a valid objection of another partner which meant that a solution had to be found to integrate the objection resulting in an amended retention policy that everybody present in the room was very happy with. It took us 60 minutes to undo a malaise that had blocked the organization for a few months. Having removed inappropriate elements that presumed that a person who would not be voted to be retained would be laid off, we agreed that if a person does not get support to be retained that what would need to happen is for the right group of people sit with that person and figure out what the next developmental steps for that person would be. In the check-out round, one of the participating members said that his legs were shaking when he had first read this new policy five months ago, right upon return from his vacation. He was sure the policy was aimed at him and that he would be laid off. Five months of worry without having found a way to express this – wow. We were all stunned and realized the long journey still ahead of all of us to verify assumptions before jumping to conclusions and to dare to bring up such worrying concerns right away. The experience of having seen a colleague finding words to address such a delicate issue has given me and I am sure everybody present in the meeting today the hope that we are today an organization that is on its way to welcome warmly and caringly whatever delicate concern anybody may have. And that makes my heart sing.

This new transparency and appetite for courageous conversations has been most visibly a turning point in a five hour long negotiation with a strategic partner this afternoon and has finally brought out the real hidden issue that has held us all back from finding the shared common solution we had all been hoping for. Finally, a member of the other team, slammed his hand on the table and said: “So, ok, if you want it really straight as you guys seem to be doing it with this Holacracy thing, here is what is really bugging me!” And this was the opening to being able to find a joint solution that allowed us to pop a bottle of champagne. So, this courage is spreading also outside of our little team, and is starting to be contagious to our partners we are engaged with. Wow – who would have thought that culture can be that contagious!

It was a long day and I while I am exhausted, I feel very very happy inside. I feel I am part of an organization that is not only finding its soul but is also finding ways to let it vibrate and sing. And I love the very very quiet first new sounds of music that these vibrations are making. Today was a day where I heard and felt that music. Thank you, fellow partners of BSL!

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs


Team Building Day – Summer 2016

22 August 2017 – It’s called Green Day and it was my first team-building event at Business School Lausanne.  It’s exactly one year since BSL started operating under Holacracy, and in this spirit, I would think of this day as a “Tribe Day” (“tribe” is a commonly used Holacracy term to describe our sacred space for social interactions).

My personal reflection of this day is that there seemed to be a magic mix of Doing, Being and Reflecting plus perfect blue skies.

What happened?
We started in the morning by entering the Escapeworld in Lausanne. One group got challenged to de-code Area 652 and the other one Délire du mandarin. Really tough teamwork in dark and hot conditions to be done in one hour – it was a team-building with “results” to be expected.

After being totally immersed in the undergrounds of Escapeworld, we switched to another, totally different world: The Chaplin’s World museum in Corsier-sur-Vevey. We got inspired by strolling around in the Manoir where each room in this beautiful home speaks volumes about the family life of the legendary artist.

The day ended at the Lavaux Vinorama where we enjoyed wine of the region with even more “tribe” conversations.

Call it coincidence, but our weekly Tribe Space meeting was scheduled for the next day and we closed the team building experience with a powerful Appreciative Inquiry exercise where we exchanged notes of appreciation by indicating at least one positive trait/behavior that we had observed in each member the day before.


To me, this day was of higher value than any other team-building day I experienced so far.


  1. The 1-hour Doing exercise went surprisingly smoothly relying on the collective intelligence to emerge. We reflected that for us it somehow seemed rather normal not to have a group leader any more (perhaps first signals of behavior change one year after we adopted Holacracy?)
  2. Tribe-trust developed in 6 hours of pure Being mode (no flip charts, no facilitator, nothing).
  3. Having an appreciative Reflecting phase the day after (to really sleep over the tribe-day).

So what?

It seems that Holacracy just made DOING, BEING and REFLECTING totally natural to us. A rough plan was developed and pre-scheduled for the day (thank you David!), but was kept totally fluid and self-organized by the Tribe at all times.

What a great green team-building it was, really proud to be part of this tribe!

Author: Jan Maisenbacher

Onto higher grounds – Holacracy at BSL after the initial 9 months of birthing

Our all-team meeting carried an entirely different energy than our initial meeting in late August last year. While at the start, everybody in the team was politely and cautiously positive, well, politically correct might be a better term, we now have a team with members that no longer hesitate to express their personal sentiments about their insights and learnings about where we are. That may sound simple but represents a huge shift in how far we have come as a team and what collective and individual work it took to break down the proper facades of polite, superficial engagement with the truth of the deeper struggles, resistances, blind spots and shadows, but also the deep personal learning, the enthusiasm, unlikely transformations and breakthrough. The team has gained in color, flavor, diversity of opinion, in authenticity and in honest relationships.

I am not sure to be able to identify the individual elements that brought us here, but I can try sharing my perspective. To me, Holacracy has been a weekly if not daily reminder of my personal shortcomings and challenges, of where there is room to improve, opportunity to let go, to investigate uninvestigated convictions and beliefs. All of which have triggered a journey of personal development of an intensity that I have been missing in recent years. I had forgotten what it means to work on myself and within myself. The shared journey we have been at together with the BSL team has brought this notion back into the center of my life and I feel much more connected to myself than I have felt in a while.

I had the chance to shed light into my shadows and I have jumped on the opportunity to use a coaching method to work with the most urgent thing I wanted to personally improve: my tendency to express frustration and impatience in an aggressive email. Six weeks later and rich in learning, I have understood that my deeply ingrained values have stood in my way causing this tension in me: one set of my values had to do with wanting to change the world – at all cost, including over-committing myself; another set of values related to me honoring my inner space and seeking deep connections with other. Looking at my shadow I saw how these two sets of values could end up cancelling each other out – creating distance with those I wanted and needed to work with in an attempt of changing the world, destroying exactly what I had wanted most: a deep connection. Sharing such learnings may surprise but by now I am entirely at ease of sharing this with my colleagues and with you. Holacracy opened up that space. This does not mean that everybody does or must share what is going on within themselves. There is full freedom to also share nothing, and some of us are happy with that, too.

9 months into our collective transformative journey, it feels a bit like the initial birthing process is completed. We have had at our last full day work session with Christiane, our Holacracy coach, and five members of our team are currently spending four days in Vienna taking part in a Holacracy practitioner training. We haven’t invested anything like this into our team and our development and I am sure both the coaching and the four team days as well as the training have done much to change our understanding of who we are together as a team.

A few months ago, some members have talked about lost trust and about the team spirit having gone away. We have very much struggled with the separation of work roles and personal soul space. It felt so artificial, so sterile, in the beginning. We didn’t know anymore what to do with our relationships, our culture, our ways of relating. It took months and months for us to slowly experience to what degree we have been mixing work and personal relationships, how we use relationships to get work done and how work issues stand in the way of seeing each other as persons. Some work issues didn’t get addressed because of personal relationships, some personal relationships suffered as a result of tensions related to work issues. I struggled so much with the projections of others, and I still don’t always feel that I am seen as just the person I am when I am having a cup of coffee or lunch with a colleague. Positions and titles and old hierarchy habits do still creep in. What I say still counts as more than it should and sometimes I think I need to go away for this to really dissolve. I had tried to shut up for three months and have since learned to frame what I say as “just an opinion” or “just a pitch” when I am not speaking from any role I am energizing. Yet, it takes more than me to change all of that. We all are required to bring so much courage and openness and vulnerability to work and we are maybe just now ready to start understanding what it takes in terms of safe spaces where we can expose our weaknesses and problems in the spirit of learning and developing forward. One step at a time.

To me, that one step at a time is clearly the best thing Holacracy brought to me. Rather than masterminding re-organization or strategy, or solving any complex issues, my biggest learning right now relates to trusting that one step at a time is all that is needed and the very likely best way to solve any complex issue. Steps in Holacracy are tensions and tensions are positive. That is learned by now and acquired. Yet, there is so much that lies still ahead of us. One of the future challenges is how to bring in our faculty and our students into a more self-organizing, power distributed organizations. Deliberately developmental company (DDC) is what they call places like ours; and we want to share such experiences with our students who come to BSL to learn about how to be responsible leaders in a fast evolving world. Organizing around purpose is one important element of that and it has brought a dynamic of innovation at BSL that was entirely unimaginable just 9 months ago. We have come a long way on our journey from static individual performers to an inter-connected agile organization in just 9 months. I am so grateful to my colleagues for this journey, after many lonely years, I feel that I have partners and peers again I can truly work, share, play and co-create with. And this is just the beginning!

Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs


You are now a driver of change

Before the wheel was invented, motion could be seen by observing everyday life. Curious by nature, we all, willingly or not, seek to better our immediate environment through change. This being said, we are also creatures of habit and find ourselves more easily accepting our environment by avoiding questions and the effort required to make and implement change.

What has Holacracy done for me? 6 months in to this change, nothing really other than a heightened sense of ownership. I take my service role seriously; a few believe that I take it a bit too far. My take however is that service is an attitude, not simply a job and therefore I am probably on the far end of the scale of service-mindedness. Although our students, faculty and staff truly appreciate the above & beyond (and to new galaxies), of the service that I provide, Holacracy is helping me better define and weigh the time spent vs. benefit to the organization algorithm that is required from us. Are my efforts best placed here or is there somewhere else that I could/should be focusing on? Under the Holacracy umbrella, all decisions taken, and therefore reflected upon, must be “for the benefit of the organization”. This may seem all too obvious to those who wish to retain their current employment but when you drill down further and make this previous statement the forefront of your daily decision making process, you can’t help but wonder what would happen if you changed your habits.

Holacracy is daring. Remove the hierarchy, empower the personnel and drive speaking outside the box. If you don’t like something, propose something new. If someone doesn’t like the sound of your proposal (there is a more than likely chance that even though any opposition’s voice must be heard and that if no immediate harm is to be done to the organization) then this proposal should be tested. Think with what we have today, propose a change and develop it as you go. Think of it this way – Water can be bland tasting. To spruce it up, someone suggests that we add olive oil to it as it adds flavors to foods we eat. One person opposes and says this is silly. However, knowing that oil doesn’t harm us, we try and add it to water. Clearly, this may not have been the right choice as the oil remains at the brim of the contained water mass. In the interim, outside of meetings and perhaps in simple conversation and brainstorming sessions, someone suggests adding some sugar, someone else suggests adding fruit, and another person suggests blending it all together – low and behold, we’ve created a delicious tasting smoothie out of a few ingredients and simple knowledge from others around us.

Albeit a company’s issues are more complicated than this, but the fact remains the same: encouraging change, perhaps even to the point of failure for all to learn from (and not be punished for), will shake the tree and bring people together and better trust one another. But in order for trust to truly be instilled, a personal humbling also must occur. We must be able to feel comfortable with the people we work with through the multitude of characters, personal stories and perhaps even intelligence levels; yet each person must be able to have their say in a “sanctuary” of trust. Removing prejudice, preconceptions, labeling and closed box thinking is where the effort needs to be in my opinion. We do our jobs, and we do them well. We have all learned to be team players outside of Holacracy and we have all learned to support one another. We must now all learn to break through social layers, find the preconceived beliefs that we have and in essence rethink our outlook on societal mis- and pre-conceptions. This is where the change truly happens, from within.

Where I personally fall short in the area of Holacracy is not in accepting added responsibilities, new roles or trying out new challenges, but rather in the area where I let people’s frustrations, unease, difficulties (or better known under Holacracy as “tensions”) creep into my working world. I find myself wanting to bring up issues or start discussions about areas of tension wherein I am actually not the owner of such emotion/issue. I have had to learn in my roles at BSL to step back and let people openly discuss their own tensions with others. I remain a confidante and one who is willing to listen, but I have learned to refrain from giving advice on how best to solve issues. If one asks, this is an invitation to start dialogue, but it is not an invitation to take over and help and manage issues for the other person.

What I am trying to get at here is that Holacracy is a Framework, it won’t replace your job functions, it doesn’t affect what needs to get done, it’s rather a change in the way of thinking by accepting that we are not perfect, that we need to take a look at ourselves and even personal issues and that ultimately we may even find out that we are not the best person for a specific role. Ultimately, at the pinnacle of how I see Holacracy evolving, we shall all “carry our heart on our sleeve”. The wheel will continue to turn for both the company and each employee, no matter what, and may at times hit a hole big enough in the road to cause a puncture. It’s simply up to you to decide whether you want to continue rolling along with that puncture or if you want to find a solution on how to re-inflate the tire.

David KibbeAuthor: David Kibbe, Pro-actively providing the highest quality support services to students within their educational habitat at Business School Lausanne


HBR article on Holacracy: the BSL perspective

Harvard Business Review published an article just two days ago on 22nd March 2016 and it really got our attention at Business School Lausanne: Top-Down Solutions Like Holacracy Won’t Fix Bureaucracy.

As people who have been practicing Holacracy at BSL for more than 6 months now (what a transforming journey it’s been and still is!), we felt the urge to share our view and to help clarify misleading interpretations.

Here our reply which has also been published in the comment section of the HBR online article. We hope it triggers further thoughts and involvement in this lively discussion – let us know what you think!

BSL’s Dr. Katrin Muff reply:

“Dear Gary, dear Scott, 

My reading of the article and the analysis is slightly different. I am delighted that HBR is devoting a bit of space on new organizational forms. There is so much innovation happening in practice, and so little covered by scholars at this point Frederic Laloux’s book “Reinventing Organizations” is a notable exception). I have two issues with the Hamel/Zanini article: first: it misrepresents Holacracy, and second: it confuses it with innovation solution in the strategy / product development area and implies that such innovative processes might be good alternatives to find customized solutions to structural issues in organizations. These are two entirely different concerns and would be worth a seperate discussion. Given the limitation of this comments section, I will focus on the first point here only sharing my perspective and learnings in this space.

Holacracy does not seek to replace bureaucracy, it offers an alternative way of dealing with power in decision-making processes. Given its structured approach, it could be mistaken as an alternative hierarchy or bureaucracy and indeed some companies experience it as such. In our own journey at Business School Lausanne, we had also briefly suffered from this misconception, with a majority of employees treating Holacracy as a new ruler (top down) rather than the enabling support structure that it can be (and is intended to be). Becoming fluent in Holacracy is much like learning a new computer operating system: you cannot slowly switch from Microsoft to Apple – one day, you make the change and then you suffer until you know where what is and how you get things done again. As such, Holacracy does not determine how things are processed (the old hierarchy can be entirely replicated in Holacracy and likely that is the experience at the beginning), it serves as an enabling support structure for those decision and processes in an organization that benefit from the knowledge and know-how of a diversity of people who are closer to the action than a traditional head strategic might have been.

My personal experience, having gone from Dean of BSL (carrying the full responsibility and accountability across all domains) to now being in a self-organizing, power-distributed system, using Holacracy as a supporting tool, has been just amazing! I feel energized with the innovation power that is unleashed in the organization, I can differentiate comfortably between when I “pitch” an idea to a colleague outside of my formal power competencies versus when I request something from a role responsibility I have and I truly enjoy the playfulness and the quick positive feedback of courageous actions of anybody in the organization. Now, this is not to say, that it is all a walk in the park – not everybody naturally embraces the added responsibility that comes with such transparency and the old comfort of hidding in a hierarchy can be dearly missed some days by some people. It is of critical importance to understand that organizational and personal development go hand in hand (this is my research field) and neither every company nor every person is necessarily ready for such a transformative change, which must be a) prepared and b) accompanied very carefully with appropriate coaching and personal development processes and tools. At BSL, all of us have taken up individual coaching and counselling to shed light into areas where shadows haunt us and this is not only beneficial to our organization but also to all of our other relationships in life. A true added-value from a social perspective.

So, summing up on my first concern: Holacracy is not about replacing or fixing Bureaucracy, it serves as a tool to enable & encourage entirely different decisions using the intelligence of those concerned by them directly, and this is not to be confused with strategic & product innovation processes – which have, again a very different aim. And this is my second point: it would be dangerous to mistake such innovation processes as potential solutions for structural issues in an organization – these are of a different nature than strategic or product development. Looking forward to an active continuation of this important discussion – so glad for this space here! Feel free to follow & comment on BSL’s journey here:” 

Show me your organizational chart and I’ll tell you who you are

It’s been just a few weeks since we last reported on our progress with Holacracy, and so much has happened already! This month, we were able to translate some of the important organizational shifts that are taking place at BSL into concrete, visual, and publicly open messages that will hopefully help you and everyone outside BSL to better understand our new team structure and the way we function.

Replacing organizational chart with a…living organism map

Yes, you are reading right – a living organism map.

Last week, as we were in hectic preparations for the Induction Day for new students, we suddenly realized that we need to find a simple way to explain how our team is structured in Holacracy – who does what, who is the right person to contact on what occasion, and also, how are our roles linked to each other. Our key challenge was to translate what has become the new normal for us, having fully operated under Holacracy for 5 months now, into something that makes sense to others.

You might have read in our previous blogs that we moved away from titles and jobs – instead, we now energize “roles” which comprise “circles” that serve a particular division. Each of us may take multiple roles, including adding on new roles and letting go of old roles, and therefore, we might become members of more than one circle. At BSL, we have identified four such main “circles”: School (managing and developing our academic programs), Thought Leadership (developing new research practices and generating innovation), Admissions & Outreach (enrolling participants in our programs and connecting to relevant organizations and communities), and Services (delivering support in key areas including infrastructure, IT, facility management etc.).

BSL living organism map

After a few drafts, we transformed our organizational chart into a “living organism” map. One that reflects the “fluidity” of the organization and the lack of hierarchy. On one hand, you can see that the different “circles” are all at the same level (none of them is superior to the others), and, on the other hand, you can also observe that there’s no hierarchy within the circles themselves. We are all members of a circle with an equal right and responsibility to take initiative and fulfill our roles’ purposes as best as we can. And in doing so, we don’t report to a manager anymore. In other words, a circle does not have a manager. A circle has a “lead link”, but the lead link doesn’t manage people – he/she manages the circle’s resources, sets priorities, and ensures the governance of the circle without demanding that goals are accomplished in a particular way. A “lead link” cannot tell you how to do your job, but instead can only support you by ensuring you have access to the necessary resources.

Now, unlike any organizational chart, this one does not represent a pyramid or a matrix, but circles instead. Another key difference is the lack of job titles – we’ve included the key domains where we are involved, yet we have disassociated from our formal titles. The main reason for that is this exact fluidity of the organization – each of us could accept new roles or let go of others, and we move as the organization evolves.

This shift in our thinking has now become part of our organizational DNA. Here is a beautiful example that illustrates that: As we thought we had just finalized our living organism map, Massimo from our team pointed out that we had forgotten to insert out names in there! We had gone miles to associate ourselves with our roles – to the extent that we no longer mix our sacred personality with work. A wonderful and very telling error, we thought!

Full transparency – welcome to our world

A major decision we took in February was to make our organizational profile fully transparent – you can now see all roles and associated accountabilities, policies, checklists, ongoing projects, and meeting outputs through our public Glassfrog profile. Glassfrog (we also find the name funny :)) is a software that helps organizations using Holacracy record their structure, methodology and outcomes. You can now take an inside look at our structure and learn more about the way we operate. To us, this is a bold step in the right direction. While we are aware that full transparency goes hand in hand with vulnerability, we see it as a condition which nurtures our willpower to do the right thing. Every day. Come meet us online!

BSL public Glassfrog

Email signature like no other

Another big shift that is in the making right now is our revamped email signature. We will no longer use job titles; instead, we’ll describe core activity domains and include a link to our online Holacracy profile where you can see a detailed description of each role we energize. Curious how that looks? Send us an email 🙂

There’s more to come as a few of us are attending the Holacracy coaching training in Amsterdam next week. We can’t wait to meet the Holacracy community there, get a deep dive into organizational coaching for Holacracy, and expand our capacity to navigate forward. We will keep you posted.

Author: Denitsa Marinova, Active in marketing and communications that nurture student admissions and stakeholder outreach
See my roles

Holacracy – BSL’s Purpose gets a big Organizational Boost

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 PhDOlivier Brenninkmeijer PhD
Associate Dean, BSL




Energize your roles, but who energizes me?

Change is often painful and some would argue that “no pain, no gain”. So, here we are on our 3rd month practicing Holacracy at BSL and starting to fully embrace its power and the pains of the change it brings. At the beginning we have all been very focused on learning the “technical” part of the change. Some examples:

  • I have 7 roles, not 1 job.
  • Who is my boss…oh, I don’t have one!
  • To whom do I report my progresses?
  • To whom do I ask for help?
  • What is my budget?
  • Can I go on holidays?
  • What should I prioritize?
  • What is a tension?
  • What is a tactical meeting?
  • What can I do in Governance?

And of course the most recurrent general question is: “How do I do this (or that) in Holacracy?”. Sometimes I ask myself questions like: “Can I talk to somebody who is not in my circle?”. The answer of course is yes, but nevertheless, in the process of learning this new language (or rather operating system), you get to question a lot of things, sometimes just too many!

These questions have kept us quite busy until Christiane, our Holacracy coach and consultant, during one of our latest workshops invited us to step back and ask a couple of different questions:

  • Now that authority is distributed in roles and not centralized in people, what has changed for you?
  • Every role needs leadership to be energized, are you ready to exercise your leadership in your roles?

Christiane is talking about leadership that allows you to best energize your roles and do your job. Clearly this is not the same leadership that it takes to lead others to work, but rather the type of leadership that it takes to lead yourself to your highest performance. Also, clearly, this does not leave you with the privilege of being led by others in your job anymore. Finally, this means developing new skills toward a self-managing leadership. Well, this is a bigger question than the ones we started with in our Holacracy journey.

When I reflect upon this, I feel like somebody who was kept busy learning how to build a couple of wings for a while but was never been told that at some point I was going to be asked to fly with them. Now, it takes more than a couple of wings to fly for a human being. It takes vision, courage, discipline, knowledge, action, and persistence to start with. This is the leadership we have now been called for at BSL.

I am ready to take off and fly but not for a solo flight. The greatest paradox of Holacracy is that, while it brings back the individuals at the center of the organization and asks them to energize their roles (otherwise nobody else will do it!), it also sets the context for new forms of collaboration that constantly stimulate the collective intelligence of an organization. The way tactical and governance meetings are structured clearly imposes new decision-making dynamics. You have full authority to take decisions for your roles within your defined accountabilities but you have at any time full access to the collective intelligence to help you make better decisions. In fact, the system pushes for consultation and synchronization of work but still leaving the final authority to make decisions within each individual role.

Recently we took some important steps to help each other further access the collective intelligence through consultation and synchronization of work; two changes in particular. First, we changed our Holacracy structure from 2 circles to 3 circles to group roles in a way that could better focus on their domains (General Business, Marketing and Sales, School and Academic Affairs). It only took two more weeks and we decided to take this even further. We have a new proposal to be discussed soon at our next Governance meeting to move to 6 circles. We are all somehow nervous about this, but it was great to see our sparkling eyes when Denitsa proposed this and it all made sense to us (thank you Deni!). We will certainly let you know in a few months how this big change has worked for us so stay tuned!

The second big change is that we relocated our offices in a way that physically replicates our circle structure. Collective intelligence is now also practically closer to all of us and hopefully better organized to help our personal leadership with an additional boost of energy (collaboration). We can work from home if we want to or we can go to the office if we need a closer collaborative space. I really feel we are moving toward a working system that removes any barrier preventing us from flying. In fact, we do not want to work anymore; we want to fly.

Author: Carlo Giardinetti, Associate Dean, Business School Lausanne

Holacracy at BSL: Moving Forward

A month after our first encounter with Holacracy (see our previous post for a quick intro to the concept), we are moving forward: we had our first workshop with experienced Holacracy-trained coach Christiane Seuhs-Schoeller who came to BSL to help us embark on this journey as smoothly as possible.

September 30, BSL: It’s an early morning as we arrive at BSL, grab a cup of coffee and sit in a circle. A full day ahead of us, and the promise of a new beginning. We start with a “check-in” – a ritual we are now used to – and take a moment to tune in, call out any distraction, and ensure that we are fully present for the meeting.
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