Requisite Organization

March 23, 2010 - 10:16am

Once an organization has all the basics of Holacracy in place, new questions about the organization’s structure often emerge: How do you know what circles an organization should have, and how many levels these should be organized into?  How do you define the boundaries between circles and the scope of each?  How do you know what specific accountabilities should exist within the organization, which role should own each, and which circle should hold which role?  Does it matter?  The answer is a strong yes, it definitely does – this is an issue in any organization, with or without Holacracy, but with Holacracy in place these questions really come to the forefront.

Building on the work of Elliott Jaques, Holacracy suggests that an organization has a natural or “requisite” circle structure at any given point in time: “that which wants to emerge.”  And within that circle structure there is a requisite breakdown of roles and accountabilities.  This requisite structure is a natural holarchy that has emerged over time and will evolve with timeFinding the requisite structure is detective work, not creative work. – it is not simply an artificial construct or arbitrary choice, and it may or may not match the formal structure we’ve decided upon.  Finding this requisite structure is detective work, not creative work – the answer already exists, it just needs to be uncovered.  This discovery process feels a lot less like explicit design and a lot more like listening and attuning with what reality is already trying to tell you – what naturally wants to emerge.

The benefits of doing this listening are significant.  The closer our explicit structures mirror these natural structures, the more effective and trust-inducing the organization becomes, and the easier dynamic steering becomes.  As we align with the requisite structure, the organization feels increasingly “natural”, and self-organization becomes easier.  Circles feel more cohesive – they have healthier autonomy and clearer identity, and more clear-cut interplay with other circles.  Each circle more easily owns its work and work processes, with its super-circle able to more comfortably focus on specific inputs and outputs rather than the details of the processing going on within.  Roles and accountabilities become more clear and explicit, and it becomes easier to match accountability to control.

So once you’re practicing Holacracy, how do you align the organization with its requisite structure?  Simple: Just listen and practice.  The tensions will guide you towards the requisite structure, and with Holacracy in place you already have a system that processes tensions into organizational evolution.  Getting closer to the requisite structure is only a matter of time.

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Submitted by Alex Todd (not verified) on May 14, 2010 - 12:37am. #

I just discovered your work after reading a comment posted by one of your colleagues in response to Gary Hamel's recent WSJ blog post.  I am fascinated by your governance and management constructs, largely because the underlying principles mirror my own thinking.  For example, I just contributed a chapter to a Wiley finance textbook (being published in September - see http://trustenablement.com/index.htm#book) that introduces the "aspirational corporate governance" framework, which is founded on three pillars that I suspect will resonate:  Requisite Organization, Requisite Variety, and Adaptive Capacity.  

Submitted by amit arora (not verified) on January 16, 2011 - 5:29pm. #

Hierarchy: Control from the top down. In institutional hierarchies, individuals at higher stages may command or control the behavior of individuals at lower levels.


Bidirectional interactions. In natural holarchies, lower holons and higher holons influence each other.


I do not see RO as necessarily the best structure possible, but so far this doesn't add anything to it and, if your representation is accurate, detracts from clarity.  What is meant by "influence"?  In RO, the subordinate influences the manager tyhrtough best advice.  If holocracy gives the subordinate more authority than that, then where is accountability?  What greater influence does holocracy offer the subordinate beyond best advice and escalation to the MoR?

Submitted by Brian Robertson on January 18, 2011 - 8:17pm. #

Hi Amit,

Thanks for commenting; let me see if I can offer a bit of clarity.  First a couple of definitional points:

I appreciate and resonate with Jaques general concept that there is a "requisite" or natural structure, however I differ with him on exactly what defines that requisite structure; so when I say a "requisite organization", I'm not referring to Jaques' specific model, but just using the general concept he introduced.

The definition you gave there for "Holacracy" looks like a partial definition of the concept of a "holarchy", which is a different word/distinction than "Holacracy" - and that definition is not one I would use for "Holacracy" (not sure where you found it, but it's not my representation.. in fact it seems only a partial definition of holarchy as well, and not the one I'd offer for the word).

Holacracy does use a holarchy in how it structures an organization (although there's much more to the system than just the structure).  The structure is not a holarchy of people however (which is definitionally impossible - people are not parts of other people).  Holacracy structures an organization as a holarchy of organizational units ("roles" and "circles"), with each defined by a scope/span of work and a purpose (Jaques model of Requisite Organization also uses a holarchy of organizational units, although how they're defined and how they're controlled differ).

To answer your question about influence and authority:  In Holacracy, people are assigned to fill Roles defined by each Circle.  Those Role-fillers have the authority to execute on the Accountabilities assigned to each Role.  Further, all Circle Members have a voice in the Governance Meetings of each Circle, which are what define the Roles, their Accountabilities, and any sub-Circles, as well as the limits of authority and cross-connections necessary between each.  The members of each Circle also elect a Rep Link to represent their Circle's context within the next-broader Circle; that Rep Link gains a voice in the Integrative Decision-Making Process used to define/delegate authority in the broader Circle's Governance Meetings (they may also show up in Tactical Meetings, another type of meeting structure used in Holacracy).

There's a lot to it, and the result of all of this done well is organizational clarity - a core focus of Holacracy.  At the same time, this is all grounded in what I call "dynamic steering" vs. the more common "predict and control" approach (Jaques' model is very much grounded in the latter) - real clarity is not what we try to define fully up-front, but rather something we help emerge over time by ruthlessly facing reality and processing real tensions that arise along the way, aided by a concrete system for doing so.  For more on all of this, check out the Holacracy Constitution for the actual detailed authority system, or one of our free webinars or introductory articles for the high-level overview.

Hope that helps!

- Brian

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