by Mary P.

Mary P. fills a variety of roles in the organization focused on the adoption and shift to Holacracy. As a Holacracy adopter and implementer, she has aided in the transition and ongoing support of shifting to a distributed authority system within a mature, growing organization. As the organization's community circle lead link, she also tends to the emotional support during the transition to Holacracy.

You can see her roles here.

When I started at VSE in 2012, I was really drawn in by the organic sense of community and family that people who worked in the business had with each other. I remember on the day of my interview walking into the then CAO’s office and seeing Mr. Potato Head ransom notes posted on the door. I thought to myself, Wow, so this is what it’s like to be interviewing for a place you’d actually like to be a part of…no pressure. Luckily, I was brought on, and quickly became a part of that family. It was awesome.

Then we implemented Holacracy, an organizational system that at its heart separates the work and the needs of the organization from the individuals in the organization and their personal needs. At first I was skeptical about how all this would work out; it was odd.  These people were not only my coworkers, but also my friends. How would I refer to them as a role, and not the person I had a beer with after work, or the person who attended my wedding? It all seemed so bizarre, even a little lonely. For quite some time, as we kept moving through this journey toward a distributed authority, work felt cold. It started to feel like our little family, and then relationships with each other, were dying.

As time has gone on, however, the separation has started to make sense. And we have created separate space for individuals to interact with each other, away from the other work of the organization. David Allen, the founder of David Allen Company, another organization practicing Holacracy, experienced a similar challenge. He addresses it head-on in the following quote: “It is an inappropriate use of love and care to use love and care to get something done.” This helped me realize that while at times it felt lonely not leveraging relationships to get work done, in some ways it provided the opportunity to be more respectful of those relationships.  

So to help unleash the potential of that space, and honor some cultural traditions, we had to create that separate space for us and our community events, to live outside of the work.

What was critical in our journey?  How did we bridge this gap? We needed to form a circle with the accountability to creating and maintaining the space for people to be people with one another, where authority doesn’t matter. A true and free people space. In this space and at these events, we now celebrate our wins as an organization and root for each other when we’re challenged. We celebrate birthdays and honor people’s tenure in the organization. We even have some healthy competition, playing video games, pop a shot basketball, or Family Feud.

So, while it seemed like Holacracy had killed our community, slowly but surely our community is rising up again, resurrected in a new context, and perhaps it is an even more respectful context, in greater alignment with the true purpose of that space. A space without implicit authority to make work happen, but a truly collaborative and fun space that shares in our love and care for each other outside of the work.