I have been following with great interest and a real degree of admiration my friends at Innovation Design Studio The Moment as they roll out Holacracy in their own rapidly expanding organization. I had the pleasure of catching up with one of the key figures in the implementation, Innovation Designer Simon Mhanna to ask him how it is all going.

“I think there’s still some work for us to do to answer some critical questions such as: How do we balance role and soul?”

 Simon Mhanna is an Innovation Designer at The Moment. His mastery of the innovation process enables him to bring diverse stakeholders together to solve complex problems, induce system change, and better engage the humans we serve. In addition, Simon has been leading conversations on the Future of Work in Canada, believing the future can and should be more human. Currently he teaches at The Institute Without Boundaries at Georges Brown College, OCAD University and is Programs Lead for the DesignTO – Canada’s largest cultural design week.

Mike:
Simon, thanks for making time for us to catch up on how the rollout of Holacracy has been going at The Moment How long have you been rolling it out exactly?

Simon Mhanna:
In practice, I would say it’s been three months. We’ve been preparing for this transition for almost a year. We started with some  research first to understand really what we wanted out of Holacracy and how Holacracy will actually serve us, before we got into the actual implementation.
Now we are at a point where it’s being implemented, the whole team has been invited into the practice, and it’s getting real.

Mike:
That brings me to my next question quite neatly, which is, how far along are you in the implementation?

Simon Mhanna:
I would say we are now ready to hit the ground running. The thing is that, in terms of practice, we are not all at the same level. Some people now have a bit more experience, they have been more exposed to the practices and the tools. Overall the whole organization has a good awareness. The whole team really understands what Holacracy is, and what it’s intended to do.
People were invited into their roles, and we’re now having the tactical meetings  on a weekly basis, dabbling in governance meetings but I wouldn’t say we’re at a point where we’re all fully engaged yet.

Mike:
How long do you think it will be before you consider it to be in place and reasonably finished?

Simon Mhanna:
I would give it maybe another couple of months. I think now we’re at a point where people are starting to internalize it, and really understand how to engage with it depending on their personalities and comfort levels.

Mike:
You think just two or three months, and it will be mainly in place by then?

Simon Mhanna:
Yes. I would say hopefully by March/April of 2019 we should be in a good place.

Mike:  
So you actually started looking at doing this over a year ago (beginning of 2018) now, and you spent a lot of thoughtful and responsible time working out what your organization was going to get from Holacracy and then you went into the implementation?

Simon Mhanna:
Yes.

Mike:
That’s great. I know that the Moment is a really values-driven organization, and has a strong vision of the part it has to play in the world. Would you say that Holacracy is helping, or will help to deliver that vision and purpose?

Simon Mhanna:
Definitely. The intention behind implementing Holacracy is to enable the team to deliver on the purpose that we have set for the organization. We are value-driven, we have a really good culture that is human centric. Through our research we learned that some aspects of our culture are holding us back though, and we felt that  Holacracy will enable us to separate personal relationships and the level of care we have for each others as humans from the tasks (work) in order to move much faster towards achieving the purpose that we envision for the organization as a whole. In that sense I think it’s going to deliver on that goal. At the same time I think there’s still some work for us to do  to answer some critical questions such as: How do we balance role and soul?

It is an interesting place to be. It’s creating a burning platform for us to review our rituals, practices and processes to triage what works and what doesn’t moving forward.  And this is where I think we’re starting to notice some shifts in behaviors and mindsets that will be really helpful in pushing our practice and getting us closer to what we want to achieve.

Mike:
Sounds great. What do you think the main challenges are that you have overcome in the implementation so far?

Simon Mhanna:
I believe the first main challenge was to really understand what we wanted out of the Holacracy structure. We took time to reflect on it. We conducted some internal research with the team and a general scan not only to understand the drivers behind our behaviors but also to map those against some of patterns we identified in the literature review. This work helped us bring more clarity and more focus to set clear organizational goals.
The  second challenge was, when we started the implementation, we  had to set up an initial base, which meant that some people were invited to start shaping the new structure , and others were not. The hardest part was to maintain people’s patience in order for them not to feel left out of the process. It created anxiety, as people were not sure what was really happening or when they could expect the next steps. Although we talked about it as an organization, the experience itself was limited to a small group. That was a very challenging period to go through.
The third challenge was the roll out. It triggered a lot of emotions as the team members were trying to make sense of the new structure, and how it worked for them.
I would say there will always be challenges and things will unfold as we go, but I think these are the three main ones so far.

Mike:
Right. Roll-out is obviously not complete, and you have a fair way to go yet. But would you say that you are already seeing benefits from it?

Simon Mhanna:
Yes, especially when it comes to the clarity around roles and accountabilities. Team members are already speaking to the benefits of having more clarity which enables a better process for decision making. Now I feel like we’re really making a step towards liberating people to be able to make decisions that they are entitled to make from their roles. From that perspective, team members are able to see the benefits.
Meetings might not feel the most intuitive now, but the learning curve  will accelerate as we hone in on our practices.

Mike:
It sounds good. Obviously it’s a complex, intricate thing to introduce any kind of new management structure into any organization, so I would imagine it would be impossible for it to be without it’s problems and challenges. It sounds as if the Moment has done a really good job so far in looking at what these challenges are and working out how to use them constructively.

Simon Mhanna:
With the culture we have in place it doesn’t feel like a disruptive change, it is more of an evolution of the practices we have and the level of trust that we’ve been cultivating over the years. We are able to have honest conversations about what’s working and what’s not working for us.
We have moments where we struggle so we stop, debrief, and reflect. This is  key to enable people to deal with their challenges wherever they are at in the journey, to continue to improve their practice and energize their roles.

Mike:
Right. The Moment has always had a very open and egalitarian culture or ambition if I can put it like that? Do you think it would be more difficult for a more traditional, more old style organization to be able to implement Holacracy? One that didn’t already have that kind of background?

Simon Mhanna:
Well, I’m going to say yes and no. I think our culture has been really good in helping bring everyone along on the journey. But sometimes this level of openness sets an expectation that you have to wait for everyone to be ready. That can be difficult, and I feel sometimes it slows down the process and creates tensions or confusion for people who have a greater degree of readiness.  And I think it creates frustrations and impatience, and it becomes really challenging to juggle tensions between those two groups and the organization as a whole.
But in the long run the benefit of this process is that people really buy into it and they feel supported and willing to engage in a more productive way. I think in other organizations where people are not empowered to really voice their opinions or speak to the human aspect of their experience around the workplace, things might move faster, but there’s always a risk of losing people along the way, because if we’re not also working on the individual level, some people might not be able to cope with the change and catch up with the rest of the organization.

Mike:
There’s a fine balance there and you need to be pretty thoughtful I would think.

Simon Mhanna:
Yeah, correct. But I think also sometimes we play “too nice” anyway, and with the intention of enabling every single person on the team we might sacrifice  some of the overall benefits.
But then again, I think our choice of doing it in this thoughtful way — always engaging people, bringing that empathy forward — might feel like it’s slowing us down now. . In the long run though it will aid in setting up the future of the organization to have a much more solid base.

Mike:
Yeah. It’s a good point. So finally, you guys have gone through a huge amount of thinking, experience, and experimentation, with this and at the same time building and expanding a successful consulting organization which is quite an achievement. Do you think Holacracy is likely to be something that the Moment would offer us part of a program of work for its clients?

Simon Mhanna:
I have to admit that it is a lot of work, and it’s a big investment for us as a small organization to take that on and put time and  resources into the transformational work we do. It is great though, but definitely we had to make some hard decisions. It is something that we consider on a daily basis, and sometimes the question “are we doing the right thing?” is something we wrestle  with.
Our commitment to pushing boundaries and the thinking we’ve put towards the future of work along with the willingness to use the organization as a platform for experimentation and learning to develop new models of working and organizing give us expertise and learnings that we believe will serve other organizations and potentially our clients in the future. We are already starting to work with our clients to think about it from an organization design or a team design perspective to enable the innovation work  they want to do.
And we feel there are many lessons from what we are experiencing, prototyping, and creating together as a team, that are very valuable for our clients. So yes I think I would even be a bit provocative and say, “That kind of change becomes a prerequisite for the organizations of the future to do the innovation work that they aspire to do.”

Mike:
Right, one of the things which seems to be fundamental to The Moment’s successful implementation of Holacracy, is that you actually spend time in the thinking to see how it would serve the values and spirit of the company, rather than trying to say, “Okay, here’s the book, this is a cookie cutter approach, this is what we’re gonna do, implement it.” Would that be right?

Simon Mhanna:
Yes, we made that crucial  investment first. The excitement and the intention of taking on Holacracy came from the founders I would say, from their vision of what the organization could evolve into.
My colleague Karen and I took some time to interview the founders, and interview some of the founding team members to understand some behaviors and dynamics of the team, and understand the challenges they experience. Then we  assessed whether Holacracy is the right thing, and what aspects of Holacracy are really key to take the organization to the next level. And I think from that perspective we’re always evaluating and thinking about what are the core practices that are really serving the goals that we want to achieve.
But I should also say that since we have the tendency to be very experimental and  generative, we made the decision to try to prevent that from getting in the way, and to follow some of the holacracy practices that are agreed on before we really shape it into what we want it to be, to make it more ‘Momenty’. As an organization we cannot avoid adding our own flavor to everything we do.

Mike:
You’re building in the conceptual technology of Holacracy into the Moment, pursuing the vision of what a new kind of organization would look like. Is that right?

Simon Mhanna:
Correct.

Mike:
Brilliant. Any final thoughts before we wrap up?

Simon Mhanna:
I’m just going to say again that the changes involved are a lot of work, and they are big investments for any organization to take on. As long as people have clarity in terms of what it’s serving and how the changes really enable the team to deliver on a clear purpose, it would be a smart investment. It’s a lot of hard work and, as we always say about innovation, there’s no magic recipe. There’s no quick fix and things take time. And that’s okay.

Mike:
That’s great, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate that and I think everyone out there’s going to be really interested to see what the Moment is  doing and how far you have come.

Simon Mhanna:
Thank you, Mike. It’s always a pleasure to chat.