A Stepping Stone to Self Organization

Using Parabol as an Onramp to Holacracy

A screenshot from Parabol, teaming software for the future of work

Ever worked in an office where the boss sends an email blast to everybody like this?

Hot new business lead. Needs a response ASAP. See below.
Who’s got this???
– – –
From: Big Shot <[email protected]>
Subject: New Initiative

In 2013, at my former employer Undercurrent — a consultancy serving Fortune 100s and other large organizations — all-company emails like this were commonplace. The truth was, nobody got it. This email went unanswered because we were all responsible for answering it. And, if everybody is responsible, nobody is.

Even though our client prospects were throwing themselves at us, we left good work on the table. People got upset. Change was advocated for and even attempted, but nothing stuck. Sales were just infrequent enough the economics didn’t support making responding to sales leads somebody’s full-time job. And at the time, the culture wasn’t disciplined enough for this work to be contained within a single team or become the accountability of an individual. We were just a mass of folks, busy with our own projects. And so we dropped the ball a lot, and Undercurrent didn’t grow.

The Turn Around

One night at dinner, my colleague CPJ leaned over to me and asked, “have you ever read about this Holacracy thing?” And he explained its essential mechanics for creating clarity and responsiveness. A few weeks later we invited HolacracyOne to train our top tier, and began to transform the way Undercurrent operated. Adoption was rough. The business stumbled as we ascended Holacracy’s steep learning curve. We lost folks, good folks. Some didn’t make the transition, others we had to let go because our numbers faltered.

We stuck with it. After nearly a year, things began to turn around. Holacracy let us structure into formal teams, each with its own list of projects with clear ownership, who met on a regular rhythm to reprioritize and unblock one another. It gave us the rigor we previously lacked. Then, it’s change processes allowed us to formally test one innovation after another. Some were revolutionary, such as how we sold and scheduled our teams of consultants.

Holacracy was our new shiny toy and we couldn’t wait to share it with the world. Even our clients — Fortune 100 traditionalists—noticed our step change in performance and began requesting to sit in on our meetings so they could see how we could be so effective. Imagine how strange a request that is, “can I sit in on your meetings?”

We began offering Ways of Working training for our clients that included a simplified variation of Holacracy’s Tactical Meeting (itself derived from Agile Scrum). The practice was highly memetic, and was taken from team to team inside of traditional organizations as the way to run a team and weekly status meeting.

The Stepping Stone

Making work meaningful is why we started Parabol. We still like Holacracy. But for many, it’s a tall hill to climb (we know, we’ve scaled it ourselves). If your culture supports it, the benefits are worth it. However we believe others need a gentler onramp to new ways of working. We’re here to provide that onramp.

If you’re a consultant and you’re trying to get a client team organized, our software is the fastest way of getting folks working on a weekly rhythm. If you’re a trained Holacracy practitioner or trainer, Parabol is a great stepping stone to more advanced ways of working.

Try it free here: https://action.parabol.co

Parabol works with in-person or remote teams. It facilitates a weekly meeting similar to Holacracy’s Tactical Meeting, clear team membership, explicit project ownership, status, and priority. Give it a shot!

About Jordan Husney

Jordan is a founder and CEO of Parabol, an open-source meeting facilitation and asynchronous communications app. He lives with his family in Los Angeles, California.