Holacracy: dive into the world of self-management

Doubting whether a traditional hierarchical structure suits your company? There are alternative structures, such as self-management.

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Henriëtte Klijnstra

20 March 2024 Clock 12 min

Doubting whether a traditional hierarchical structure is a good fit for your organization? There are alternative organizational structures. In this blog, we talk about self-management and Holacracy and discuss why this way of organizing works so well at Voys.

We talk about the prerequisites for this and the challenges that are still present. This will help you prepare for the first conversations within your company or organization about such a big, but also wonderful change.

Henriëtte is a friend of Voys. She works magic with words and takes a fresh look at the topics we love to talk about. In a six-part series, she delves into the wonderful world called Voys. She highlights various topics that are covered in the Voys Handbook. Super handy, so you can quickly discover whether our way of working is something for you.

Let’s go back to basics for a moment. Holacracy is a system for organizing work. It is not a traditional hierarchical system with managers, but involves self-management. All colleagues in a company or organization can have a voice. This means there are only bosses.

The constitution

Until now, this is all probably pretty recognizable. By the way, you can find more explanations of Holacracy in the constitution, and yes, you read that right, there is one. (It’s quite a long story, so we made a shorter version of it for your convenience). The Holacracy constitution describes the ground rules of this way of organizing. It’s good to know that you can modify these ground rules to better fit what your organization needs. It will be different for each company. It also took us years at Voys to set up The Voys Model in a way that works best for us.

Long story short, Holacracy is about managing work and not people. A company’s purpose is what matters, and not what a manager wants. (In an earlier blog on becoming a meaningful company, we explained what purpose is. You can read it here). Because everything is about work and not about people, work is divided into roles. Therefore, all our colleagues do not have functions, but roles.

This is how we roll

So in practice, when you need something from a colleague, you look at who has the relevant role. A role ensures that you know what you can expect from a colleague. It also means that if you have a specific role, you are also “in charge” of that role. You get to make choices that are best for your role and consistent with the purpose of the company. We don’t call it self-management for nothing. Of course, sometimes mistakes are made, and that’s okay. Because if you stop making mistakes it means you stop learning.

Let’s take a look 

We also have roles that keep things on track. Roles that ensure that everyone in a circle can do his/her/their job nicely. A circle is a group of roles working together toward a common goal. Circles fluctuate, just as roles can be transferred. A few circles you might recognize from traditional organizational forms are Finance and Product Development. We now have more than 50 circles at Voys, including Smooth Operations and The Planeteers (want to know what they do? Apply and find out for yourself!).

Back to those core roles, which support circles in achieving their goals. They are:

  • Circle lead
    The circle lead ensures a “role fit” (the check that a colleague fits a role) and that the circle has a strategy. The big difference with a traditional team leader is that all people in the circle have a say in their own work within the circle. So telling someone what to do and how to do it is out of the question.
  • Circle rep
    The circle representative is an elected role used to represent the interests of a subcircle within the overarching circle. This role is optional.
  • Secretary
    With this elected role, are you a glorified note-taker? Certainly not! However, you do plan circle meetings and note down their most important outcomes. The secretary also ensures that the constitution is followed. 
  • Facilitator
    As a facilitator, you lead those circle meetings in the right direction.

Sounds complicated? Don’t worry, there is always the role of Holacracy Coach to support and advance all roles.

Want to know more about the duties of these core roles? We cover them in more detail in the Voys Handbook. You can check it out online.


Tired of all those meetings at work? Even with Holacracy, you can’t escape meetings. Of course, at Voys we try to make them as useful as possible. We have two types:

  • Tactical meetings
    These meetings are about the organization of roles.
  • Governance meetings
    These meetings are about the organization of roles.

Whatever meeting is scheduled, in the end everyone gets to decide if it is useful to attend. After all, you are in charge of your own work and roles. Of course, sometimes your presence may be necessary for the process and you may be specifically asked to attend.

Why would you want this?

Now that we’ve had the basics, let’s go back to why. Why would you want all this and move to some form of self-management within your company or organization? Because you want to get the most out of yourself and the people around you in your work environment, that’s why. Because linear organization doesn’t work in an exponentially changing world where you need to be able to change quickly, that’s why. Equal cooperation through self-management is the solution here. There are a few prerequisites – think of them as lessons we learned at Voys – for a successful transition.

  • Everyone must want to try
    The emphasis here is on trying. You cannot announce that you are self-managing from now on. It has to be an open conversation with all colleagues about how you want to work together in the organization. In large organizations it is understandable if not 100 percent of the team wants to participate in the experiment initially. That will come later.
  • Trust each other
    There are many organizations that don’t trust their people. There are many people who don’t trust their organizations. There are people who don’t trust other people. Then it’s not going to work. Without trust, there’s no self-management.
  • Yes to everything
    Instead of giving permission, the default answer is ‘yes’. If it doesn’t go well, you can almost always go back or adjust it in time. By doing this, you will end up talking less about ideas and you’ll execute more.
  • A system for grown ups
    Raising children and buying a house is something you do without having had prior education or training for it. So why, at work, do you need permission to do what you yourself have been trained or experienced to do? Self-management is a system for adults. It gives you the autonomy to act maturely.
  • Delve into self-management
    Many people expect self-management to be a solution to all problems within an organization. The opposite is true: it makes everything that is not yet well organized extra visible. So read up on it, because that way you can quickly identify pain points. What helped us at Voys was talking to other people who were already experimenting with self-management.

By the way, remember that with the transition to self-management, you are diving into a permanent experiment. We are also still adapting the Voys Model. So think of it as a constant evolution to a model that best suits your business.

Excitement and thrills

Is there a lot of tension within your organization? With us there is! In fact, we talk about tensions every day. These tensions are the fuel of our organization. Tensions make us move forward. They are the differences between how a situation is and how it could be. They allow you to indicate that something can be made even better by an adjustment, or that a change is needed to avoid mistakes. These tensions don’t have to be earth-shattering issues. Some are small and easy to solve.

Resolving those tensions is an important part within Holacracy. Something good to know is that in order to do this, you have to actually feel the tension. Resolving hypothetical tensions is also fine, but is not the priority. Within an organization, everyone has their own experience and unique insights. So not everyone experiences the same problems or tensions, and that doesn’t matter within self-management. You do not have to put up with it if a colleague (in traditional organizations, often a manager) does not recognize or acknowledge your tension. You are allowed to provide or request a solution.

Resolved tensions

To resolve those tensions, we must first distinguish between role tensions and personal tensions. True, within Holacracy it is about roles, about the work, and not about people. But ultimately it is the people who do it, so tensions will arise in that area as well. These personal tensions are about how people behave or talk to each other. Think of that one colleague who failed to show up to a meeting yet again. Or that other colleague who always interrupts you when you’re speaking.

In addition, there may be personal tensions between yourself and the organization. Think of tensions around your salary or your contract hours. Whatever your personal tension is, it is important to resolve it. Fortunately, you can get help with that. Within Voys we organize a Connected Workshop for all of our colleagues to learn how to deal with this.

What are you doing within your organization to resolve this type of tension? Tips can be emailed to agency@voys.nl.

Solving role tensions

For this category of tensions, we at Voys have created a flow chart and worked out a number of scenarios in our Voys Handbook. These role tensions are not always very big issues. Example: the website link I need for an invoice is not working. Or: from my recruiting role, I would like to give a new colleague access to Slack. If there is a tension, you can start by seeing if it is up to your role to solve it. Does it fall within your role? Let’s go! You don’t need anyone’s permission to fix things – as long as it doesn’t cost a million billion dollars – after all, you’re in charge of your own role.

Across the fence

Is the tension not something you can resolve within your role? Then throw it over the fence! Although make sure it’s to the other side of the fence where there are people with the right role. Do you already have an idea of what solution you see? Pitching is always allowed! But ultimately the person with the role in question decides, because after all, they are the experts. If a tension is not with a role, you can look at your circle. One step further in our flow chart, you can look at who within the organization considers it important. In fact, there may be another circle that can provide a solution and to whom you can transfer the problem.

If there is no one within the organization who should be doing anything with your excitement, then all that remains is the question: do you care? If not, you can immediately start that one famous Disney song.


Sounds nice, right? All those ways to set up work well and get rid of frustrations and tensions? At Voys we notice that the more  people in the organization are comfortable, the better we do our work. This is how we work together toward that purpose. We believe that only with these preconditions – those we mentioned above – do people develop, are happy and thus contribute optimally to the organization. After all, happy colleagues (there are already 150 of us) make for happy customers. (For those who think, you can say it like that, here is our awards cabinet. And this is – more importantly – what our customers themselves say).

Challenges and pitfalls

Founder of Voys, Mark Vletter, previously wrote about two common pitfalls on the road to self-managed work. First, the transition from managing people to managing work is not very easy for everyone. Colleagues who used to have a management role stop leading a team. That is not to say, by the way, that leadership skills and experience are no longer useful within the organization. That knowledge is simply used in a different way.

The second pitfall Mark encounters is the distrust of a (former) management team. There is an idea that moving to self-management can’t succeed because colleagues wouldn’t be able to handle it. This way of thinking is a bigger red flag than your ex, because a skeptical attitude quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And in many cases, the cause is not the team at all, but the manager’s unwillingness to embrace self-management. Viewed this way, there is really only one major pitfall. And that is the former manager. And if one person knows about this, it’s Mark! (By the way, are you already a member or subscriber of his newsletter? It’s enlightening.)

Don’t forget to grow

A good manager believes it is important for a team and colleagues to grow. So don’t forget this important component as you transition to self-management and incorporate personal growth and feedback into your organizational culture. We have previously written about the importance of this in the blog Personal growth also happens at work. Giving feedback in a self-directed organization is not necessarily more complicated than in a hierarchical organization. Giving feedback to a boss is sometimes more difficult than giving feedback to peers. The fact that there is no longer a boss present – or that everyone is the boss of their work – makes giving feedback easier.

The benefits of making mistakes

Do you see making mistakes as something unforgivable? Then good luck with self-management! It’s better to adopt a helping attitude and work with colleagues to fix mistakes and learn from them. Making mistakes is inherent in an experiment like self-management. It is not always easy. Just like daring to make a big decision by yourself. If colleagues see that there is trust and mistakes are allowed, things go a lot easier.

Open and transparent

With self-management comes an end to the days when choices were made during a management meeting and a team just has to take a guess at the motivations. Instead, everything should take place as openly and transparently as possible. Yes, that certainly takes time and effort. After all, you can’t overwhelm your colleagues with information. Information must be shared concisely and to the point. Do you take the time to invest in effective communication to make sure everyone is on the same page? Then self-managed teams get a clear focus that allows them to move forward quickly.

Do you also want a healthier, more effective and ultimately more successful organization? Then take the first steps towards self-management. Want to take a look inside Voys? You are more than welcome to come work with us for a day, or have a cup of good coffee.

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