In 2019 DCA began using HOLACRACY as our Operating System.

Holacracy is a method of decentralised management and organisational governance in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy.

Reflection on Lead Link Role, written by Christian (Bong) Ramilo
31 August 2020

Darwin Community Arts (DCA) adopted Holacracy as its Operating System at the DCA Evaluation and Planning Meeting on 28 September 2019, at Mary River. The first Tactical Meeting was held on 22 October 2019. In less than a year, with the Covid-19 pandemic for most of that year, DCA has transitioned to Holacracy effectively, with Partners (which is what workers are called in Holacracy) commenting consistently at Meetings that this operating system makes us happy to work at DCA.

I took on the Role of Lead Link after we adopted Holacracy. I got this role as part of transitioning from our old operating system where I was an Executive Officer, and Chair of the Executive Committee — I had similar duties under the old system to the Accountabilities of the Lead Link Role in Holacracy, so the transition would be easier if continued as a Partner in the Lead Link Role.

I intended, from when I started as Executive Officer in 2006, to move from a hierarchical structure to a non-hierarchical one at DCA (Brown’s Mart Community Arts, until we changed the name in 2008). I had sought to install and enhance autonomy and interdependence among workers and to adopt a collegial way of working. I had introduced measures over the years to democratise the running of the organisation — among those are the appointment of multiple Executive Officers that worked collegially, the autonomy of Creative Producers in programming, budgeting, and project implementation, and adoption of a universal basic rate of pay for all

The changes I introduced were welcomed by most workers (some wanted more “structure” or wanted to be managed more and didn’t stay long). But we still had a hierarchical system where I had central authority to hire and fire, to instruct and discipline workers, and other powers usually
given to Executives. There was also an expectation from (some) workers and some partners (including government agencies) that I become more managerial.
Holacracy has realised my original intention and my hopes for a democratic and non-hierarchical way of working, and a way of working that is driven by Purpose over anything else.

As Lead Link, I have overall responsibility for DCA’s purpose. I have scary powers: my domain (things I have exclusive authority over) are DCA’s priorities, strategies, and resourcing. My Accountabilities include assigning Partners to Roles and allocating resources to Roles and Projects. But Holacracy does not preclude consultation and collegiality, so I consult with Partners extensively and have sought consensus or majority opinion on major matters, and also on Board decisions on policy and overall strategic direction (the DCA Board approves the Strategic Plan and Budget).

I, however, don’t convene or chair Meetings — there are two kinds in Holacracy: Tactical and Governance. The Secretary convenes and the Facilitator chairs Meetings. While I appoint partners to Roles, I can’t tell them what to do, how, and when — here is a passage from the book on Holacracy by its inventor, Brian Robertson, related to this:

A lead link may be able to remove someone from a role, but she has no
authority to fire someone, determine compensation, or define new roles and
expectations for people outside of the governance process. And while a lead
link can expect a role filler in her circle to prioritize one project over another at
her request, she cannot demand that he accept a specific project in the first
place. That role filler still gets to assess whether a project requested by a lead
link fits his role’s purpose or accountabilities; if it doesn’t, he can simply decline,
and even if it does he can still dismiss it in favor of an alternative outcome he
feels is a more appropriate way to express his role.

1 Robertson, Holacracy, p. 53

I appreciate that, under Holacracy, I am able to spend much time and energy on thinking about priorities and strategies, on “working on the business, rather than working in the business” (to use business language). I had to do this as Executive Officer in the past anyway, but Holacracy provides a much better structure for me to lead this, and for other Partners to participate in this (mainly through Governance Meetings).

Stephan Jenner, a NSW-based consultant on Holacracy, during our online consultation with him in February 2019, described Holacracy as a system of “distributed autocracy”. While I could see his point — in that each Partner has exclusive domains and accountabilities — I think describing the system as autocratic will diminish the collegiality, interdependence, and collectivity that Holacracy provides. I would emphasise the “distributed” part.

I am happy with Holacracy as DCA’s operating system. I would encourage other arts organisations to consider it for their own use.

Christian (Bong) Ramilo
31 August 2020

More information to come…….

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