15. Ruling the Road

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This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

Sharing the road can be frustrating. The slow driver ahead of you. The fast one behind. No one else knows how to drive. So, it's easy to imagine if a bright red Ferrari suddenly screamed past you, your first thought wouldn't be, "I'm sure the driver has a good reason."

Your habit, "be a Ferrari," is fun when you're the Ferrari. But when others take ownership of their roles and also drive fast, it can be terrifying. Suddenly, you may not feel as safe or in control as you did. Maybe you're left out of some decisions. Maybe someone changed a document you created without checking with you first. While you won’t have a voice in every operational decision, this doesn’t mean that you have to sit back passively. If you believe someone’s actions negatively impacted your role, you have the power to create constraints in a Governance meeting.

Governance is like your organization's unique highway. It defines who can drive where. Like a highway, governance doesn't tell people how to drive. Only what pathways are available. So, if another role is going too fast, create a speed limit. How? Here are some examples:

  • Propose a domain.¬†Do you need a central point of control for a process, piece of equipment, or document? Then you'll want a domain over it. Then, others will have to ask you for permission to change it. For example, if Website Wizard sees others constantly changing the company's website settings, she could propose adding the domain, "website settings" on her role. Hint:¬†Accountabilities starting with "Approving..." often work better as domains.
  • Propose a policy.¬†Do you need every role in the circle to follow a certain rule or process? Policies are great when having a "central point of control" is either too much (you want to allow more access to others) or too little (you'll delegate control down, but only with conditions). So, if Website Wizard needed to ensure everyone followed her style guide, she could propose the policy, "Any role may update the website as long as they follow the style guide published by Website Wizard.
  • "Propose accountabilities.¬†Do you need to have a voice in an operational decision? While it's common in early practice to use accountabilities like, "Collaborating with..." or, "Working with...", they aren't great. They don't clarify who is making what decision. But they may be a start. Even better than "Collaborating with...", specify¬†how¬†two roles collaborate. Does one role¬†gather¬†stories, another¬†write¬†the content, then another¬†publish¬†to your mailing list? Those are three clear accountabilities (i.e. gathering, writing, and publishing).

Do you need control over someone else or their work? Well, there the constitution can't help. The organization can't control what it doesn't own, and it doesn't own people.

"Delegating" work, but retaining some sort of manager-like veto power is like telling someone, "I'm happy to let you drive... and if I think we should turn, I'll just yank the wheel." That approach provides neither safety nor control. So, maybe "control" isn't what you need. Maybe you need confidence your feedback will be integrated? If so, it's perfectly appropriate to propose an accountability to clarify that expectation (i.e. "Gathering and integrating feedback from [your role]...").

Remember, nothing is stopping you from talking directly with someone. Governance is just one solution. If someone creates tension for you, sharing your perspective could help. They might naturally shift how they energize their work. Sometimes honking your horn is a better solution than changing the roadway.

Finally, there are lots of healthy ways to deal with tensions and only one unhealthy way: Do nothing. Suck it up. Keep your tensions inside and implicit