17. Habit #5: Request Work from Other Roles

This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

Today you start a new habit: Request Work from Other Roles.

Why is this important? Well, without managers directing work from above, role-to-role interactions become critical. It’s called self-organization.

Self-organization is when overall order arises from local interactions between parts without needing control by an external agent. Holacracy leverages this power because, while everyone will use their judgment to express their roles, they’re also accountable to each other. That’s really what an “accountability” means.

Each role is accountable to every other role. But having those expectations captured in governance doesn't really help if you don't use them. This habit is about leaning on the accountabilities of other roles to make your life easier. If you need something done... ask for it. Put other roles to work for you. You can’t demand they do something, but you can expect them to listen to your request, consider if it fits their role, and work on it if it does.

Without governance, you'd have to use implicit expectations and personal relationships to get things done. And your ability to effectively influence others would determine what gets done. Holacracy helps you avoid this. Your ability to swing votes your way shouldn't be the minimum necessary skill to get work done.

Holacracy allows you to request projects and next actions based on the roles. The requests are from roles and to roles.

So, your habit is to request projects and next actions from other roles. Do it directly. Do it explicitly. Future lessons will go into more detail, but before we finish, here are some important points to remember:

  • When requesting something, the question isn't, “Do you want to do this?” or even, “Do you think this is important?” The question is, “Does this work fit your interpretation of your role?” Once that question gets answered, then you can ask for a projection or a Circle Lead prioritization.
  • If no role is clearly accountable because of a gap in the governance, record a tension for governance. And if it can't wait until the next governance meeting? You have some options: 1) do it yourself; or 2) request someone with more knowledge or time to do it as “Individual Initiative” (understanding you have no right to expect anyone to do it).
  • If the requester and the requestee disagree on an interpretation of an accountability, ask the Secretary for a temporary ruling until it can be clarified in governance. If the Secretary thinks the request does fit the role, then the role-filler must accept it and track it.
  • Finally, a project may come with conditions. For example, I may accept a project for my role, but I might need to rephrase it. Or, I may need another role to take a project for mine to make any sense. Like, “Yes, I'll take a project to publish an FAQ on the website if you take a project to write the content.”

Remember, the single most important thing about this habit is to make requests based on the governance. Since managers aren’t directing work, circle members must make requests of each other. That's what a self-organizing company is all about.