20. Just Ask

This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

This lesson is about one of the most powerful Holacracy tools: Asking questions.

Remember, without managers directing work from above, role-to-role interactions become critical. It’s how self-organization works.

Holacracy leverages the power of self-organization because every role-filler has the authority to determine how to energize their roles, but they’re also accountable to each other.

In addition to a role's defined accountabilities, the constitution requires everyone filling a role to accept certain duties. Since these duties are captured in the constitution, you can lean on them when you practice "Requesting work from other roles". This makes asking questions an extremely effective way to align the work of the circle.

Here's how it works:

2.1 Duty of Transparency

  • Want to know what another circle member is working on? Just ask. They have a duty to track projects and next actions and respond to your question.
  • Want to know what work a circle member is prioritizing? Just ask. They have a duty to respond to your question.
  • Want to know when a circle member plans on finishing something? Just ask. They have a duty to give you a rough estimate (a projection).
  • Want a circle member to share updates on a regular basis? Just ask. Request a new project or checklist item. They have a duty to report on both of those during tactical meetings.

2.2 Duty of Processing

  • Is a circle member not getting stuff done? Just ask. What’s going on? Any barriers in the way? Do they have a plan to get things back on track? They have a duty to respond.
  • Want a circle member to do something specific, or work towards a specific outcome? Just ask. They have a duty to take it and track it, or explain why they can’t.
  • Do you need to impact a domain? Just ask. Whoever controls that domain must respond with a yes, or a clear reason why it would cause harm to let you use it.

2.3 Duty of Prioritization

  • Are you waiting for a response to a question about any of the above? Just ask. Circle members must focus on getting back to a colleague's request over executing their own work.
  • Need someone to show up to a meeting? Just ask. Circle members must prioritize attending a circle’s meeting over executing their own work (but you can’t make one request to attend every meeting).

Remember, the power of self-organization comes from having clear rules, authorities, and expectations.

You have to use them.

They don't do anything by themselves. They need your energy and your willingness to try new things.

Questions organize our thinking around what we don't know. They expose our assumptions and, in doing so, open possibilities.

So, ask more questions. It's not only a more humane way to communicate, in the long run it's usually more efficient.