23. Making Your Objections Valid (and Why You Shouldn’t Care)

This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

Making clear and valid objections. It's a great skill. It saves everyone's time. And it's pretty much the last thing you should worry about early on.

Just as anything can be a starting proposal (see The Sausage Grinder), anything can be a starting objection. Keep the bar low when raising objections. Let the test questions from the Facilitator sort it out.

That's what this lesson is all about. It's a quick dive into each objection test question. The purpose of this lesson is not to suggest that you should only raise an objection when you think it is valid. Instead, it is to help you more clearly express your objections when you feel them. Let's get started.

Question 1

“Is your concern a reason the proposal causes harm… or is your concern that the proposal is unneeded or incomplete?”

This question is designed to determine if the objection (as expressed) is about harm specifically. “Harm” in Holacracy means anything that “reduces the circle's capacity to express its purpose or accountabilities.” It doesn’t necessarily mean physical or financial harm. It doesn’t mean people will die (though please raise an objection if that’s the case).

Harm could simply mean reducing clarity or creating confusion. Don’t understand what an accountability means? That counts as harm. Of course, if none of your roles need to understand it, then it may not pass question #4, but it would still pass this one.

Question 2

“Would the proposal limit one of your roles… or are you trying to help another role or the circle in general?”

This question is making sure that objections are grounded in roles and brought by the people doing the work in those roles. Having someone raise an objection from a role they don't fill is like coming home and finding your neighbor cleaning your kitchen. It’s a nice gesture, but it crosses an important boundary. Equally so, anyone can always ask someone to represent their role in a meeting. That’s fine. If I invite my neighbor in, totally different story.

If the proposal wouldn’t really impact your roles, but it definitely would impact another role, then call it out during the reaction round (e.g. “If I were in the Marketing role I would object to this proposal since that role needs to know who is publishing the newsletters”). That’s a great way to practice the habit “encourage objections”.

Question 3

“Is your concern created by this proposal… or is it already a concern even if the proposal were dropped?”

This question is trying to distinguish any harm caused by the introduction of this proposal from any existing problems or tensions that you may feel when thinking about the proposal. Even seasoned practitioners can get confused here, which is why we ask this question. If the objection fails this question then it's likely it's a valid tension to process, but it's not a valid reason to get in the way of someone else solving their issue. If this happens, no biggie. Just add a new item to the agenda.

Question 4 (A)

“Do you know now this impact will occur… or are you anticipating this impact is likely to occur?”

This is one of the most misunderstood questions, so let’s clear it up. The constitution says that an objection is valid only if it is “triggered just by presently known facts or events, without regard to a prediction of what might happen in the future.” (See the Holacracy Constitution.)

Now, in governance meetings, we are updating the expectations and authorities, so you could interpret any possible objection as predictive. By definition, we haven't tried this change yet, so how could you possibly “know” it will cause harm!? But that's not what this question is asking.

Does the proposal somehow reduce clarity of who does what? You aren’t anticipating that. You can see it right now. Does the proposal cause you or others to revert back to something you’ve already tried and you see no reason why it would be different this time? You aren’t anticipating that. You know it will happen.

Still, there are situations in which anticipated problems makes sense. So, if the objector is anticipating the harm, there is a second question:

Question 4 (B)

“If anticipated, could significant harm happen before we can adapt… or is it safe enough to try, knowing we can revisit it at any time?”

Not everything is workable. Specifically, when there is no chance to respond should it go wrong. If my neighbor tells me he is building a nuclear reactor in his basement, I may anticipate it melting down. Yes, I am anticipating, but the potential harm is so great it's worth protecting against. That's the idea. “How reversible is the potential impact?” is another way to think about this question.

Many valid objections get pushed out (the one thing we don’t want to happen) because the phrase “safe enough to try” is misapplied. It's a great phrase to remember during your day-to-day work, as a general rule of thumb for yourself, but during objection testing, “Is it safe enough to try?” should only be asked if the objector has explicitly said they are anticipating harm. The only person who can say whether or not it’s safe enough to try is the objector.

Question 5

Not Valid Governance Output (NVGO)

Okay, it's not really a question in the formal sense. However, it's still very important. Early on this test question is usually about the form of the proposal, not the content. NVGO means that the proposal, if adopted as stated, would violate the rules of the constitution. This is one of the most important objections because it takes pressure off of the proposer to get it right the first time. The proposer can start with any idea and should feel no pressure to amend it. If you notice an issue like this with a proposal, instead of explaining everything in your reaction (and hoping the proposer will integrate your concern), raise the objection yourself. Then you'll have a chance to work on it together in the integration round.

When raising this objection it helps to be clear on which rule or definition you think the proposal is breaking. So remember, accountabilities are defined as ongoing actions. Policies define your rights to impact a domain held by a circle or another role.

Remember, the intent of this lesson isn't for you to learn to game the system.

That misses the point. Objections aren’t bad. You don’t win by having a valid objection and you don’t lose by having an invalid one. Objections help the proposer see things they might not have otherwise seen. The thing for your roles, the proposer, and the circle is to raise objections when you feel them and let the Facilitator help you figure out the best way to process them.