25. This Time it’s Personal

This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

Last time we introduced you to the “Does my role care?” map. Your habit for now is simply asking yourself this question. Silently. In your own head. Consistently.

This lesson is specifically about the upper right corner of the map. The question, “Do I personally care?”


This point is fairly nuanced, so let’s start with something familiar. A simple question:

If a forest is a collection of trees, an organization is a collection of... what? 

What makes up an organization? What are its parts? The typical answer is something like “people”.

“People make up an organization.” That’s not completely accurate.

“But without people, the organization doesn’t exist!” We agree. But people aren’t the parts. They are the lifeforce. They give the organization energy.

Think of it this way. Your body has parts. Arms, legs, kidneys. But so does your corpse. The difference, and it’s not a small difference, is life and death. An organization without energy (human or otherwise) is dead.

So, if humans are the lifeforce of the organization, what are the parts? Well, it’s more accurate to say an organization is a collection of roles (i.e. functions), not people.

Holacracy is built upon this distinction. Conventional approaches conflate people and roles into one single thing when they are actually two (or it’s helpful to think of them as two).

This is what we mean by the differentiation of “role and soul”. Making the distinction allows us to ask important questions like “Does my role care?” with more clarity. Because in the real world, roles and souls aren’t just differentiated... they are also integrated. They work together.

Which also means they're easy to mix up.

Understanding how they are different (without excluding how they work together) just allows us to more clearly and quickly process our tensions. Which is why regularly asking yourself “Does my role care about this?” is so important. It gives you clarity.

Now, you may discover that you care personally about something that the organization doesn’t actually care about. It should be obvious that the organization doesn't care about what you eat for lunch or where you go on vacation. But what about your salary? Or leaving work early for that doctor’s appointment?

In traditional organizations, there is no way to meaningfully and consistently distinguish between personal and organizational tensions. You may have already realized, if you have an issue with your salary, for example, that you can’t effectively process that from one of your roles.

Instead, engage the roles who have decision-making authority over salary and represent yourself as a person. If it’s not clear where that authority lives, propose something in governance.

Remember, the purpose of the Holacracy constitution is to govern the organization and its roles, not the people within it. This habit is a way of saying that you don't want to confuse the tensions you feel as a person with those you feel in your roles.

Think of it this way:

The Goalkeeper is a position (i.e. role) on a soccer team. The expectations of the position of Goalkeeper don't change depending on the player's personal issues. Now, if the player in that position is dealing with salary issues, then, yes, it absolutely could impact how she (as an individual) performs at any given instant. But it doesn't impact the formal expectations of her position. She is still expected to do the assigned job (e.g. stop a ball hit in her direction, get the ball to a teammate, etc.). If the players have salary concerns and they feel like it's impacting their ability to energize their roles, then that needs to be figured out. But they shouldn't be trying to figure that out during the game. This is what we mean by “as Goalkeeper” she doesn't have an issue. But as a person, she has an issue. That's the distinction.

We make that distinction not because we want to ignore issues like salary or career development, but quite the opposite. We need to get clear what the issues are (role-related or person-related) so that the tension can get processed in the right place.