Would Holacracy Work In Government?

Joe Polastre
2 min readMay 14, 2015

In conversations with my former colleagues at the General Services Administration, I was wondering whether holacracy could work in a world of government regulations, bureaucracy, and explicit accountability.

Holacracy encourages individual action. Many interpret that holacracy discourages consensus. Responsibility is distributed through the organization, rather than accumulating as you move up the management chain.

In particular, Section 4.4 of the Holacracy constitution states:

All Partners can act outside of their roles (“Individual Action”) as long as:1. the Partner believes the action will resolve more Tension for the organization than it might create2. there is no time to request the permissions normally required from other roles.3. the action does not commit the organization’s resources or assets beyond what the Partner can otherwise commit to.

So in holacracy, you can immediately act without explicit permission or authority. In government, you generally have to ask for permission if you weren’t given explicit authority.

In holacracy, you’ll often hear “safe to try.” It is really difficult to propose something that’s not safe to try. According to the holacracy constitution, there would have to be known data that shows whatever is being proposed sets the circle or organization backwards. That almost never happens.

This led me to the following questions about holacracy in government:

  • While I’d love to see the government empower federal employees to take action independently, is it even possible with federal regulations?
  • Do federal regulations prohibit Individual Action explicitly allowed by holacracy?
  • Can a division of an organization adopt holacracy successfully, even if the larger organization that manages this division does not?
  • Do federal regulations and employee unions prohibit Lead Links from assigning people to roles in their circle (Sec 2.4), even if those people are not currently in the circle? This is like bringing someone on to your team from another team without first asking the other team lead.
  • Not everyone in government is permitted to be a supervisor, but everyone in holacracy can be a Lead Link. Are these concepts at odds?
  • What is the role that contractors play in a holacratic organization?
  • Would federal employees and unions revolt over not having titles?
  • How would federal performance reviews and hiring/firing decisions be made? With distributed authority, each federal employee has many roles and is a member of many self-governed circles.

Could holacracy work in government?



Joe Polastre

Pilot 🧑‍✈️, sailor ⛵️, product leader 👨‍💻