Hola...Holacracy and the SharePoint Centre of Excellence

By Ant Clay posted 02-18-2014 17:37


This blog post is written hot on the heels of the latest internet buzz surrounding Zappos (sorry pun intended). The buzz is focussed this time on its CEO, Tony Hsieh’s highly publicised and critiqued decision to throw away traditional business management models, at the online shoe retailer and doing something, well something entirely different!

Zappos is in the process of implementing a non-hierarchical management model known as “holacracy”.

Wikipedia describes it as:

"...a social technology or system of organizational governance in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a fractal holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested at the top of a hierarchy."

Holacracy isn't a new concept, with the term derived from the term holarchy, coined by Arthur Koestler in his 1967 book The Ghost in the Machine. But Zappos is one of the first large organisations (circa 1,500 employees) to start to adopt the approach and to already be showing signs of success.

Interestingly, there are also some similarities with the culture and organisational structure of Gore (the designers of Gore-Tex etc.). Within Gore they have implemented what they call a team-based, flat lattice Organisation 'structure', but that’s not the focus of this discussion.

Why do I have an interest in these alternate management and organisational culture models?

Why do I think there is any relevance at all to SharePoint?

Firstly, at least for this blog post, I'm not thinking about Holacracy in the context of large scale organisational change, although as a concept I agree with it and I do foresee huge benefits and value, there are limitations and challenges in moving an analytic organisation to something as radical as seemingly radical and disruptive as Holacracy.

Secondly, as I mentioned in a previous blog post (What if IT stopped funding SharePoint Projects), I think that there is significant value and promise if our SharePoint projects were conceived, owned and delivered outside of the IT department and it is this angle that I wish to take with my brief discussion around Holacracy and the SharePoint Centre of Excellence.

There has been much spoken and written about the concept of a SharePoint Centre of Excellence (I go into some depth on the subject in my SharePoint Governance Book) and I have been fortunate enough to work with a few organisations in successfully developing and implementing this concept. But in all cases we've been hampered to a greater or lesser degree by existing structures, IT process, organisational hierarchy and existing organisational and of course management culture.

Holacracy in an organisation, is based around 2 primary concepts that impact organisational structure (in the loosest sense of the word):

  • Self-Organising
  • Self-Governing.

Based on these two ideas, I see Holocracy as being fundamental to the success of an effective and sustainable SharePoint Centre of Excellence which in turn is key to driving the maximum value out of your investment in the SharePoint platform.

In my view if we allow our SharePoint Centre of Excellence to both self-organise and self-govern then we are on the path to success.

Let me explain my thinking...


First and foremost your SharePoint Centre of Excellence should not, must not, and cannot report to IT or Marketing...

But because both those teams can be quite needy and insecure (sorry don't mean it..well, maybe just a little) as opposed to going off and reporting to Finance or some other business area, to truly unlock the power of the Holacracy SharePoint Centre of Excellence, I recommend that we need to be completely autonomous. Not like a band of cowboys or tree-hugging loving hippies, we will of course align all our activities to the organisational vision, living and breathing 'the difference we can make', but we do need to be bereft of the shackles of organisational hierarchy and politics.

The first problem we encounter when attempting to self-organising is that [in most cases] no-one really knows that they need or want a Centre of Excellence, someone, whether it is a forward thinking internal employee or an external consultant like me, needs to come up with the idea and plant the seed.

So how can we do that, but still preserve the fundamentals of self-organising? I have to concede that it is likely not going to happen in your organisation without a little helping hand or nudge in the right direction however planting that seed is thankfully pretty straightforward.

The following four steps are what I think we need to follow in order to kick-start out autonomous, self-organising centre of excellence:

  1. Create a compelling SharePoint Vision - this is what the Centre of Excellence gravitates around
  2. Work out Loud - Be transparent, be visual, let people participate and shape the team
  3. Socialise the Vision - If this is the vision for your strategic platform, if SharePoint is going to fundamentally change the way your employees work each day, then it's a freakin' big deal and people need to see what you are steering towards!
  4. Plant the first (initially leading) member of the SharePoint Centre of Excellence - Maybe this is you? If it is you then this step is gonna be the scary one, but I've got your back buddy! It is this person, based on the Vision that then needs to start the process of self-organising by identifying and starting to assemble the SharePoint Centre of Excellence.

This approach delivers the following benefits:

  • Both the individuals and the centre of excellence itself have a direction to steer
  • It deliver a mechanism to attract and engage new members into the Centre of Excellence
  • It highlight the  passionate, business orientated catalysts that are required to drive your C of E forward (I’m hoping that’s you)

In my experience the typical initial roles are as follows:

  • Technical Authority across the whole of the SharePoint platform
  • SharePoint SME's for the areas of functionality you are utilising
  • Change Agents to drive the business forward and ensure alignment to the vision
  • Requirements facilitators to engage the business proactively and drive out requirements and value
  • End User Trainers to engage and ensure a relevant and appropriate level of training can be delivered to the end users
  • Project Manager / Product Owner to lead the delivery of changes and value.

In addition to this and very dependent on your organisation, you’ll need to have in place an effective route to SharePoint development skills, whether this is an internal IT team or an outsourced capability doesn’t matter, I’ve seen both work equally as well, but what does matter is that there are open channels of communication and that they can act as though they are an integral part of the Centre of Excellence.

I am conscious that creating a self-organising SharePoint Centre of Excellence may not always be as simple as what I have laid out above, but hopefully you get the direction of travel we are trying to go in!?


“We will do whatever we want and whatever we feel is appropriate to facilitate the delivery of business value on the SharePoint platform aligned to the organisational vision”

Do you think your organisation would trust a team of SharePoint-ers to do this?

Although it may well be quite a brave move, this is what we need to do to really unleash the potential of your SharePoint Centre of Excellence. They are I hope not a bunch of renegades trying to take over the [SharePoint] world, they have the levelling influence of Vision and I hope are also regularly engaged strategically at an executive level. This should be all the influence and leadership they need to operate effectively within your organisation.

Self-Governing, from my perspective takes us right back to the true meaning of Governance, “To Steer”.

So in our context and taking a sailing / nautical stance on things as I often do, self-governing means that we are in-charge of our ship (the centre of excellence), we know where we are going and whatever life/business throws at us we will steer through the metaphorical storms, steer around the metaphorical obstructions and keep on sailing towards our vision.

Just as sailors would never ignore the advice or instructions of the coastguard or heed the warning of a fellow sailor, we in the Centre of Excellence are not blind or dumb to input from the business, just that we as is a sailor are in charge of our boat and it is up to us what we do with those inputs. We have our hand on the tiller, not someone else and not some automatic navigation software!

Self-governing is therefore not as scary, I hope, as it may have first seemed.

We should also remember that a SharePoint Centre of Excellence is for life, not just the duration of a project…

Your organisation will almost certainly change from a business perspective.

The vision may change.

Requirements will definitely evolve.

New use cases (Collaboration, Knowledge, Records Management, Intranet, Web etc.) for SharePoint will appear.

The SharePoint platform itself will evolve (2010… 2013… SharePoint Online… vNext)

All of these will affect your SharePoint implementation and the business functionality delivered to your users.

Managing this high-level of change just isn’t effective through formal project delivery alone, a SharePoint Centre of Excellence is the flexible, transparent driver of change your business needs for its SharePoint platform investments.


So to my mind, using Holacracy as fundamental approach to delivering a SharePoint Centre of Excellence, not only makes sense, it is essential to its success.

But wait a minute, I often talk about the fact that we shouldn’t do SharePoint projects, we should be doing people projects, business change projects, so perhaps the word SharePoint in our Centre of Excellence isn’t such a good idea at all? While you dwell on that, I have my own thoughts emerging which I will share with you at a later date.

To close, perhaps the SharePoint Centre of Excellence is the first step an analytic organisation takes towards the nirvana of a ‘Business Change Centre of Excellence’ born out of holacracy and instigated by some crazy receding ginger haired, short, disruptive SharePoint Business Consultant?

What do you think?

#CoE #sharepoint #CentreofExcellence #useradoption #InformationGovernance #changemanagement #SharePoint #Guild