If It Ain't Broke...

Also published on Medium

While recently facilitating a Holacracy meeting, one of the circle members said something that is pretty common across many new companies that are on-boarding Holacracy — or even more broadly, companies that are making big changes to how they work. He said something to the effect of, “I don’t know why we have to do this. I felt like everything was already working just fine before.”

Now, before you rush to judge this guy as a stick in the mud or someone who was being really rude, I want to call out that he was in his check-in round during our first Holacracy meeting and I had encouraged circle members to call out anything that was on their mind, distracting them, or whatever would help them get present in the meeting. I didn’t take his comment as rude or argumentative. On the contrary, I actually appreciated that he would call out his mindset before the meeting. It should also be noted that he was very cooperative throughout the entire process, receptive to coaching, and even mentioned that he learned something in his closing round.

His statement at the outset, though, is something I think bears discussing. You see, many of us in organizations are change-averse. Now, by that I don’t mean that we hate making any changes to the way that we do things; I mean that there is a large group of us in the workforce (which I’d put myself in, to a degree) that are wary of change for the sake of change. While there are certainly some people who are able to blindly accept change/orders and trust their leaders outright, I think most of us feel like we need at least some evidence to show that each change we make is an actual improvement. After all, change is hard, no matter how big or small, and sizable change in the workplace usually entails quite a bit of learning, failing, and frustration before we ever actually see its effects. So, I can easily understand the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Yet, while this approach certainly has merits, it does have two major flaws-

1. Just because something is working doesn’t mean it can’t get better.

Think of the days leading up to the advent of the car. Any one of the various inventors credited with creating the automobile (yes, there are several) probably heard something like, “Why would we need to build that when a horse works just fine? Horses are relatively inexpensive, readily accessible (whereas most machine parts at that time were probably not), and we can even use that horse to breed more horses! No one will buy your machine because it just doesn’t make sense to do so.” If you were the inventor hearing this, you’d probably have to agree that these are all really valid reasons to suggest that the change you’re about to try making will likely fail, or at the very least, it’s not as useful as you may hope. Similar things could be said across most industries at one time or another — Package delivery services like UPS versus the post office, the touch-tone phone versus the rotary phone, even Lean methodology versus the traditional Waterfall approach. Over time, the advantage for these iterations has revealed itself; but at the outset, I’m sure there were probably several people thinking the same thing that the guy in my meeting was thinking- “I don’t know why we have to do this. I felt like everything was already working just fine before.”

2. Just because something was working for you doesn’t mean it was working for everyone.

People don’t always adopt Holacracy to “fix their company.” In fact, if that’s your big plan for “fixing” things around the office, you’re going to fail (probably at both things- at implementing Holacracy & at fixing your company’s problems). People move to self-organized systems because they recognize that collective intelligence is always greater than individual intelligence. They do so because change is necessary for survival, and the more adaptable you can make yourself and your business, the better chance you’ll have at not only surviving, but thriving.

So, when you feel yourself questioning, “Why are we doing this?” try looking at it through the lens that Holacractic orgs are often pushed to — Is it safe enough to try? This will make accepting and acting with the change much easier for you, and who knows — you might even enjoy work a little more!