‘The heroic leader standing atop a hierarchy, bending the school community to his or her purposes’
(Camburn, E., Rowan, B. & Taylor, J.E. (2003) Distributed leadership in schools)
Collaboration is a key tool for driving teaching and learning in schools and even though working collaboratively is not new to educational practices acknowledging shared responsibility can be difficult for some. When leadership is distributed there is an uneasiness as we are familiar with models of heroic leadership that top down leadership offers. The certainty that has come with top down is one that we are frustrated by, feel disappointed in and think we could do better. However, when given the opportunity to working collaboratively some still struggle to embrace what distributed leadership has to offer. We are so used to waiting to hear what to do next, following orders, or complaining about big decisions that are made, that for some when given the opportunity we are still unsure about what we can actually make final decisions on.
Holacracy is a way of learning how to leader collaboratively as we develop new ecosystems in our schools. There is always going to be the person who has the final say on decisions that affect the entire structure and vision of the organisation. After all the buck stops with the principal or Board of Trustees who are entrusted to make sure the school does not stray to far from it’s moral purpose. Holacracy is derived from holarchy from the 1967 book The Ghost in the machine by Arthur Koestler. Holons are small parts who depend and support the whole, similar to ecosystems. Think bees in a beehive.
Holacracy is considered a “flat” system that fosters flexibility, innovation and efficiency. Engagement and productivity usually jump on board at some point however it can be difficult for some to let go as we are used to being masters of our small universes in our traditional departments. This system looks like it is a mix and mingle that you can get swept up in, however even more organisation is required to allow all those involved in the different roles and circles to be able to function. One big difference is the innovation and ideas come from all over rather than top down.
This is how the teaching work place is going so we can expect that this will have a flow on how learners operate in innovative, flexible learning environments. Traditionally teachers have largely worked in most cases separate buildings or departments since time began. So as we come together to work collaboratively acknowledging a change in the wider system is imperative and common sense.
Working in collaborative teams takes time, effort and openness. To be able to be honest with your team and to have a voice you can’t expect smooth sailing all the time. The collaborative process that musicians go through produces some amazing pieces of music but it’s not always smooth sailing. There is a reason Fleetwood Mac created great music when recording the album Rumours at high personal cost. Even working closely with family can work for a good time but not always a long time, the Gallagher brothers can attest to this. The right amount of letting go, listening and time to digest is important. However the pressure we are under to produce resources and meet deadlines means it something has to give and as a team the norms will be developed early on but it is OK do go through what Tuckman describes as the stages of group development. The forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning stages of group formation as suggested by Tuckman are not always embraced but should be acknowledged even if they only service justify why things may be going a certain way in a collaborative team.
Holacracy gives is one way forward when working in a collaborative team that is part of a bigger machine. What are the advantages and disadvantages?
- Fast changing world allows us to be flexible
- Encourages innovation within a team
- Able to adapt quickly to needs
- Being responsive to young people’s learning needs
- Empowers all and allows for distributed leadership
- Developing higher level thinking skills
- A big change of culture in education, like turning an ocean liner
- People don’t like change
- Gives people no-one to complain about if they can’t complain about the boss holding them back or making all the decisions…which they disagree with.
- Small circles end up like hierarchical systems due to the group being unable to change.
Overall the disadvantages are around individuals who struggle to be team players or find themselves feeling threatened professionally. The old adage no idea is a bad idea, as long as the learner is at the centre and it fits with the values, vision and beliefs of the organisation then you can’t go wrong. Holacracy processes enable people to respond faster, give clarity and autonomy to all. Incremental improvements are possible without the tyranny of waiting for all to agree. A collaborative group can move forward and everyone drives continual improvement.
My inspiration for this blog was from The Harvard Business Review (Jul-Aug 2016, p.47) gives a good glossary of management terms that explain the roles within the organisation through to the individual and holacracy is one of many possibilities. There is much more research to be done looking at the different terms and seeing how they can be applied in an educational setting. The possibilities are endless! Some terms include:
- Podularity – Self management system with individual pods, a microcosm.
- Cabal – team forms organically to work towards a major multidisciplinary goal.
- Lead Link – role within a circle who allocates roles and assign resources responsible for a certain process.
The article is geared towards business however it can easily be applied in educational settings.
My final thoughts: Holacracy is a redefinition of a traditional system and supports collaborative environments. We cannot be ignorant and think that some sort of hierarchy does not exist whether we have a triangle or a circle, the boss does get paid the big bucks for a reason. Everyone has a voice and has the opportunity to be heard, this is what we want for our learners too. Let it go, lap it up and jump on board, the worse that could happen is that you could learn something new or be affirmed that what you were doing in traditional planning in your department was on the money anyway and the rest of the world has joined you. Share the load and don’t be afraid.