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Early in 2016 I was faced with an odd situation, and “some dots that didn’t join up in the way I had expected”.

I’ll start the story at the point where I had enthusiastically accepted the offer of free facilitation to launch a Holacracy. I had been closely connected to a charity for some years previously. I understood that the charily was interested in adopting Holacracy ready for future growth. However the Holacracy offer came at an unsuitable time for the charity, and was not taken up. I was disappointed by this decision for several reasons, including all the practical learning I would have gained through the process, and so I started looking for another way forward. Now, at the turn of the year, looking backwards and forwards, I’m excited about what’s emerging.

With a little help from my friends….

At the start of my story things seemed to have fallen apart. From my perspective I had been offered the chance to co-create and use the “organisational  container” that Holacracy offers, but I no longer had  an existing organisation to provide the “content” around which the container would be constructed.  I didn’t want to let go of this practical learning opportunity about Holacracy so I took my confusion and disappointment to various friends and groups with the following results:

The start of FASST

Sally, who had generously offered the facilitation, knew that my involvement with the charity was part of various interconnected initiatives and activities. She offered to transfer the Holacracy launch opportunity to something else I was doing, if it was appropriate. The charity was the only formal organisation in the mix, but I was intrigued by the possibility of something else emerging.

Slowly, and sometimes painfully, a new entity has emerged during 2016 through many influences, connections and conversations. Its name came about thanks to Gavin Peacock. We called it “FASST” (Freedom Accountability and Structure for Systemic Transformation) – see Explaining “FASST = Freedom, Accountability and Structure for Systemic Transformation” (July 3rd). Earlier related posts were Pamela in #holacracy mode (May 31st) and Pam’s FASST Experiment! (also on May 31st)

The “Holacracy of One”, case clinics and the ten questions.

With hindsight it’s obvious that the idea of a person being a “Holacracy of One” has been a strong influence on the emergence of FASST.

My introduction to the idea of a “Holacracy of One” came through being part of a group which had done the 2015 u.lab course and then continued “u.labbing” together after the course ended – see A Collective Breakthrough! U.Lab Prototyping in London  By Andy Paice and Malek Jaber for Enlivening Edge (April 2016)

This photo shows the group after we had all shared our collections of “Holacracy of One” roles with each other. Each plate carried a role and its purpose.

Our “u.lab prototype” emerged from our shared appreciation of the u.lab practice of “case clinics”. In a case clinic one person is the “case giver”sharing an issue of current concern to them. The others are “in service to the case giver”, for 60-70 minutes, through a structured process of deep listening and generative discussion.  As a member of this group I had the benefit of taking my confusion about the Holacracy opportunity to a case clinic with people who were well versed in the case clinic process, people who I knew and valued, and with whom I had an established, high level of trust. The case clinic helped me see things more clearly and gave me confidence to persevere.

One of the group (front row, second from the right) spent an additional hour with me one-to-one. She is the “K” in my open letter titled 10 questions for FASST (a future-focussed experiment with holacracy and teal (June 21st)

Here, now, almost exactly 6 months to the day since I wrote the answers to her I’ve been re-reading them. I’m remembering  how I was struggling to recognise and describe those emerging ideas back then. Now the words that I wrote are increasingly related to things that are taking genuine shape and starting to happen. The main difference between my answers and reality is the relationship to Holacracy.

The “Teal people” and their emphasis on purpose

People in the Teal and Holacracy communities helped me to explore some of my uncertainties about the way forward. There is considerable overlap between the u.lab community and the Teal for Startups community, as well as overlap between the Teal community and the Holacracy community. Malek, for example, from the u.lab group is also one of the co-founders of the Teal for Startups  group. For more about Teal for Statups -T4S – see Teal for Startups on Medium. I was active in T4S during 2016, mainly in the wealth stream.

My “Teal for Practitioners” and T4S contacts asked me searching questions about the purpose of FASST. Sally asked me similar questions. I couldn’t find satisfactory answers, but my struggles to find answers helped me to get an internal clarity about something I couldn’t express. The Teal and Holacracy people helped me to see the mismatch between what I was doing and what Holacracy was designed for.

Was I just being stubborn and unrealistic in believing (or wanting to believe) that there was a connection? Was the whole FASST thing just some silly ego-trip to keep myself distracted during a period of uncertainty and personal transition? Perhaps. It was a question that I explored with Brian Griffin.

Brian and Holacracy for personal relationships

Brian and I have been friends since we were both members of Hub Westminster, in its early days. After he went back to New York we continued our friendship, and wide ranging conversations, via Skype and open letters. We had started to explore ideas about Holacracy as “a way of behaving” before FASST had its name – see House-shares, #holacracy, chickens and eggs (May 30th). In that post I shared with Brian my “somewhat silly simple introduction” to Holacracy writing:

I wondered the simplest way to make the offering of inclusion. I wanted a simple, easy-to-remember invitation to collaborate using holacracy, highlighting the main benefits. This is my first attempt – sung to the tune of Peggy Lee’s classic  “I don’t wanna play in your yard” but faster and with a more positive flavour:

I don’t wanna play without rules,
I want less uncertainty.
I’d prefer collaboration,
With accountability.
I seek clarity of purpose,
Clear procedures we agree,
Freedom, structure, transformation,
Through a shared holacracy.

All the above is still relevant to FASST, even though I now know that FASST is not a “true Holacracy”.

Later, when I shared my angst with Brian that  FASST was not sufficiently like a normal Holacracy to ever be launched as one, his response surprised and encouraged me. He said FASST was already launched. Whether or not it became a Holacracy wouldn’t alter that fact and I couldn’t “unlaunch” it if I tried.

According to Brian FASST is simply the latest embodiment of a recurring theme in our conversations, and something I’ve been working on for years i.e. exploring the future and the “Landscape of Change” – see What’s the Good of Landscape of Change? (reflections on a conversation with another friend in March 2013).

Now, as well as FASST, the “Holacracy of One” has become a recurring theme for us. Sometimes we look together at the roles we energise personally, each in our own “Holacracy of One”, and explore how those roles are playing out with each other.

What kind of an entity is FASST now?

FASST can hardly be described as an organisation, but it is emerging as an entity of some kind. Some people I connect with  are unconsciously helping me to recognise the boundary of FASST.  As I explore with them where our shared interests lie, and what our different perspectives are, so I get a clearer idea of what seems to be inside or outside of FASST. At the other extreme to “the boundary people” are a few people who, like me, are interested in the “operating system” of FASST. They are in the “core group” caring about its structures, procedures and “cultural DNA”. Between those extremes are people who are doing their own thing outside of FASST, and are also involved in some kind of light-touch collaboration with me. The “collaboration” may be as light-touch as simply holding each other accountable for something, or being “study buddies”, or some other shared-learning or support, but we have agreed to place it within the boundary of the FASST experiment. Any inter-actions that occur within that boundary provide content to unpick and consider in the context of the developing operating system of FASST.

In a recent post I explored the idea that FASST is currently an “inspiral”(December 11th FASST update). FASST doesn’t currently provide products or services to people who are not part of FASST. No money is involved. We collaborate loosely within FASST now and again because it suits us to do so. FASST can be seen as a tiny emerging prototype of a structured and accountable collaboration-culture for autonomous individuals involved in systemic transformation.

In some ways FASST is a vehicle for exploring the unevenly distributed future (especially some social and economic transformations) but all that is a flight of fancy beyond the limits of this post on FASST and Holacracy. .

Could FASST become a “proper Holacracy”?

FASST might launch as a “proper Holacracy” one day if it embraces a purpose of selling goods or services. I see that possibility as having some similarities to the Open Source Software (OSS) model, with its mixture of creating something that is freely available and also making money from it.

In such a future, with an income-generating FASST, what is freely created is a collaborative culture that generates information through its collaborations. Its “free offering” will consist of its transparent procedures for collaboration, and the information it generates during its collaborations, which automatically become available for public use, as an “Information Commons”.

The opportunities for generating revenue will come from two main sources:

  • Helping other people and organisations to adopt “FASST’s way of doing things”
  • Working with other people and organisations to accelerate their access to specific information and knowledge that is available from within FASST’s knowledge base and networks, but has not previously been collected, structured and presented in an accessible form.

FASST and Holacracy now

If FASST does become a financially sustainable organisation then it may be appropriate to launch it as a Holacracy. Meanwhile, it begins as an experiment in informal, unpaid collaborations, and will take lessons learned from Holacracy (and the idea of a “Holocracy of One”) to start creating its own structures and systems. The main lessons so far are that:

  • As a Holacracy of One an individual energises a number of roles.
  • Many things that we need to do to achieve our purpose we can do on our own, simply by energising one or more of our own “Holacracy of One” roles.
  • Some of the things we want to achieve, we are unable to do alone.
  • If we can’t proceed we need to recognise the blocks and see how they can be overcome.
  • Holacracy teaches us to recognise blocks and tensions, and see how they can be overcome by defining and energising additional roles.
  • Sometimes we are blocked in what we are doing because one or more additional roles need to be filled, and these are roles that our personal Holacracy of One cannot energise
  • When this happens we need to collaborate with others who will energise the additional roles.
  • Holacracy has strategies to do this in organisations where people are already connected in a formal way through their paid employment.
  • FASST will experiment with how the Holacracy approaches of defining and energising roles can be adapted to situations where people are collaborating in a much lighter and less formal way than through ties of paid employment within the same organisation.

FASST is at an early stage of developing these ideas and seeing how they will play out in practice. It involves people and organisations that have similar long term aspirations and values. Around a dozen people, from a mixture of cultural background and countries, are currently actively involved with  FASST to some degree. Two of them are involved in other early stage organisations, and we’re exploring possibilities for developing the “FASST culture” in their organisations as well.

We could find ourselves in a virtuous circle of working together to co-develop FASST culture, and using FASST culture to enable us to work effectively together, as we co-develop FASST culture.

Add to this mix the many people and organisations that FASST people are connected with. Imagine FASST culture getting more embedded, natural, and easy to copy so that effective collaboration can go viral.

The problem FASST is addressing

We need to be able to collaborate effectively, beyond our traditional silos and comfort zones.  People come together from different cultures, with various expectations of hierarchy, decision-making, information-sharing, openness, autonomy, reliability, etc, all of which effect “how work is done”. These variations make it challenging for us to quickly start working as a team. FASST could emerge as a widely applicable collaborative culture.

In summary….

What I had early in 2016 was confusion, disappointment, and the remnant of a lost opportunity that seemed too precious to waste. FASST didn’t exist.

Now FASST does exist. There are people to whom FASST is a real entity, with an increasingly clear purpose, character and way of doing things.

During the challenges, opportunities and uncertainties of 2017 we’ll discover what the next FASST steps are and where they take us. I’m grateful to all the people who have helped me to get this far with FASST, and to those who will be my companions on the next stage of our FASST journey into the future.