12/10/2014 01:38 am ET Updated Feb 08, 2015

Shareable -- A New Kind of Non-Profit

In an effort to better align its organizational structure with its values, Shareable, a nonprofit news, action and connection hub for sharing transformation, is becoming a holacratic organization. [Disclosure: I'm a regular contributor to Shareable.]

Shareable's organizing director Mira Luna explains that the old nonprofit and corporate organizational models don't work when creating a new kind of open organization and that the Holacracy model more clearly reflects how organizations work well. Holacracy, she says, avoids the stifling nature of conventional hierarchies where one person makes all the decisions even if they don't have experience with the work they are managing.

"The traditional way is to use top-down management to control the work and the workers," she says. "This can lead to burnout for the boss who has too much responsibility, and frustration for talented workers that are passively receiving orders, not fully contributing their gifts, and feeling demoralized by a lack of transparency and decision-making power."

Luna explains that Shareable has tried (unknowingly) to incorporate some elements of Holacracy, but that doing so felt structureless without a clear set of "rules of the game" and formal framework to refer to. As the organization transitions to Holacracy, the hierarchy remains (which was initially a concern), but there is more decision-making freedom and flexibility of roles.

"Holacracy is hierarchical," Luna says, "but the hierarchy is of roles not of people. The structure is organized based more on the reality of what people are contributing rather than a job title and official rank in the organization." She adds, "Aside from the more practical effects, I've noticed that it feels less like I'm a cog in a machine and more like I'm a valued part of a living organism."

A self-governing organizational system where roles replace job descriptions, leadership is distributed, and multiple perspectives are honored, Holacracy originated at Ternary Software in Exton, PA, where, in 2007 Ternary founder Brian Robertson distilled the company's organizational best practices into a model he dubbed Holacracy.

Holacracy is now used in a variety of businesses and organizations including Zappos, David Allen's Getting Things Done, Dev Bootcamp, Colman Knight Advisory Group and Pantheon Enterprise.

Anna McGrath, co-founder of WonderWorks, a consulting organization specializing in implementing Holacracy since 2012, says there are no limits to what kind of organizations and businesses that can adopt Holacracy.

"Clients from nonprofit to for-profit, retail to financial to manufacturing, all have implemented Holacracy," she says. "It's not the industry or the client, it's the leader of the organization that feels attracted, and ultimately drawn, to implement self-organizing principles in the form of Holacracy."

According to McGrath, common reasons for organizations adopting Holacracy include wanting to become more agile and move at a faster pace; a desire to give autonomy while integrating different perspectives effectively; the need for fast meeting processes that efficiently sync up teams, seeing the limitations when company cultures get caught in what she calls a "culture of nice", or "top down" models which makes it impossible to see reality clearly and therefore leads to poor strategy and decision-making.

"Holacracy is all about taking action," she says. "You make a decision, learn from that, incorporate the feedback, and make the next decision."

For Shareable, becoming a holacratic organization means blurring the boundaries of where the organization and its Sharing Cities Network meet, and emulating more of a movement blueprint.

"We'd like to be an open organization and we think Holacracy can help us do that in an organized way," says Luna, explaining that there are few organizations that model openness. She describes the transition to Holacracy as a way to be a functional part of a movement that really is grassroots and authentically collaborates with other organizations.

"In the end," she says, "we might end up joining forces with other organizations in an open organization movement superstructure model that allows cross-organizational collaboration, and this could even be done using Holacracy."

Cat Johnson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on Shareable, Yes! Magazine, Lifehacker, Utne Reader, Society 3.0 and more. Interests include the new economy, collaboration, community, the commons and music. She lives in Santa Cruz, California. Follow Cat Johnson on Twitter: @CatJohnson.