Exploring Self-Organization Models: Holacracy and the Spotify Model

Exploring Self-Organization Models: Holacracy and the Spotify Model

Pros & Cons

Exploring Self-Organization Models: Holacracy and the Spotify Model


It's no secret that traditional hierarchical organizational structures are no longer the only option for achieving success. Self-organization models have emerged as innovative approaches that foster agility, adaptability, and employee empowerment. In this blog post, we'll delve into two prominent self-organization models: Holacracy and the Spotify Model, shedding light on their key principles, benefits, and potential drawbacks.

Holacracy: A Framework for Self-Management

Holacracy is a self-organization model that aims to distribute authority and decision-making throughout an organization. It was developed by Brian J. Robertson and introduced in the mid-2000s as a response to the limitations of traditional hierarchies. Holacracy consists of several core principles and processes:

  1. Roles and Circles: Instead of traditional job titles and departments, Holacracy defines roles and circles. Roles are specific responsibilities and accountabilities that individuals take on, while circles are groups of roles focused on a particular function or purpose.

  2. Governance Meetings: Regular "Governance Meetings" meetings are held to discuss and update the organization's structure, roles, and responsibilities. These meetings follow a structured process and encourage open dialogue.

  3. Tactical Meetings: Tactical meetings are focused on day-to-day operations, where team members discuss their roles and projects. They aim to ensure alignment and collaboration within circles.

  4. Distributed Authority: Holacracy promotes the concept of "lead links" and "rep links." Lead links have the authority to make decisions within their roles, while rep links facilitate communication between roles and circles.

Benefits of Holacracy:

a. Increased Agility: Holacracy allows organizations to adapt quickly to changing market conditions and customer needs by enabling faster decision-making at the frontline.

b. Enhanced Employee Engagement: It fosters a sense of ownership and autonomy among employees, leading to increased motivation and satisfaction.

c. Improved Clarity: Roles and accountabilities are explicitly defined, reducing ambiguity and misunderstandings.

Potential Drawbacks:

a. Complexity: Implementing Holacracy can be challenging, and some employees may find it confusing initially.

b. Resistance to Change: Traditional hierarchies often resist transitioning to Holacracy due to a shift in power dynamics.

The Spotify Model: Agile at Scale

The Spotify Model is a self-organization framework that was popularized by the Swedish music streaming company Spotify. It is designed to scale agile practices and encourage cross-functional collaboration. Here are the key components of the Spotify Model:

  1. Squads are small, cross-functional teams working on specific features or projects. Each squad is autonomous and responsible for its work.

  2. Tribes: Squads are organized into larger groups called "tribes," which consist of multiple squads aligned around a common mission or product area.

  3. Chapters are communities of people with similar skills or roles across different squads. They provide a platform for knowledge sharing and skill development.

  4. Guilds: Guilds are informal networks that allow employees with similar interests or expertise to connect and collaborate across tribes and chapters.

Benefits of the Spotify Model:

a. Scalability: It enables organizations to grow while maintaining agility and innovation by breaking down large teams into smaller, self-contained units.

b. Employee Empowerment: Squads have high autonomy and ownership over their work, fostering creativity and engagement.

c. Cross-functional Collaboration: The model promotes communication and collaboration across different parts of the organization.

Potential Drawbacks:

a. Complexity: Managing the various layers of tribes, squads, chapters, and guilds can become challenging in larger organizations.

b. Not One-Size-Fits-All: The Spotify Model may not be suitable for every organization, and its success often depends on the organization's culture and context.

Table of Popular Self-Organizing Models





Companies Using Model

Problems Addressed

Estimated Implementation Timeframe



Authority distributed across self-governing teams; constitution outlines processes and rules

Adaptability, empowerment, accountability

Complex system, constitution inflexibility, role confusion

Zappos, Medium

Rigid hierarchy, lack of autonomy, slow adaptation

12-18 months



Consent-based governance in self-organizing circles connected through elected reps

Inclusiveness, distributed power, agility

Time investment in decision processes, consensus inefficiency

Patagonia, REI

Unilateral leadership, lack of stakeholder input, siloed teams

6-12 months


Self-Managed Teams

Teams self-organize processes, set goals, assign roles without hierarchy

Ownership, skill development, motivation

Lack direction, interteam coordination issues

Semco, Treehouse

Micromanagement, disengagement, inefficient workflows

3-6 months


Agile Methodology

Cross functional teams determine workflows in short iterations

Quick adaptation, autonomy, customer focus

Scope creep, organizational realignment

Spotify, Google, Amazon

Waterfall bureaucracy, misaligned priorities, slow delivery

6-12 months



Equal authority and responsibility distributed across employees; peer-based decisions and compensation

Extreme equality, workplace democracy, peer accountability

Consensus complexity, compensation issues, poor reviews demotivating

Sun Hydraulics, Smokey Mountain Organics

Inequality, power imbalance, lack of autonomy

12-18 months



Self-organization models like Holacracy and the Spotify Model offer innovative alternatives to traditional hierarchical structures. They prioritize flexibility, employee empowerment, and adaptability, allowing organizations to thrive in today's dynamic business environment.

However, it's essential to consider your organization's unique needs and culture when deciding whether to adopt these models and to plan their implementation to maximize their benefits carefully.

Note from the author.

One of the most unique and valuable experiences I've had in with Zappos. It just so happened that I joined as the company was about to undergo some significant changes. One of these was the shift from a traditional hierarchical organizational structure to the self-organized model of Holacracy.

My experience needs it's blog post, but here are some observations from my experience.

One of the main reasons Tony Hsieh decided to make the risky and huge org change is the fact that the larger companies get, the less efficient they become.

Tony was truly inspired by the book Triumph of City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smater, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward Glaeser.

Interesting articles and videos:

Interview with late Tony Hsiegh