Talking point

11th September 2015 at 01:00
holacracy: coup or corporate claptrap?

Headteachers are the leaders of their domain. But what if they walked into school one September to discover that the hierarchy had been abolished and their members of staff were in the driving seat?

In a school using holacracy – a system of democratic management that’s proving popular in corporate America – leadership would no longer be distributed from the top down. Instead, decisions would be made by all staff members, in all facets of school life.

Put simply, the school’s organisational responsibility would be shared by groups called circles, which consist of two or three individuals who work together on specific tasks. Circles are designed to overlap, so workers have duties in more than one circle, thus connecting the organisation up like a honeycomb.

Holacracy might sound like a buzzword from the 1980s but the upside is that power is distributed, giving everyone the chance to work together to streamline the school’s processes, reduce micro-management and make the most of available resources.

Could holacracy really work in schools? We asked three headteachers for their views.

John Stanier, assistant headteacher, Great Torrington School in Devon

I think teachers informally operate in a similar way to holacracy already. The classroom is their circle and they bring tensions or problems to departmental meetings.

With holacracy, teachers would be more empowered and would see immediate solutions to problems. It would unleash more creativity and give staff greater ownership of a school.

At Great Torrington School, we want teachers to share great ideas, make links across subject areas and see education in a holistic way. I fear holacracy might lead to increased departmentalisation in secondary schools, rather than increased sharing and the raising of standards.

Tim Wallace, headteacher, Paradykes Primary School in Loanhead, Midlothian

Holacracy raises questions for me. I promote distributed leadership and encourage my staff to have the confidence to make decisions without everything having to come across my desk. However, there are staff who prefer to focus on their day-to-day roles without feeling pressure to make decisions on behalf of others.

There are also times when strategic or operational decisions just need to be made – it’s often easier for one person to do this, rather than working within a circle to come to a consensus. If we agree that schools contain staff with different personalities, what happens in the circle when one member is withdrawn or, by contrast, dominating? Will key decisions ever be made?

Kevin Wilson, headteacher, All Saints Catholic School in Dagenham, Essex

Holacracy is a noble theory. Schools are traditionally hierarchical organisations with varying degrees of effectiveness. Holacracy seeks to defy that culture and create an alternative model based on a more collective approach.

Schools are complex organisations, exposed to the vagaries of the human condition and subject to the influence of micropolitics. My concern is that circles might become “directions of travel” rather than responsible groups. If things were to go wrong, I can imagine whispers from the circles, with the qualifying statement: “But we don’t have ultimate responsibility…”

Have something you want to debate?


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