Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014


What is an Arts Managers nightmare? Not managing anything/anyone! In this article, we explore the phenomenon that is the “holacracy.” The holacracy is the restructuring of an organization where the leadership roles are evenly distributed amongst all of the employees. Zappos is the “biggest adopter” of this non-hierarchal organization in which they believed there was a lot of ineffectiveness in the traditional hierarchy of their organization.

First and foremost, this would not be able to work in a not-for-profit arts organization since it is required to have a governing board that manages the structure and effectiveness of the organization. But this makes you think! What if board members were treated just like every other employees in an arts organization? Would it be more productive, less productive? In my prior experience in not-for-profit arts organizations, I’ve realized that they do have some of the characteristics of a holacracy. In smaller organizations, sometimes everyone has to be “all hands on deck” when it comes to events, special projects etc. Secondly, could this be a possibility for for-profit arts organizations? Can the “holacracy” even work in an arts organization? Relating back to this weeks readings, would a holacracy create a “healthy” organization? I would definitely research about this organizational structure more.



  1. Jenni
    September 8, 2014

    First of all, thank you for posting this! I think this is FASCINATING in nature, but I’ll admit that I’m pretty confused as to how this actually works, and the article didn’t really explain it. I get foregoing a strictly hierarchical system, but does this mean that there are literally no managers or point people? Is a circle lead by any one person, or is it all simply collaborative? Who makes the big financial decisions? Who is the face of the business and deals with partners? If there are no structures, do they all get paid the same amount? Are there any opportunities for raises and advancement – or is it kind of an advance at your own pace type of thing? Do they still have assigned jobs? Or is it kind of a play to your strengths deal? If that’s how it is, will things begin to fall through the cracks and where is the accountability?

    It definitely would be interesting to see how something like this could be implemented in an arts organization.

  2. cayleycarroll
    September 9, 2014

    This is intriguing. After reading the article I found myself in the “denial room” of the proverbial apartment. My initial instinct after reading the article was that holacracy is against human nature! Hierarchy is natural way of structuring organization. Its evident in animal packs and the beginnings of human civilization. How could a large company possibly function efficiently like this?

    The website below helped me move from the “denial room” to the “confusion room”. Dare I say, I even have a foot in the “acceptance room”. Here’s blurb that helped me begin to accept holacracy as a viable strategy:

    Myth #3: Holacracy removes all hierarchy.
    This one is a bit tricky, because we think and talk about structure differently in Holacracy. A lot of people are saying that Holacracy has a flat structure, or are using Holacracy to mean a flat structure. This is sort of true, and sort of not. Traditionally, when we think about corporate hierarchy, we are thinking about a management hierarchy of people, where power is held by a person at the top who can direct others or delegate from there. There is no management hierarchy like this in Holacracy, so in this sense, Holacracy is “flat”. In Holacracy, power is held by roles, not people, and those roles gain power through a governance process, not from a boss delegating it. But roles are grouped into circles and these circles are grouped into broader circles, and so on. This is a type of hierarchy (a “holarchy”), but it is not a management hierarchy with a role “above” having the power to direct a role “below”. And, people can fill many roles throughout the organization as well. For example, you can see HolacracyOne’s holarchy here.

    View story at

  3. hshambroom
    September 9, 2014

    While this idea greatly interests me, I was also skeptical about it at first. I looked over the linked “Holacracy Constitution” and admit that it was a bit too wordy and convoluted to get through. What I can completely relate to, however, is Robertson’s motivation for creating this type of (non)management situation:

    “In traditional corporate hierarchies Robertson found that employees who observed inefficiencies or had ideas for improvements would have to go to a boss, who would go to their boss, who would go to their boss and so on. Often this critical information that could lead the company to meaningful change simply slipped through the cracks. Robertson says, “When there is lack of clear and effective channels for processing tensions,” it can leave people frustrated, burnt-out, and disengaged.”

    While I have never experienced this in a corporate sense, nearly every nonprofit I have worked for has struggled with tension between employees and the board who governs them. Similarly, even in a small arts institution, it is often a frustrating and confusing process between addressing the problem and getting through the proper channels to have that solution approved. No matter how strongly one believes in an organization’s mission or impact, to continually come up against friction from those in charge is disheartening. I can see, in theory, how leveling the playing field in terms of leadership would distribute decision making power away from management (who often lack direct engagement with day to day operations) and place it more into the hands of those dealing directly with the issues. It seems like it could be a more efficient way of problem solving in an organization. I remain skeptical, however, that over time employees wouldn’t naturally fall into some sort of hierarchy. I will be interested to follow this story’s development and see how Zappos adapts to this type of structure!

  4. benjamendouglas
    September 9, 2014

    Yes, Cayley. Totally in denial, here, too.

    When we started the literary organization, and didn’t have any staff – our board functioned as a holocracy. It worked for a minute. I don’t see how any organization can be successful long-term as a holocracy.

    Andrew says we’ll talk more about life cycles in governance, but basically, an organization can stay in start-up mode as long as the founders have the passion and the funds to continue. That could be 6 months or 60 years. But I really don’t think you can move out of startup as a true holocracy. But then, I’m very regimented, and like organizational charts!

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