Valid Objections in Holacracy

In a governance meeting with Holacracy, when a proposal is brought to address a tension, everyone can have a chance to raise objections, which need to be integrated as we change the proposal before we get to some final output. This is one of the biggest learning curves for people new to Holacracy, because there’s a very specific definition of objection. And there are actually a few things that must be true for whatever you’re sensing to actually count as an objection that we have to integrate.

And one of those is that whatever you’re sensing, it’s got to be a reason why adopting this proposal would move us backwards or cause harm. Because if it wouldn’t move us backwards or cause harm, if it’s just maybe a better idea, or a way of addressing something else important, then it’s actually a different tension. It’s something else that you might want to add to the agenda, and then we can process it, and then we can get it integrated. But it’s not actually a reason why this proposal is going to cause harm or move us backwards. So that definition and that rule helps us sort through all of those better ideas and other tensions that might otherwise distract us from processing the proposer’s tension.

Another way we get there, for whatever you’re raising to be counted as an objection, it has to be true that it’s going to be created specifically by adopting the proposal. So if you raise some concern, one of the questions I might ask, if I’m facilitating, is “So if this proposal were just dropped, would you still feel that? Is it already happening?” Because if it’s already happening in the system currently, then it’s not created by adopting this proposal. And it’s something else to address, but it’s not a reason why we’re moving backwards or causing harm by adopting this. So it sorts that out.

And then another one that’s really common, especially with new groups, there’s a lot of fear of what might happen — especially when we’re used to organizations where it’s very difficult to adapt, very difficult to change a decision that’s made through a big meeting. So often people will raise an objection out of fear of what might happen. But with the rules of objections in Holacracy, it’s got to be true that whatever you’re raising is based on present data, and not just some predicted potential, unless we won’t have a chance to adapt later. So as long as there’s a chance to steer and adapt later, and remember, you can come back to this meeting anytime, and bring proposals and adapt things. There are regular and recurring meetings. So I might ask, you know, “Is it safe enough to try, knowing you can come back to this at any point?” So is it safe enough to try, so you don’t have to predict and anticipate what might happen. You can see how it plays out, knowing you can come back as soon as you get real data. So there’s another criteria that helps sort out objections.

And when you run things through those rules and some questions to help the person raising the objection sort out what it is, what you’re doing is really zeroing in, getting rid of all of the other distracting elements in processing a proposal, the other tensions at play, the fears, and we’re getting down to what do we actually need to integrate in order to integrate this one tension for the organization, one step at a time. And then we’ll get to the next one, and the next one, and the next one. One tension at a time, by having clear rules for what’s a valid objection to sort out all of the other stuff.