Matt Hallmann for Holaspirit

One cannot help but wonder why self organisation in general and Holacracy specifically, does take off in one country but does not find a following in others In counties where self organisation does take off, very often you will find consulting companies offering help with the implementation, meetups and established practitioners sharing their knowledge. And then on the other hand, in countries where self organisation is virtually unheard of, there will be no resources whatsoever on how to self organise. To be fair: there is also a big amount of countries in the middle, with some elements of a thriving self organising community present and some missing. Why is that?

Is there a difference between countries, or maybe better said cultures, when it comes to implementing and working with Holacracy? Is a Dutch person better equipped for autonomy, than a Spanish, Korean or Japanese person? Do Americans have better skills in differentiating role from soul? Can the Chinese better sense tensions than Indonesians? And if so, why is that? And how does working with Holacracy in different countries compare?

National cultural variables

While there is research and writing available on this topic when we look at management in general, concrete cases about self organisation are still painfully absent. The movement is still relatively small and traditional scholars have only recently started to shift their focus to self organisation. When doing so, the focus is more often shifted to areas like productivity, employee output and structural analysis. Nevertheless, we can look at what has been published before and use that to our advantage. There is a thorough article by Mohammad Ayub Khan and Laurie Smith Law that researches “how national cultures influence the management cultures of organizations” and applies that question to three countries: the United States, Mexico and Pakistan.

Ayub Khan and Smith Law look at national cultural variables influencing the management cultures of organizations:

  • Religion
  • Social organisation
  • Language
  • Time concept
  • Power distance
  • Collectivist — individualistic
  • Masculinity — femininity
  • Uncertainty avoidance

The research shows how the three countries rank differently on those variables. Where on the one hand Mexico and Pakistan are similar in many regards, the United States are very different on the other hand.

If we would expand the graph to other countries, we would see many differences between countries. Just imagine: how would China rank versus Germany? Or how would a Saudi Arabia rank, compared to Taiwan? One doesn’t need to know everything about a country to grasp that the variables will be different and thus the management cultures of those countries will differ a great deal. Ayub Khan and Smith Law have again distinguished variables connected to those management cultures.

An American affair, globalisation and startups

Holacracy was created by an American, in the United States of America. It’s needless to say that it was (un)purposely created to be used by companies, sharing a common national cultural background and thus a common management culture. The structures were initially meant to help the needs of one company and I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the international expansion and popularisation of self organisation. One can only wonder, if Brian Robertson would have created Holacracy differently, knowing how many different companies in different countries would try to self organise themselves.

Coming back to the questions from the beginning: we can only think that some countries, with their national cultural values are better equipped to make use of Holacracy. A low uncertainty avoidance and low power distance seem to be two variables, creating a fertile soil for self organisation. Does that mean that countries where this isn’t the case can’t use Holacracy? Of course not. We see many examples that show us the opposite, every day.

Maybe there are more variables that are relevant when it comes to self organisation. Maybe our world is globalising faster than we think, creating a more common value structure and thus more common management cultures. Young people are more connected than ever. Startups look at other successful startups in the world to mimic their success, by mimicking their company culture, practices and management structure.

This is an invitation, not an answer
To make Holacracy a truly global movement, we need to go deeply into national cultural differences and how to address those. We know that each Holacratic organisation looks different: how can we make those work in different environments? Only sharing will help, thus I invite you all to engage a meaningful conversation. Only by doing so, a critical, non elite mass of practitioners in different environments can be reached.

by Matt Hallmann, VP of International Growth at Springest and sepaker / coach at

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