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How Holacracy Gamifies the Workplace to Boost Team Engagement


Allow me to paint you a picture of 2 companies:

Company A is a place where people come to work because they have to.

They come in as late as they can and leave 10 minutes early. In between, they make themselves look busy, but in reality, they’re doing the bare minimum so that they don’t get fired.

There’s no sense of purpose or connection with the organization. If you ask them why they work for Company A, they’ll say it’s because they have to feed their family or repay their debts.

If there’s a rare moment of freedom when they do work that is creative, there’s no one to acknowledge it.

The work is best described as mundane, repetitive and boring.

Can you relate to this? Can you think of companies that operate this way? Perhaps you’ve worked at one of them?

Then, there’s Company B.

In this organization, the relationship between employer and employee is not transactional. It’s a relationship based on a shared purpose.

People feel like partners who’ve come together to serve the purpose of the organization. It’s what gets them out of bed every morning.

They have a level of freedom and control over how they do their work.

Mind you, the work is not easy. There are challenges. But they are the kind of challenges that don’t put you down, but build on your strengths.

In fact, it’s awkward for them to name the thing they do as “work.” It’s more accurate to call it play. They often remark to their jealous friends, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this.”

They live life in a state of feeling blessed, grateful and energized.

We’re in the Conceptual Age

Company A is suffering from a way of working that’s really a legacy of the Industrial Age.

According to Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, we’re in the process of moving to the Conceptual Age.

The Conceptual Age is the age of awesome and highly creative ideas and inventions drawn from “unfamiliar areas or things” in a bid to inspire high desire and high demand from prospective users/audiences.

Companies expect their people to be innovative, creative and entrepreneurial. But to get people’s creative juices flowing, they need to be genuinely engaged at work.

Unfortunately, the reality is bitter. Many companies still operate like Company A. According to a worldwide poll by Gallup, only 13% of people are engaged at work. 63% are not engaged, while 24% are actively disengaged!

This looks bleak—but here’s the good news. Companies can go from A to B.

Yes, really.

The way it can happen is through gamification.

Think this sounds too good to be true? Let me explain.

Workplace Gamification Isn’t What Most People Think It Is

Most people have a shallow interpretation of “gamification”. It’s usually limited to adding leaderboards, rewards and motivational tools.

I’m talking about gamifying the workplace in a way such that the people no longer see a difference between work and play anymore.

This deeper idea of gamification includes:

  • Making sure that “the rules of the game” are clear. That way, people know what to do and what not to do, instead of playing office politics.
  • Having clarity and alignment on the purpose of the organization, so that work becomes meaningful.
  • Feedback mechanisms and transparent systems, like checklists and metrics, that are easy to track and show people their progress towards their goals.
  • Rules that empower team members to take individual, creative actions toward their goals, instead of always having to ask for permission.

When these principles are in place, work becomes the new play, and companies can operate more like Company B.

I’ve seen this really work!

Specifically, I’ve seen it happen when implementing the Holacracy framework, which has many of these gamification principles built in. 

What is Holacracy?

Ever since our organization adopted Holacracy, I noticed how it boosted engagement.

With time, I realized this had a lot to do with how gamification principles are built into Holacracy. I want to explore these with you here.

But first, briefly, what is Holacracy?

Have you seen how organizations are slow to change? And the larger they are, the slower they get. If they aren’t quick to adapt, they get outdated by newer businesses entering the market. To survive in today’s fast-paced world, organizations need to be responsive to change.

Holacracy makes this possible by giving organizations an agile structure that replaces the top-down command and control management hierarchy.

This structure:

  • Gives freedom to people to take action
  • Provides clarity on who’s responsible for what
  • Has a transparent decision-making process to bring about change.

5 Ways Holacracy Gamifies the Workplace

The Octalysis Gamification Framework for organizations defines Gamification as the craft of deriving all the fun and engaging elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities.

I’ve referenced some of the principles from this framework to show how it’s built-in Holacracy.

1. Clear Rules of the Game

To play a game, you need to have clear rules. Unfortunately, in most organizations, the rules aren’t clear, which is why they end up like Company A.

For example, when Arif and I decided to adopt Holacracy at Calm Achiever, the first thing we did was sign the constitution. The Holacracy constitution makes it very explicit that “this is how we play the game.” It clarifies how power is distributed within the organization and how the governance process works.

So, just like playing a game, signing the constitution was an act to agree on how we’ll play the game.

The clarity in knowing the rules is liberating because now people know the limits of what to do, and what not to do. It helps to play a better game.

2. Purpose and Meaning

“Epic Meaning and Calling is the Core Drive, where a player believes that he is doing something greater than himself or he was “chosen” to do something.”

In Holacracy:

There is a focus on purpose at every level of scale: organizational purpose, team purpose and role purpose are all explicit and aligned.

The work is structured around roles that have defined accountabilities. They change dynamically to fulfill the purpose of the organization.

People with the right talents and skills energize those roles and have full autonomy to do what is required of their roles.

3. Development and Accomplishment

“Development and Accomplishment is the internal drive of making progress, developing skills, and eventually overcoming challenges.”

In Holacracy:

Holacracy has a rhythm of having regular 60-minute tactical meetings for every team, usually two or three times a week. Click here to see format of the tactical meeting.

Before coming to the agenda of the meeting, the facilitator will bring focus to the role-filler who has been assigned the following:

  • Checklists:
    Like a pre-flight checklist, the purpose is to review the health of the team. The role-filler will share if the item is done or not.
  • Key Metrics:
    These are key numbers the team wants to track. For example in our Outreach team, the Copystar role will share the number of blog posts published during the month.
  • Project Updates:
    Here the role-filler will share updates on Projects they’re working on.

Taking ownership of the numbers and outcomes, then sharing it with the team, creates a sense of progress and accomplishment.

4. Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback

“Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback is when users are engaged in a creative process where they have to repeatedly figure things out and try different combinations.”

In Holacracy:

Here are 2 ways Holacracy enables empowerment:

  • According to the Holacracy rules, a role-filler can take any action to serve their purpose as long as it doesn’t break any other rule. This is the opposite of how most organizations function, which is “if you want to do something new, ask permission first.”
  • Governance Process. Anyone sensing any issue can use the governance process to bring about change to the structure of the organization. They turn their challenges and opportunities into improvements for the organization. 

5. Ownership and Possession

“This is the drive where users are motivated because they feel like they own something. When a player feels ownership, she innately wants to make what she owns better and own even more.”

In Holacracy:

  • There is ownership of the work, as each role-filler has the freedom to take any action or decision to serve their role’s purpose as long as it doesn’t violate any other rule.
  • Possession via domains. Domains are assigned to roles. It’s like a property of the role. Anyone who wants to impact that domain needs to ask permission. For example in our organization, the role “Pricing Strategist” has a domain over “Pricing.” No one can impact the pricing of workshops unless they get permission from the role-filler. With ownership comes more responsibility.

Explore Holacracy for Your Organization

Here are some resources to get started with Holacracy: Official website. Check out their Tactical and Governance Meeting Formats (They got me hooked on the model)

Holacracy Book by Brian Robertson, co-founder of Holacracy. This is a comprehensive book to get started with Holacracy. Foreword by David Allen.

If you would like to get support in exploring or implementing Holacracy in your organization from certified coaches, get in touch with us.

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