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A clear structure does not relieve us from social power or political power or information power. It may be that A is the manager of B, but right now, concerning you B has more power over you than A, so you better follow B's wishes instead of A's. It may even be that you are both people's manager and still better follow their desires at this point in time.

It does not relieve us entirely from social or political pressures, but formal lines of authority can serve as a bulwark against capricious turns of political luck. In an organization with formally defined management responsibilities, you know who to escalate to when you get conflicting requirements. If A has formal authority over the group, and tells you that you should be focusing on, say, improving the build system, but then you get a request from B (who is influential, but does not have formal authority) asking for help improving the UI, you always have the option of asking A. At the very least, if you don't ask A, you know you're taking a political risk by completing B's request before you complete A's. In a holocracy, you can take on massive political risks without realizing it, simply by misjudging the political dynamics of a group that you're new to.

I don't dispute that informal power structures exist even in organizations whose hierarchies are formally defined. However, a formal hierarchy serves as a baseline, and one can measure the level of political risk they're taking by noticing how much their actions are diverging from the formal hierarchy. If I bypass the chain of command, so to speak, and bring my concerns directly to a high-level executive, I can roughly judge who I'm going to be offending by taking that step. How does one do that in a holocracy? How do I even know who the "high-level executives" are? The holocracy literature completely hand-waves this aspect of the organization. Holocracy advocates say that you shouldn't worry; with time it becomes clear who the influencers are and who one should talk to for various matters. I don't agree with that at all. As anyone who remembers attending a public high school can tell you, humans will naturally form cliques, and it's not always obvious who the influencers are for a given clique. Moreover, as Paul Graham points out, hackers are much less interested in social dynamics (i.e. "politics" and "drama") than average people, and so are much more likely to make political miscalculations in a holocracy. It is for this reason that I consider holocracy to be a form of organization that is inherently hostile to hackers. It's a form of organization that seems custom-designed to hit us where we're weakest.

So the difference between our opinions is basically that you think formal power is most important and informal power only a nuance to that, and I think informal power is most important and formal power only a nuance to that.

For me it's good to know that people still exist who can believe in the first. I also started out like that but the little experience I could gather from this world taught me otherwise.

I think what the GP is saying is that navigating through the office politics is like crossing a minefield; formal structure at least shows you where most of the mines are located; holocracy means you have no clue, no map.

Yes and I think the map is too old and outdated and lacks detail.

At least the map gives you excuses---ie harder to get fired for doing what your boss tells you. Your detractors will have to make up another charge.

That's true. It's harder to get fired following the map. Haven't thought about that, since it's not my preference. Thanks for the reminder. Now it makes sense to think that way.

Unclear and diffuse structure probably does insulate decision makers against legal action, blame, and other kinds of sanction though. It's the managerial equivalent of firing rockets from the roof of a hospital.

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