Creating An Org Chart For Holacracy

One way to visualize unconventional organization design

Tess Hannel
4 min readNov 5, 2020

Trust me, it’s more exciting than it sounds. If you’re into this kind of thing (organizational design and systems mapping). Which I am!

If you’ve had the pleasure of holding a 9–5 job in the United States (or likely elsewhere), you are probably familiar with the traditional top-down system of bureaucracy in a majority of companies.

There are, however, alternative methods of organization.

How does a holacratic organization forgo traditional hierarchies while fostering communication between individuals?

In September of 2019, our team of design graduate students prototyped concepts for healthy, direct, and compassionate communication culture at cLabs, a cryptocurrency startup in San Francisco.

Celo is an open platform that makes financial tools accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. Celo practices holacracy, which replaces traditional management hierarchy with an even distribution of power among individuals, focusing on wholeness, self-management, and evolutionary purpose.

Instead of a top-down structure with siloed roles, holacracy relies on a variety of skills from individual contributors who sit on overlapping “circles”.

In a holacratic organization, instead of hiring a person to fill a pre-defined role, people opt to take on one or more roles at any given time and have flexibility to move between teams and roles if they have skills or insights that would prove beneficial to the organization. Holacracy looks to do away with managing from the top-down and gives individuals and teams more control over processes.

Fun fact: Zappos, with 1,500 employees, is the largest company to adopt holacracy.

The Challenge

Our initial brief was broad: design scalable solutions for a healthy, direct, and compassionate communication culture.

During our research, we learned that Celo had no formal organization chart that represented the holacratic reporting structure and communication flows. We hypothesized that a clear and reliable org chart that could be integrated into the onboarding process and consistently referenced by team members would improve communication culture at Celo.

The original org chart at Celo

Diving Into Research

Our research goal was to understand how employees at Celo communicate, who with, and how working in a holacratic organization changes communication methods.

We knew people at Celo loved The Office — so we enticed them to participate in interviews with “The Finer Things Club”!
Quotes from Celo employees during interviews
Results from a company-wide survey

Here’s what we learned:

50% of employees we surveyed said they have a professional growth plan and support, but only 33% said they know who to communicate with to set expectations and accomplish goals.

Conflict Resolution
There is no dedicated person to solve interpersonal and inter-circle problems.

There’s a lack of clarity around holacracy for some employees, and while nonviolent communication is the heart of holacracy it is not always practiced.

There is an awareness gap among employees about the distribution of responsibilities and roles.

Our Prototyping Journey

Based on our findings, we prototyped many versions of Celo’s org chart. Challenges included representing members of each circle equally, and showing that employees could sit in multiple circles. Multiple co-design sessions with the Celo team helped us refine our concept.

Co-design with our Celo stakeholders
Creative, but not quite right…

We ultimately designed the chart in Kumu, a browser-based systems mapping tool that allowed the chart to be interactive and provide richer, more complex information. We established the content infrastructure in Excel, which was automatically linked to Kumu. Updating the chart is easy and accessible.

Nothing makes graduate students happier than doing $$ work for free ;)

Results and Reflection

Tasked with designing scalable solutions for a healthy, direct, and compassionate communication culture at Celo, we developed a tool that helps employees understand how to communicate within a holacratic organization.

While we have much to gain from doing away with traditional management hierarchies, holacracy is still a nascent practice. Keeping (and reimagining) old practices like org documentation helps increase and maintain adoption of these new methods.

A huge thank you to the Celo team, particularly Vanessa Slavich and Taylor Lahey, for their time, patience, and open minds. We so appreciate you!

Many many hugs, coffees, and beers to my wonderful team:
Monica Poddar, Sanuree Gomes, Purva Takkar, and Junyan Li



Tess Hannel

Staff Product Designer @ Segment + California College of the Arts MDes Alum