Five Criteria for Regenerative Work Design

Carol Sanford
4 min readSep 7, 2018

Continuing our comparison of Holacracy and Regenerative work design systems, we’ll look at five criteria for work designs based on living systems and see how they are implemented through organizational structures.

This post is part of a podcast and blog series called Business Second Opinion, where I give a contrarian view on ideas presented in publications like the Harvard Business Review. You can listen to the corresponding Business Second Opinion podcast episode #114 and subscribe to future shows on iTunes, Sticher, Audio Boom, or Google Play.

Carol’s Lesson

A framework for regenerative work design typically consists of five criteria.

Five Criteria

  1. Everyone in the organization is directly connected to real customers and consumers to be able to initiate endeavors for the customers’ benefit, including evolving their business/lives.
  2. Work is tied to overarching strategy of the business and what the business is moving toward, to make it non-displaceable in its marketplace. Everyone is working on their current projects, while designing and evolving what the work is becoming.
  3. Develops innate human capabilities that are rarely part of what business and organizational work systems consider themselves responsible for.
  4. Requires people to pursue a better working society, particularly democracy, with regard to how people are developed and engaged to think and work.
  5. People are responsible in their work to consider how to evolve potential for the wealth and well-being (viability, evolution of contribution) of all stakeholders to the business (buyers and users, co-creators, including supplies and employees, Earth, communities, and investors), not just completing tasks and making customers happy.

Holacracy Structure

Holacracy has four structures used to organize work that explain how work is designed.

  1. Circles connect workers to one another without interference from outside supervision, based on defined work that existed before the change. These are individuals who form circles as change is called for and disband when achieved. One person can be in many circles and be engaged in various coordination events as has been pointed out by many examinations of holacracy. They organize around functions and divide roles, sometimes voting on who has which accountability.
  2. A Cabal, is a goal-oriented group that forms organically. Any individual can initiate a cabal that people can join because they want to be part of it. This is similar to a project team when a new exciting offer is on order, People can join if it calls to them. “They vote with their feet” is the rallying cry. It has the flavor of what WR Gore used but for Gore there is a well-defined strategy and very clear markets defined for focus.
  3. Roles are spread across the circle structure. People may play multiple roles since they can be in several circles and change roles as the need arises.
  4. Lead Links perform some of the leadership functions previously assigned to managers but are not “bosses”.

The Regenerative Business — Three Soft Structures

Rather than supervisors and managers, The Regenerative Business proposes using three nested teams (a core team, market field teams organized around customers or markets, and operating or function teams for carrying out the work). This approach allows individuals to not just be on the team, but to be fully invested in delivering the work of the strategy and the teams.

  1. The Core Team reflects the organization as whole (all functions, levels etc.). Members perform strategic thinking based on their job, and ensure the non-displaceability of the business.
  2. Everyone is a part of one Market Field Teams, by choice, and each team is responsible for particular markets with a set of customers or consumers. Members think about how the strategy applies to that market node (not segment since it is based on shared values, not demographic segmentation). They track the industry and lives of their customers, and develop new innovations for their market.
  3. Operating or function teams work as a whole to develop initiatives for the customer or stakeholder, and to build support for them. Some pursuits are years long and require additional education or resources from the organization.


  1. Stems from a different metaphor
  • With its origin in software development companies, Holacracy is based on the metaphor that an organization is a computer operating system with applications added on to manage new needs.
  • The Regenerative system is based on living systems which build capability that works organically for the good of the entire system, including the industry, Earth, and society.

2. Holacracy does not target evolving customer needs

  • Assumes the same structure and process will serve the needs of every customer.
  • No clear definition of how to design for customers’ lives.

3. Holacracy focuses on taking authority away rather than progressing the business.

  • Focus on the work itself versus team or individual contribution.
  • Strategy is done by a special strategy group and carried out as individuals in holacracy versus the embedding of strategy as everyone’s work in the Market Field Teams in a Regenerative Business.

Read more blogs on Join the newsletter and get a free background paper on paradigms. Follow us on Twitter @businesssecondopinion. Suggest topics and HBR articles on which you want Carol’s Second Opinion. And finally, pick up a copy of The Regenerative Business, by Carol Sanford, with much more about how to build a regenerative work design at

Originally published at on May 15, 2018.



Carol Sanford

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson |# 1 AmazonBest Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator