(Team Design) The 214 “org” Holonic Model for Self-Governance

Kent Dahlgren
6 min readApr 23, 2019


Arthur Koestler’s concept the holon: something which is simultaneously a composite of smaller parts, an individual unit, and a piece of a larger whole.

Sometimes, during debates regarding large systemic challenges, someone may become fed up with endless talk, and eventually announce:

Enough talk! Let’s focus on the solution!

What are we going to do about it?

The intersection of debate and a call to action can serve as a catalyzing moment, and properly-managed may spark the creation of an action team, but many don’t know how to steer the team towards execution — — successfully transitioning from impotent debate to real action.

The outburst may inspire brief, energetic debate on the topic, and some may share research or studies with the group, but sooner or later people move on, and the issue itself remains unaddressed.

I’ve always been the execution guy, and in my experience the best laid plans never really survive the first contact with the enemy.

I hate to burst bubbles, but a 30 page research study is not a solution, nor is it an action plan.

This statement does not diminish the value or importance of these well-informed philosophical ideas or research, by the way.

I’m merely pointing out that many theories or research were not defined for the issue at hand, and are not able to factor for an infinitely variable environment.

And they are not about how to take passion and turn it into action.

What’s needed is a tight-knit team, bite-sized actions, and a disciplined execution cadence.

I bias towards execution methodologies which are lean, and embrace what I call a fail fast methodology.

Fail fast means: you quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.

Coupled with a process that incorporates rigorously honest retrospective reviews, the fail fast methodology can distill wheat from chaff quicker than you’d expect, and inexpensively.

Be wary of anyone who tells you they require large quantities of resources to address a problem.

Too frequently, money doesn’t create solutions — — it creates more problems.

Part and parcel of being able to execute in a fail fast manner means that we have to get really pragmatic and eat the whale one bite at a time, so to speak.

Which means that each incremental step may be less than perfect, and may often look kind of clumsy, which is okay, because we’re going to be doing it on the cheap.

Many people struggle with being on the receiving end of criticism, which locks them in a state of paralysis.

I encourage everyone to curate a thick skin, elicit as much brutally honest early feedback as possible, and as inexpensively as possible.

In tactile terms, this means defining a pilot scope of finite (small) size, execute within regular cycles (fail fast), and assign responsibility to a lean team empowered and held to account, in order to effect change relative to key performance indicators (KPIs).

For example, let’s assume we aspire to address an environmental issue, which is a topic that causes many people tend retreat into macro-level utopian escapism.

So when I say a small pilot, I’m talking about the watershed of a single small stream, and an execution team of 3–5 members, with cycles that are two weeks in duration, against KPIs, which are reviewed on a quarterly basis.

This is what we call a “holonic” model for teams.

If that sounds like science fiction, it may help if I note that I’ve just described a high-functioning, old-fashioned sales team.

Don’t believe me?

Imagine we’re selling old trucks.

Let’s assume we have 1,000 trucks in our inventory, and in order to continue getting paid we have to deliver upon certain performance benchmarks (KPIs).

We’re a creative team of truck salespeople, and we come up with a lot of ideas regarding how to make our numbers.

But we’re also busy with our personal life, so we don’t want to spend 24 hours a day on this challenge of selling trucks.

We come up with lots of ideas, and to make sure we don’t waste time on dumb ideas, we run our promotions in short sprints just two weeks in duration, and ruthlessly review these sprints, comparing our progress, reviewing the metrics, and incorporating newly-found ideas into our processes.

Here’s where the holonic model differs from the normal organizational structure:

There’s no rigid hierarchy. No boss at the top in the corner office shouting orders.

The team is small, compact, and embraces the values of a meritocracy.

In practice, this holonic model looks a lot like a Scrum team, from the domain of Agile software development, with contributors staffed to reflect a diverse personality distribution:

(fire) a person with a bias towards execution

(leaf) a person who serves as the natural complement to fire, with an affinity for helping the execution person temper their action orientation by considering broader systemic implications, but without habitually stalling the process

(water) a third who has a healthy mix of both personality types, which I sometimes refer to as the tiebreaker, who defuses this conflict, often through humor. Additionally, these water personalities are predisposed to seek connections to other holons.

In my personal experience, in industry and in grass-roots ad hoc teams, these water personalities begin to stitch together what might be visualized as a multi-dimensional network of small holons.

This begins to assemble itself into a polyholonic fabric, which (again) sounds like magic, but could also be described in the following manner:

A mild modification of the Scaled Agile methodology, which is fairly mainstream in the management of multiple software product lines, within public and privately traded companies.

Holons boast some benefits over the ordinary model:

  • They evolve from simple systems much more rapidly when there are stable intermediate forms present in the evolutionary process.
  • They are self-reliant units that possess a degree of independence and can handle contingencies without asking higher authorities for instructions; they have a degree of autonomy.

In terms of operational processes, the holon seems to thrive within the following environment:

  • two week sprints
  • consistent and unsparingly-honest retrospective reviews which results in consistent optimization of execution
  • regular calibration to KPIs
  • releases which encourage shared attribution, acknowledging that the individual alone could not accomplish that which is accomplished by the team
  • humor and a curation of inside jokes as a form of conflict resolution
  • the team is habitually underfunded (resource scarcity inspires creativity), but not so much that the team suffers on a material level
  • the team is incentivized for applying creative solutions to solving sometimes impossible problems
  • bonus for identifying and negotiating win-win collaborations with other holons or existing resources

The 214 Alpha mobile platform utilizes chat interface to help small teams negotiate lightweight agreements which technically qualify as contracts, but without the 300 pages of legal nonsense (better known as”user agreements” that nobody understands).

The platform is designed from the ground up to encourage the bare-bones pragmatic needs of execution teams, and features the following seven functions in a single user experience:

  • digital identity (no fake accounts)
  • secure communication (chat)
  • commerce (or workflow)
  • banking (loans, credit, notarized token/deed/title storage)
  • reputation (statistical process control from Lean Six Sigma for manufacturing & services)
  • arbitration (conflict resolution)
  • governance

The product is private labeled so the application itself will represent the community rather than our company, which helps inspire team pride and esprit de corps.

Lightweight “contract“ agreements of commerce or workflow are leveraging a private blockchain (currently hyperledger), with limited public gateways, as needed.

All of the above can be delivered inexpensively — — we aren’t talking millions of dollars.

In fact, the transaction fees for each commerce / workflow agreement are shared with the community team, which turns the platform into a profit center for the holonic team.

This creates a financial incentive for them to innovate business development opportunities, which would migrate existing or new-negotiated collaborations onto their platform, which would further fund their activities.

According to our projections, most use cases would achieve a profitable status within two fiscal quarters, depending upon size of transaction and/or number of transactions.

For further information on how 214 Alpha can help your group, organization, or company, please visit us at www.214alpha.com.



Kent Dahlgren

Product management fix-it guy. World-famous people skills. Extremely small hands. (edit) marketing lady says I’m also supposed to say “CEO of software company”