What is your tension?

  • Laurent Prodon

Some months ago, before going to the Practitioner training I wrote about Holacracy and my hopes regarding this new way of managing organizations. I'm now back from another 5 day training focused on Holacracy coaching and I'd like to explore a bit further the central concept of Holacracy: tensions.


As explained briefly in my first post, theoretically a tension describes a person's felt sense that there is a gap between the current reality and a potential future (both in a positive or negative sense). Practically, tension processing is something we all do on a daily basis of course: I'm hungry: I go grab something to eat,  I'm tired: I go to bed. Easy right?

Very often though we feel the urge to react but don't take the time to analyze our tension(s). Which leads to inappropriate reaction (in the sense of “un-filling my tension”) and frustration. We also tend to mix various tensions together which inevitably lead to more frustration. For example, I was talking with Mariusz at the training (a great guy by the way, building a new kind of school in Poland) and someone exposed a common domestic situation: your daughter pushes her little sister, you tell her to stop, only to see her pushing her sister again while looking at you in the eyes! (ah! kids!). As a parent I know very well what my reaction would be: shout at the kid while protecting the little daughter. No need to describe what's next: everyone is screaming, some are crying, etc…

Now if I take a step back and realize that I'm actually facing 2 different tensions and try to prioritize them, it might help. First I'd probably want to take the little one to a safe place and then only try to understand what is wrong with the big one. See how suddenly there is way less urge in solving the 2nd tension?

It's everywhere!

Once you grasp this context of tension, it's really hard to get out of it, and you'll suddenly see tensions everywhere :) Another example: this morning on the radio I heard 3 persons interviewed in a French protest movement (because of a new law regarding labour). One was talking about the bad timing of the proposition (because of the presidential election next year), the other one about his fears as he is a student and saw all the budget down-sizing they had already done in universities, and the last one was saying he didn't trust the “parti socialiste” anymore after their latest decisions. Notice something? Yes, they all have different tensions, and none is actually related to the content of this new law!


Holacracy organizes the whole company based on tensions. The base of every evolution is a tension that must be grounded in reality and in a role. Those notions are really important: it must be a “real” tension that you experienced and for which you can give a concrete example. No proposals based on “yet another great theoretical idea” are allowed. Can't give an example? Sorry, discarded. The idea that you need to specify in which role you feel a tension helps others to get some context about your tension, and also prevents you from submitting hypothetical tensions for other roles, that people filling the role do not actually feel.

In my opinion, being clear about your tension is the first step to make a good proposal and to eventually be less frustrated. So, what is your tension?

Tell us what you think