Jan 21 2011
BetterMeans found themselves at WorserEnds. They left the building in a hurry. Nobody heard where they were going or if they planned on coming back. We’ll forever wonder about their demise, wishing the time we spent together didn’t have to end.
It’s no secret that a limited number of people genuinely enjoy their jobs. Maybe they have to spend long hours filing and collating documents. Or perhaps they don’t like working with the rest of the team. More commonly they have a lackluster relationship with their supervisor. For a variety of reasons people just don’t enjoy their work environment.
The immediate response to this is to either change companies or change careers. People are continually seeking a safe haven from the drudgery that can so easily encompass their lives. It’s been suggested however that the real problem isn’t a bad boss or bad coworkers, but rather a bad system. The current hierarchical system that most companies employ does little to foster innovation, cultivate ideas, and empower employers to personal and professional success. These notions are quashed by the limited foresight of a series of increasingly inept managers and so called, ‘leaders.’
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, an entire market segment has been able to successfully organize and motivate people to contribute their skills to some of the most well known, successful projects. Wikipedia, Linux, Apache, and many other projects all depend on the collaborative contributions of their users. For these open source projects people propose new ideas which are reviewed and approved by the core developers, and then people volunteer their time to complete them. In this fashion huge projects are built, tested, and deployed for the general use of all. Oftentimes they’re much more successful than projects released by corporations. To be sure, the software world would be starkly different without them.
Drawing a connection between the success of these projects and the cohesive nature of the organizational structures they came from, is BetterMeans. BetterMeans is a web application that facilitates the collaborative flat structure previously reserved for open source projects. The vision? To provide a drastically new way for companies to meet their goals without the encumbrance of bosses. But it’s much more than that.
BetterMeans users are given two levels of access- Contributor and Member. Contributors can take part in the processes and complete tasks. Their votes on various project related decisions, such as whether to approve new ideas into a project, are observed but not counted. To join, the core members must induct them in. The ramifications of this are ground breaking on many levels, not the least of which is the disruption of the employee – employer relationship. Anyone can contribute to public projects allowing more people to engage with the work. If you do good work that the team is happy about, you are nominated to the team. Instead of hiring and bossing around, your work speaks for itself and the team self manages. Once you become a member, your vote is binding. When work is completed, compensation is based on the votes of your peers. BetterMeans comes with two compensation models actually. The first is the aforementioned democratic style profit allocation. For those who aren’t ready to make that jump, traditional compensation models are supported as well.
Basic usage consists of proposing a new idea into a project, members voting to accept that item and assign a priority. Once accepted they’re listed in the Open queue, available for anyone to work on. When workers take on a new task it proceeds to the In progress column, and finally it finds its way to the Done bracket. Each step of the way is peer reviewed and approved. The approval process uses what’s known as lazy-majority voting system. Those who are interested in voting comprise a binding result. A sample public project can be found here.
Going to work can be a pain. Feeling undervalued, or worse, underutilized, can have a profound effect on our overall happiness in life. Companies can learn a lot by emulating the activities of those that are able to cultivate free, motivated work forces. BetterMeans does this. True to their ideals, open projects are free. For those still clinging to the confines of privacy and information flow-stops, there are paid plans for increasing levels of privacy. With any luck, (and if reason wins out), soon we might all do away with the outdated oligarchies that dominate the workplace. BetterMeans provides the tools to realize this utopian workforce dream.