Open Business Model: Personal Development before Work?

Baobbá is an experimental organization that uses the “open business” model. This model highlights agreements and values instead of rules, and some of us like to position it half way between the 9–5 jobs and the startups.

This model can be called a sociocracy as it’s auto-organized, giving responsibility to its members who share common objectives.

There is nothing engraved in stone in our model, and we’re still figuring out how to optimize it. It’s definitely a work in process.

For a bit more background, you can refer to my previous article here.

I’m part of it for more than 3 months now, and while it’s been fun, I thought it was necessary to put on paper (or rather on screen) a few characteristics of this model.

Why? All its members will feel that this new way to work is full of potential, but even for us it can be difficult to describe how it really works, and how it is different from the common ways to work.

I hope this article will be helpful in bringing some clarity to anyone interested in a real-life experience with this model.


Below are a few points and personal remarks about how our innovative work model works.

Up to you to consider these as positive or negative, or simply different from what you may be used to.

Feel free to integrate some of our “style” into your organization!

Attraction of people in phase with the values of the company

Obviously that’s a serious advantage. However, for that to happen, it needs to be advertised through some channel to get exposure. You actually need a solid communication channel to get a few of these advantages — which is the main obstacle to the creation of a similar work model.

At Baobbá, Gustavo’s writing has this role of spreading the words both nationally and internationally about what’s happening here, and ultimately bringing people in. Lucky for us he’s doing an amazing job, as his writing was the hook that got most of us in.


Attraction of talents

Here are the 3 keys that more and more people look for in a job (source: Daniel Pink):

> We love mastery, handling hard projects make us proud. We love to get better at what we do.

> We love autonomy, being able to direct our lives.

> We love purpose, the feeling and intention that we can make a difference in the world, that our work have an impact and helps others.

Nowadays more and more people choose to prioritize these characteristics in their work life. For an organization, being able to fulfill these needs is fundamental to attract and retain talents, and the work model of Baobbá strongly contributes to fulfill them.

As a result, we were able to attract experienced and proficient people.


Having a couple of dozen people at various levels of commitment working for free on the organization’s projects for months

Sure, it’s an investment into the future of each member as they develop skills, work on themselves, improve their team work, get startup knowledge, be part of an active community etc, so that’s not really working for free.

There is surely an exchange of value, aside from money.

But still, if you look at the bottom line, the organization is barely making any money at the moment. And it’s been around for months now.

Is that investment worth it? I feel it is. It was worth it for me. I’m still giving some of my time to it. Maybe money should step down a little bit in the shiny capitalist pyramid, and face the truth: money doesn’t bring happiness, friends or care. It’s an important tool, but it’s a part of a fulfilled life, not the core. In this system — at least at the moment — money is not the main drive that attracts and retain people.


Enjoying working with like-minded people

This is definitely a strength in our group, where we try to bring care in every activity. Be it between each other, with our clients or in the design of our sites.

That also involves unexpected and delicious cakes during meetings.


People are free to create or bring any project

There is a real capacity of achievement, it’s not just an idea. If the group sees value in a new project and if we can attribute some voluntary “workforce” to it, it can go from idea to implementation quite fast.

You want to set up a group to solve a big problem that is close to your heart? It’s possible. Sure, it will require some clarity, general agreement and probably some recruiting, but if it’s in phase with the values of the organization with clear not-so-long term benefits, you could get a go.

Imagine working at Nestlé or some big co and as a fairly new guy, proposing to launch a new brand… good luck with that.


Conflict mediation

In case of conflicts — yes it happens — we got a few imperturbable people ready to help anyone with conflict mediation tools.

It seems that managing people is harder than projects. At least that’s my impression. For the last 3 years I’ve been pretty isolated working on my projects. But dealing now with a couple of dozen personalities (even if having a couple of twins makes it a bit easier), it’s a whole new game.


No rules, but a few agreements

We got 10 agreements that help us guide our decisions, moves or in case of any doubts. We often refer to them for general guidance.

1 — Freedom and Commitment

2 — Cooperation and loving care

3 — Collaborative communication

4 — No triangulation

5 — Trust and Confidentiality

6 — Punctuality

7 — Integrity and Honesty

8 — Don’t take anything personally

9 — Don’t make assumptions

10 — Always do your best

No triangulation means that if you got a problem with someone, you don’t go complain to someone else about it. Direct communication is encouraged, and if you don’t feel it’s possible, check with the conflict mediation people.

The last 3 agreements come from “The Four Agreements” from Don Miguel Ruiz.


Projects don’t move on very quickly

Some members tend to wait for someone to take a decision to act.

To try to move things forward, we have a saying here: “Quem fala, faz!” meaning “ Who speaks, does!” which underlines the need to take initiatives.

Also, only a few of us are really full-time. And they might still do some freelance jobs on the side to pay the rent. Things should evolve soon, but for now Baobbá’s members are still dependent on outside revenues.


Acting as a co-founder is key

There is such a difference between what can accomplish someone that doesn’t give a damn about a project (see pic below with this lovely illustration of the 9–5 cliché), and someone that deeply care about it, that is willing to put in the hours and take initiatives to push the project forward.

Personal initiatives are a pre-requisite that we still underestimate.


Solid internal trainings

Keeping the example above, an obvious solution to this inaction problem would be to get trainings on how to lead, not waiting for someone to tell us what to do.

This is something that is being implemented here at Baobbá. Whenever we can find a good fit with a training, we bring it onboard and plan a workshop for the group.

Whether learning about financial abundance or non-violent communication, these workshops usually have a great impact.

On my side I try to help members to increase the growth and impact of their freelance side job, while some help out with personal matters, and others using various healing techniques.

We are all struggling with certain issues. The fact to recognize them and try to overcome them is a courageous act, necessary to sort out the personal life and consequently, beneficial to the professional life.


Less control and decisions over the projects

By definition there is no boss, and even each project catalyzer is not really a projects’ boss, they have more a role of managing and scheduling the tasks.

The directions and priorities of each project are taken by the team, which are formed in a “who would like to be part of it?” base.

Want an example of a classical issue?… Should the designer of the team have the last word about the web page design, or the team altogether? Again, if you judge it necessary, refer to the “conflict mediation” part…

Here are some questions we use during our meetings to move things forward when a general agreement needs to be taken:

- “Is this good enough for now?”

- “Is this good enough to be tested?”

- “Someone has a reason to not make it happen?”


You don’t get to choose who will work for the company

The system says yes to everyone that would like to get involved, and if some people would like to play a significant part, it simply happens as they do so.

So if you got a problem with a particular person, you basically need to work on yourself and deal with her. Yes, the idea is that people join the organization with similar views and values, but if some things are a bit off, learn to deal with it. No other option. If necessary, refer again to the “conflict mediation” part!


Inventing a new way to work isn’t easy.

We’re not completely sure of what we’re doing

But are you?

All startups are by definition betting on “projects-full-of-potential-if-they-ever-happen”. And quite some work needs to be done before knowing if a project will take off or not.

I find that the best way to increase your chances of success is to know yourself better. By understanding what you like, what you’re good at and what you want to accomplish. But this is hard.

Add to this taking care of other members and not being sure if you’ll get paid in the next months, and you got a pretty unstable environment.

At least on paper. It seems to work fine though, as everyone contributes as they can/want.

Sure, if you’re a control freak and having a member taking a week off for whatever reason makes you want to eat your keyboard, this is not for you.

But I hope these points gave you a clearer image of our work model, and that you will use some of it to improve the humanity and/or efficiency of your organization.


A few thoughts to conclude…

Baobbá allows us to improve ourselves individually, our relationships, our beliefs on money, our self-esteem, and also our work skills by being able to get involved in different projects and positions.

It’s an opportunity to cure many aspects of our life in group. Funny to say so for a “for-profit” organization, eh?

Like Adam Braun from Pencil of Promise that never liked the “non-profit” name, we could call Baobbá a “for-purpose” organization.

It naturally fits people looking for purpose in their life, which more and more of us do.


So do we focus more on our members than on our projects? Hard to say, without real schedule it’s difficult to measure, but the emphasis on people is surely stronger here than anywhere else.

But at the end of the day, work is done by people, so if people are mentally healthy and work with purpose, autonomy and on projects they love, couldn’t the organization become a powerful business machine?

We’ll find out soon.

Keep in mind that we spend most of our life at work, so enjoying it, making it useful on the long term by tackling life difficulties and obstacles, and being surrounded by people that share our values is priceless.


I believe Baobbá didn’t reach the right balance between the work and the social aspect yet. But it’s getting there. It’s difficult as its members still depend on external revenues.

Maybe having a clear and personalized personal development path for its members can be helpful, with accessible material and courses for anyone interested to tackle their personal issues and grow psychologically and spiritually. That would make us stronger and more stable, while saving down the line a lot of time for business activities.

I guess it’s time for me to go back to our saying “who speaks, does”, and see what can be done there…


Last but not least, imagine if we can show the world how our integrated social activities can enhance the health and productivity of any organization on the long term… It won’t be easy, but it may be our higher purpose.


If you’ve been inspired by those words, give them a spin by sharing them around!