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WorldBlu’s List of Democratic Workplaces Will Make You Want to Work Someplace Else

The vast majority of companies today are still organized under an antiquated hierarchical structure that was borne of an earlier era. But a movement toward organizational democracy–a more transparent style of workplace …

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The vast majority of companies today are still organized under an antiquated hierarchical structure that was borne of an earlier era. But a movement toward organizational democracy–a more transparent style of workplace dedicated to employee self-governance–has been gaining steam in the last few years. And today WorldBlu published its annual list of the Most Democratic Workplaces, that includes some eye-opening descriptions of alternative office styles that will either delight or horrify you. Here are a few examples that stand out:

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* At the Menlo Innovations “software factory” employees are paired together on projects, literally working on the same single computer at the same time. The pairs change every week. The goal is to prevent anyone in the company from holding a project hostage, and ensuring that everyone is comfortable giving critical feedback to coworkers regardless of their station.

* At MindValley, a Malaysian consulting firm, each employee is given a monthly allotment of 100 points to award to colleagues for their contributions. The five people with the most points at the end earn a “Monthly Awesome Community Award,” and a bonus of 2.5% of that month’s profits.

* At Brainpark, a San Francisco company that creates custom corporate e-learning and social software, the employees can vote the CEO and other top leaders out of office every six months. “It may seem madness for a founder to put themselves in the vulnerable position where they could be removed by the team but on the other side, who wants to lead a team that no longer respects their value?” says Brainpark CEO Mark Dowds. “Our hope is that by sticking to this process any leader in the company becomes aware earlier of their inadequacy and has six months to make the difference or plan their replacement.”

* At DaVita, the largest dialysis services provider in the U.S., and the first and only Fortune 500 company to make the WorldBlu list since its inception in 1999, employees vote on every decision–from logos to new business initiatives. The company is also decentralized, each of the 1,400 clinics has its own set of guidelines developed by the local administrator and “teammates.”

Eleven of the 40 companies on the list this year practice salary transparency (yep, everyone from the CEO to the receptionist knows exactly what everyone else earns). The all-natural chocolate maker SweetRiot opens its books to all employees each Monday for discussion. The multi-million dollar producer and distributor of mate tea, Guayaki, lets the staff determine how to divvy up budgets and set sales targets both regionally and for the company as a whole.

The companies, that pay a fee to take part in the survey, are evaluated using a tool that measures how well an organization lives up to a list of ten democratic principles outlined by WorldBlu, such as transparency, integrity, and accountability and choice in leadership. The survey is then completed by the company’s employees, and reviewed by WorldBlu, which is a non-profit.

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There are plenty of other interesting stories from the list, which you can find on these profile pages.

[The WorldBlu List 2009]

About the author

I'm the executive editor of Fast Company and Co.Design.

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