August 24, 2023
Various members of Greaterthan (GT) have already written about the Happy Money Story (HMS) practice and how it works (find the articles here, here, and read about its origins here). This article gives a detailed account of how an HMS in GT works, but if you would like more context and background about this practice, it is recommended you read the other articles first. This practice is inspired by a game originally designed by Charles Davies for sharing restaurant bill among friends.
Hello, my name is Ashish. I am based in the northern Himalayas of India. I have been working in Greaterthan since July 2022. Since my involvement, I have participated in more than ten Happy Money Stories with different team members for different projects or constellations. In this article, I aspire to bring together my personal exposure of these stories, and to reflect on the ripples this practice creates inside Greaterthan.
Let’s start with a deep dive into one of such Happy Money Stories. Here is one that I have recently participated in, reproduced anonymously with consent from all the team members involved.
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Five humans are in a zoom meeting. They have just completed a three month project, which ended up requiring 3x the attention than what they predicted in the beginning. Some of them were able to cope with the extra work, while the others held the space in awe and wonder.
In this meeting, the team has gathered to participate in their Happy Money Story— an organization-wide practice in Greaterthan that is used to distribute money among people who lead projects or initiatives together.
The meeting starts with a round of appreciation. Each individual takes turns to express how grateful they are for the gifts they have received while working with the others on this project. There is deep reverence, gratefulness and respect in the sharing. Some sharing cause tears of joy to emerge.
Now comes the moment for the sharing of everyone’s Happy Money Story. In the first round, all five take turns to share the contribution that they have made to the project, and the financial needs they have in their lives at the moment. Chen, who was the initiator and core space holder for this project, shares that he is feeling quite abundant with money from his other projects, so he would like to receive only a symbolic amount from this work. Nora, who took charge of the backend in demanding times, shares that this initiative is her major source of livelihood and she needs the money to pay back the loan [zero interest; more like an advance taken in urgent times] that she has taken from Greaterthan. Sonali, who has shown so much resilience and perseverance in tough patches of the project, says that her needs are mostly getting covered from an overlapping assignment that requires her to do most of the work she has done in this initiative. Henry, who had entered this project with high enthusiasm but couldn’t participate much in the latter half due to some reasons, shares that he has financial needs and he trusts the universe to take care of them for him. Henry is also a newbie in Greaterthan, and is super-grateful for the warmth he has received from the team in this initiative. Pia, who brought in the gifts of creativity and embodiment to this initiative, shares that this initiative is her significant source of income while she also has a few other initiatives taking care of her livelihood. Pia is recovering from COVID while she participates in this HMS.
The next round is to distribute the money. The total budget is 3000 Euros. Chen acknowledges that he is feeling very sad for so little money for all the work done by the team. Some team members nod in agreement.
Everyone goes off-video to think through their own money distribution. In this practice, all humans get to propose their unique distribution, and later pick or create one common money story aka distribution that makes everyone happy.
Once everyone’s distribution is on the sheet, videos are turned back on. It is now time to feel into each other’s stories.
Chen observes how different people interpreted the token amount differently. Money allocation to him varies from €1 to €300. Nora notices that Sonali has given herself too little money in spite of spending so much time and energy on this initiative. Henry’s money story looks significantly different from the stories of others. He might have different visibly of the work done by different team members. Sonali announces that she is not happy with the stories that give less than €1000 to Nora. Chen expresses that he is feeling happiest with his own money story. Pia observes the diversity of different money stories on the sheet.
Chen feels called to take the next step. In a separate column, he plays a bit with the numbers and makes his final proposal. “How about this one,” he says. “I give €1300 to Nora, €500 to Sonali, €675 to Pia, €525 to Henry and €0 to Chen.”
Pia reacts sharply. “I am very uncomfortable with you not taking anything, Chen. Please consider taking a token amount for yourself. This story doesn’t feel good in my body.”
Chen agrees, and takes €1 from Pia to reduce her share to €649. Both of them chuckle.
Sonali thinks about the needs shared by everyone. She reflects that she would feel happier if 100 bucks from her kitty goes to Henry. Pia jumps in instantly and asks Chen to transfer €74 from her bucket to Henry too.
Chen listens to Pia first and transfers €74 to Henry.
Sonali requests again for the transfer of €100 from her money. Chen declines. Sonali insists for at least €50. Chen agrees.
Henry is all in tears while all these conversations happen.
Nora is in awe of the flow of money and emotions happening both outside and inside her.
Very soon, everyone gives a thumbs-up to the money story on the sheet and proceeds for a check-out.
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Let’s take a breath here. I know it is quite a lot to process.
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Let’s see what is really happening in the above Happy Money Story.
1. Five humans chose to talk about money
Isn’t it awkward and inspiring at the same time? How often have you heard people working together discussing their salaries with each other?
2. A round of appreciation leading to tears of joy
Though this might be happening in many work settings, how often does it happen while the money is being discussed?
3. Collaborative funding
Everyone gets an opportunity to distribute the money among people based on their own perception of the work done. No one person gets to decide. There is no boss or management here.
4. Equal focus on individual needs
While people share their work contributions, they also share their financial needs. Does it not sound unfair from a conventional point of view? Why should someone who has done less work gain more money simply because they need that much money in life at that moment?
5. Decoupling remuneration from calculation
Almost the whole discussion around creating the final money story is intuitive, or should I rather say subjective? Yes, there is a sense of work proportions taken up by different team members, but there are no strict hardcore calculations involved. Isn’t it so out of this world? Read more about it in this article written by Greaterthan’s founding member and partner, Francesca Pick.
6. ‘Giving’ equally acknowledged as ‘Receiving’
Organizational cultures around money are not known for practicing generosity. People usually prefer to make as much as they can, and sometimes even at the cost of their fellow colleagues’ paychecks. And here, we can see three humans- Chen, Pia and Sonali- graciously giving while two- Henry and Nora- respectfully receiving.
The Happy Money Story sets the stage inside Greaterthan for its members to become increasingly open to conversations around money, and beyond. In the last year, I have witnessed people sharing their personal financial struggles, and being authentic when they feel they deserve more or less during money distribution. I have also observed and benefited from a culture of going deeper into our own personal money stories and understanding our beliefs, assumptions or habits around money. The Money Game, an experience that Greaterthan offers to its audience and clients, is one of the mediums to do just that.
In addition to the benefits that people receive from an open and explorative culture around money, Greaterthan also supports many organizations to create collaborative, participatory compensation models. Here is an example in which GT supported Open Collective Foundation to come up with their own self-set salary based alternative compensation model.
The Happy Money Story practice also reinforces the culture of self-management inside Greaterthan. When there is no boss to decide how much money people should make, team members have to step up to take responsibility and develop the relationality needed to be able to collectively take care of themselves. Moreover, the round of sharing ‘needs’ ends up making sure that people stay aware of each others’ personal struggles.
Another possible ripple that I am still observing can be summarized as a question: could it be that GT’s openness to talk about money— which is mostly considered a ‘taboo’ subject in organizations and society— can lead it to also talk about other ‘taboos’ of the society? In a way, can this openness in one field lead to more openness in other fields? I am not sure yet, but I have definitely seen people in GT gradually becoming more open to the explorations around other challenging topics, such as disrupting patriarchal patterns and embodiment.
Ashish Arora (Linkedin)
Ashish supports people to follow their hearts and organizations to create transformative cultures.
Most of his work has emerged in the Personal, Systemic and Organizational Transformation space. He organizes a) retreats for youth to understand their hearts’ calling, b) facilitates workshops for people to collectively explore the limitations and possibilities of transformation of our mainstream socio-economic systems, and c) works with organizations to transform their culture and processes in alignment with the Teal paradigm.
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