[I recognize that some people might read this article and find it hard — or _I hope not_ offensive. Please comment and write in the comments cause really the point of this is to create a discussion not prove my point]

It’s interesting working in several organizations and seeing the various dynamics and relationships that exist within them. Most recently I’ve been working in a pretty large cooperative that contained at moments up to 35 people and now more around 25 people (on a good day). Our mission is to support other organizations attain their goals online through the use of open source software. It’s interesting, nerdy, and fun to help people realize new and cool things they can do online. And most importantly, at least for me, is to be able to break that _hard-ass_ bubble barrier that technology creates for folks. Yep you go it technology empowerment!

Autonomy vs. Collectivity

Through various sessions and discussions it’s become clear that workers within our organization are not necessarily seeking the same goals all the time. Sure. This type of thing must not come as a surprise because when people start jobs they aren’t always there for the same reasons as everyone else.

But… we are working in a collective membership based organization with the intention of helping others and hopefully helping ourselves. We aren’t working as a corporation intended in succeeding and climbing corporate ladders to further our personal gains or finances to retire of 35 and a jaguar in toe. We have all settled to take less pay in order to support one another and the organization, as much as we are able to offer cheaper rates to poor or cash strapped organizations that need greater exposure.

There does seem to be a consistent struggle to really work together on various ideas and move forward as other organizations I have worked for manage too do. It’s the one thing that I have always appreciated about consensus decision making — it puts the emotions back into the discussion. What do I mean by that? Well when people are discussion issue that are important to them — or when you aren’t in agreement with them and you know someone else is feeling that way you are more inclinded to find solutions then just say no to a proposition.

It also means that people work together using trust, openness, and commitment to reach common goals. Not just to reach one goal. It’s a hard balance when an organization is really struggling to pay it’s employees, but still try to reach consensus but without some level of understanding from everyone – you don’t really have buy-in. You just got a few people making a lot of decisions, because they are better at arguing.

And some of our discussions are hard, heated, and hurried for this very reason. We feel less comfortable really engaging some of those issues and hard places to go to discuss things. We spend time just discussing the logistical and less of the heart that really (well for me) matters in terms of solidarity and support. I would agree that you need to have balance in both situations.

People Come First – Work Comes Second

I remember one amazing job, The Otesha Project (Australia), where we sincerely did heart-felt check-ins in the morning to find out how the person was doing. Most of us stayed away from just answer “Yep I’m doing good” [like you do in an elevator when someone asks] and would talk about what was going on in our lives. Why? Because it allowed the opportunity for others to support each other, offer aid, and most of all just understand why sometimes we might be having a hard time. I don’t know what differs with my current workplace, but we are less likely to engage these type of emotions. Many meetings I’ve seen people pour out emotions onto the table [as we commence a tourne-le-table] and not having any response from others. Just. Silence….

It’s sad for me to watch that… as a member of RH and just plain as a person. I usually try and engage people about that stuff afterwards, but I wonder how hard it would be for us just to care more about how people are doing and less about “getting through the meeting”.

Top 5 List of Initiatives

For me the most important things to try and strive for in an organization, collective, or cooperative are:

  • Make sure that folks are trained up on consensus decision making
  • Make sure that folks are trained up on the do’s and dont’s of consensus — and have yearly checkins (i.e. taking up to much vocal space, body language, priviledges, etc)
  • No meeting is more important then the health of it’s workers — seriously
  • Engage each other on important issues for the collective — not just for the logistical but the emotional or mental health
  • Emotional / supportive check-ins with folks
  • Hold bigger monthly meetings talking about issues that concern workers (i.e. worker initiated topics)

Props to the People’s Potato

I stole the last one from the peoples potato, a rad collective kitchen, as they regularly do monthly meetings around topics that one individual brings up. One month it could be a talk about privledge, while another month it might be a decisions around local vs. non-local veggies they use. I think this kind of framework creates more representation for the little voices out there (translation: the folks that are less likely to speak up in meetings) to suggest and host discussions.