Since every worker co-op is a work in progress, and no two do things the same way, MadWorC thought it would be a valuable learning exercise to encourage participating members to attend the board meetings of other local co-ops. The hope was that processes and procedures used at one co-op might help other co-ops solve similar problems, since we all face similar challenges.
The first exchange took place in March at Isthmus Engineering where members of four other worker co-ops and the UW Center for Cooperatives sat in with 28 Board Members of Isthmus at a regular bi-weekly Board meeting. After the conclusion of the open portion of the meeting, which lasted about an hour and covered committee reports, spending decisions and updates on workloads, a round of questions and answers followed. The observers wanted to know more about the membership process, the function of the general manager, stock purchase requirements and the role of the board. A question about performance evaluations, and the challenges of peer review, elicited a vigorous exchange between Isthmus board members and the observers.
The second exchange was in April, at Union Cab, with four guests from Isthmus sitting in with their Board. Items of particular interest to the guests included the process Union uses for internal conflict resolution, which seems to be a perpetual headache for all co-ops, and the fact that, in spite of major differences between Isthmus and Union, the day-to-day problems of running a business are very similar.
The third exchange took place on August 15th, at Community Pharmacy, when they opened their doors to other worker co-ops to attend their monthly board meeting. Again, it was interesting to note that even though our organizations perform completely different functions, we can have very similar issues. One of the issues of the day that we will all have to work with is the new “Concealed Carry” law in Wisconsin. A discussion ensued with more questions than answers; none of the participants have arrived at a final outcome.
So far, all participants in the exchange have been excited by the experience and are interested in repeating and expanding the process. Six different organizations have participated in the exchange so far, including the UW Center for Cooperatives. Other regional organizations for worker cooperatives on both coasts have expressed interest in the outcome of our exchange and they are now planning their own local exchanges. From what we have seen so far, just learning about the different facilitation methods has made the entire exchange worthwhile.