A couple of weeks ago our membership gathered in the Cotswolds for a strategy and visioning weekend.
In a worker co-operative such as Agile collective, it’s essential to find the balance between giving individuals enough authority to make decisions without consultation on every detail, and inclusive and participatory decision making.
Agile Collective has from time to time written vision statements, drawn pictures of our future (literally!) and conducted SWOT & PESTLE analyses but we have been feeling in the last six months that - due to, among other things, a growing membership - it was time to revisit our underlying vision and make some concrete decisions about where we would like to be in the next year in order to allow us to get on and do our jobs without having to check in with the rest of the membership on every detail.
In our small co-operative of ten employees, of which seven are full co-op members, it is easy enough to get the membership together for a weekend, and so that’s what we did.
The ongoing conversation leading up to the weekend was were we going to have an external facilitator or not. We have had excellent experiences with facilitators, particularly Jane Grindey (http://www.j-consulting.co.uk) who specialises in co-operatives. However, we decided this time to facilitate ourselves, having armed ourselves with advice from co-operators at the Worker Co-operative Weekend the weekend before.
Finn and I had tried to get everyone in the mood for self-reflection by circulating a questionnaire about asking individuals what they thought Agile’s strengths and weaknesses were, and their ideas and dreams for Agile Collective’s - and their own - future. Questions ranged from
How do you rate Agile in the various aspects of our work?
How much would you like to be paid in the future?
How large do you imagine AC will be in 1/3/5 years?
Who would you like to work with?
The idea was to see where we thought we would be in 5 years, but to work out concrete aims for the following 12 months. These would be reviewed bi-annually to allow for iterations and changes to the internal and external environment.
The team, with a bit of encouragement, filled in the questionnaire in time enough for me to produce a summary and draw out some themes.
We had decided to all go away somewhere in order to do our strategising, and chose a beautiful Tudor Manor house now run as a B&B (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/1486035). Our host, Fiona was generous enough to cater for most of our meals in order to let us concentrate on the work at hand.
The weekend began well with a delightful dinner of meatballs, couscous, a delicious bottle (or two) of Chateauneuf du Pape and a ridiculous conversation/heated discussion/ argument about - shame on us - office cleanliness. Having got the one argument over and done with we spent the remainder of the evening discussing the questionnaire and drawing up an agenda for the weekend.
We decided to assign someone to facilitate each session who would help guide us to the agreed deliverables of each session (of which there were four per day).
We used a combination of SWOT analyses and dot-voting to agree on the most important areas for discussion.
SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) can basically be divided down the middle with strengths and weaknesses being looking at where you are now, and opportunities and threats looking to the future. We began by all writing down (on post-its, with pens!) what we thought were our strengths and weaknesses in all areas of our business, including both our structure and our work. We stuck these all up on a board and then grouped them into similar areas. After some discussion of these, we did the same for opportunities and threats.
As there were so many, varied subjects In order to highlight the areas we felt most important to come back to we dot-voted against the issues we felt needed further discussion or action. In dot voting you are allowed a certain number of votes (we had 5 each, signified by little sticker dots) and you can put them against any of the issues. You can put as many of your votes as you like against an issue. By doing this we could see which areas we are collectively concerned or excited about.
We came back to these on Sunday and began trying to make SMART (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-bound) objectives for each of them and even began to work out a strategy to deal with the most complex ones. The clearer ones were assigned to a person and given a priority.
We also took a little time to analyse how we felt about our relationships with our clients, and what makes us happy about some projects rather than others. While we all agreed that working with clients who’s work and/or ideology we can get behind, we also established that the individuals that we work with, the technical or UX challenge, and the size and scope of the project itself also play a huge part in how enjoyable the project is.
As passionate individuals we do have a tendency to get over excited and talk over each other. Throughout the weekend we were able to balance this with staying focused, polite and responsive. We took to raising our hands if we wanted to speak, sometimes making notes for ourselves in order to remember what we were going to say, and respected the role of the facilitator in keeping track of who wanted to speak and where the conversation was going.
The weekend was a phenomenal success.
The weekend was, we felt, a phenomenal success. We came away with a good idea of how we want to grow and progress in the next year, and with a good feeling that we’d managed to make these decisions together. Personally, I came away feeling proud of being a co-operative, and part of this co-operative in particular.