Lessons for Co-operative leaders

Last month I was lucky enough to be part of the Co-operative College’s Executive Education Course, spending three days looking out over the beautiful skyline of Manchester from the Co-op Group’s stunning headquarters, 1 Angel Square.

I was not, as much as I may have wished, one of the Executives attending the course but instead was just making sure everything ran smoothly. However, in those rare moments when everything was actually going according to plan, I did manage to participate in what I can genuinely say was an exceptional learning experience.

Here at the Co-operative College, we teamed up with both Sheffield Hallam University and Saint Mary’s University in Canada in order to run this innovative course. The purpose of this course was to emphasise that when it comes to management practice and strategy, there is a real ‘co-operative difference.’ Being co-operative is a different, and we believe better, way of doing business. So for any co-operative to be successful it is crucial that those who are leading the business understand what it truly means to be co-operative.

I feel it is fair to say that some executives in co-operatives do not fully appreciate this ‘co-operative difference’ and run their businesses like any other. However, the co-operative movement has a long and significant history, and they occupy a unique position within the UK and international economy. To ignore the wider movement and to not take lessons from other successful co-operatives around the world is not in the best interest of any co-operative business.

The Executive Education Course helps to address this problem, by exploring case studies of successful co-operatives from around the world, and then focusing on how to translate this knowledge into action. This pragmatic vocational approach brought the learning to life. Thanks to presentations by hugely successful co-operatives such as Vancity, along with panel discussions and practical tools, there was always a new idea or approach to latch on to.

The course was attended by 12 of the Co-op Group’s most senior leaders as well as a range of senior figures from other co-operative societies and a delegation of African Credit Unions. The diversity of experience and knowledge in the room forced people to think in new ways and abandon old assumptions.

There was a lot to take in, but the three days meant that people had time to reflect on what they had learned and get to know their fellow delegates. I think it’s safe to say that everyone left with a deeper understanding of how to run a successful co-operative business and a new perspective on the wider movement.

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