Graphic with the title "Becoming a co-op member: perspective from a new IG co-op member." There are colored dots around the edge of the graphic

Alice Markey headshotI became a worker-owner of The Improve Group Cooperative in April. Although I had to wait until I had been at IG for 6 months before I was eligible to join the co-op, my journey to becoming a member started right when I joined The Improve Group (IG).

My first step into the world of the IG co-op was being introduced to it during my onboarding process. As I learned, the co-op model embraces values that were already present at IG prior to the transition: collaboration, equity, and thoughtfulness, among others. I learned about how IG embraces elements of the Teal organizational philosophy, including the practice of shared leadership and advice seeking. Through my interactions with team members, I absorbed the norms of asking anyone for help, even if they hold a more advanced job title.

Becoming an active participant in IG’s culture helped me understand the benefits of the co-operative structure prior to becoming a member. I saw that the organization worked smoothly because of the input of worker-owners, the expertise of the management team, and the IG-wide value we place on co-ownership.

I also learned about the co-op from connecting with existing co-op members. Because we’re a tight knit organization, I heard about others’ experiences with the development of the co-op during small talk in the office and in passing in meetings. (Up until my membership, all co-op members were part of the group who opted in when the co-op was first formed in August of 2023.) Hearing about the decisions made during the formation of the co-op, such as offering options to make buy-in payments more accessible and limit barriers to becoming a worker-owner, helped me understand new perspectives about the benefits of becoming a co-op.

More formally, our current co-op Member Liaison, Jessica Schuetz, presented some finer details about the co-op. This included an overview of the benefits of co-ops for worker-owners, businesses, and communities, the governance structure, and the membership consideration process. During the entire consideration process, I was encouraged to ask questions to board members, worker-owners, and the management team.

After absorbing the culture of the co-op and hearing about worker-owners’ experiences and reasons for joining the co-op, it was time for me to read about and understand the rights and responsibilities of a co-op member. I read the co-op handbook, which explains in plain language about profit-sharing, voting, and membership guidelines. The handbook lays out the formal responsibilities of a co-op member, which include voting on items at general assemblies.

Finally, I was able to officially become a member of the co-op. I paid a buy-in fee (which is relatively small and more for creating buy-in from members vs. generating income), and had my membership acknowledged at a co-op board meeting. With my new title as worker-owner, I feel empowered and engaged to make decisions that support the health of our organization and its employees.