One of the things that makes Collective Agency so wonderful is that members value people being responsible and accountable, and authentic. It’s part of the culture here. Trust and empathy are some of the side effects. Here’s how this all looks nowadays.

Terms of Service.

We have Terms of Service which are super-straightforward and describe almost everything. There’s a flat monthly or yearly fee, no discounts or special terms, and the terms, which links to and includes the Membership page, lists all extra fees. Everything is super-transparent on the website. It’s short and readable.

Consent culture / being considerate.

As the main person who does most of the work on the business here, it helps that I value responsibility a lot. People being responsible and accountable is one of the most important things to me in a work environment. If I say I’ll do something, I do it.

A few years ago I learned about consent culture, which includes:

“If it’s not a ‘very much yes’, it’s a ‘no’. If it’s a ‘maybe’, it’s on the person for whom it’s a ‘maybe’ to figure out and ask for what would make it a ‘very much yes’.”

And so the sales process here includes full disclosure, although not trying to give more information than someone wants. And by not trying to persuade anyone, people who are on the fence don’t sign up, which is great, because members here truly want to be here, and stay for much longer.

Community Guidelines and Governance Guidelines.

We have Community Guidelines which are day-to-day, and Governance Guidelines which are governance. The Community Guidelines is the main filter to keep out people who aren’t accountable or responsible. It’s the core of the terms of service and always top priority here, and includes broad rules which are:

  1. OWN responsibility for your actions.
  2. HOLD each other accountable.
  3. BE an active participant in your membership.
  4. IF needed, confront with respect (how you’d like to be confronted).
  5. HAVE a considerate level of voice (and language). Place cellphones on vibrate.
  6. CLEAN up after yourself.
  7. HELP to keep common areas tidy.
  8. BE mindful of valuables; yours and others.
  9. WHEN informally meeting in common areas, be considerate of other members. Book a meeting room if in doubt.

If you take this at the deepest level possible, then ‘be mindful of valuables’ goes as far as to be mindful of what you and other people value, whether cash or objects or personal values. I’m going to write about that for a bit and then get back to the Guidelines.

Weekly Optional Member Meetings.

We have weekly optional member meetings, which are the core events. Every week for 20 minutes at each location, Wednesdays Downtown and Thursdays at Division, members who want to meet on the sofas and chat. It’s structured and there’s a formal agenda, and it’s become a ritual. We start by going around: ‘What’s your name and something you’re passionate about, in 30 seconds or less?’ And in describing something they’re passionate about, people describe something they value, or even a personal value. And then we each know: a) not to step on their personal value, and b) something they’re really into and almost always want to talk about after.

And then we talk about upcoming events, and members ask questions about and suggest events. And then we cover any items members want on the agenda. Lately in the past few weeks we haven’t had any issues, which is great. When there are issues, they’re almost always resolved in 5 or 10 minutes, transparently, one-time.

We got an East side location because members very much wanted it and asked for it at the weekly meetings a couple years ago, and the weekly meetings are where it was mostly figured out. We plan events like happy hours and book club out of the weekly meetings. We do checks on things which are then emailed to members for surveys or formal votes, although that’s pretty rare nowadays.

Workplace Democracy.

Let’s go back to the Community Guidelines for a minute. We’re a workplace democracy, one of the world’s most democratic workplaces, and a member of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. One of the criteria for joining the Federation is that no one person can sell or end the business without going through a member process. As business owner, I can’t sell or end the business in a way that I wouldn’t want someone else to do, and in a way that I wouldn’t want if I were a member and not an owner. I need to ‘confront with respect (in the way you’d want to be confronted)’. The same rules apply to me as to everyone else here.

The preface to the Community Guidelines is:

‘The following applies to the entire Collective Agency community. It is a simple statement of the expectations within which we all work. Please read it with care.

  • Every society has rules of conduct by which the members of the society agree to abide.
  • Collective Agency is a society of creative persons who inhabit a common space.
  • In Collective Agency, individuals are prized for their individuality, but no individual has the right to inflict harm upon others or to destroy or lessen that which should be available to all.’

No one can ‘destroy or lessen that which should be available to all’.

Having the leaders of a community be accountable and responsible for their actions is pretty key for everyone else to also be accountable and responsible. I love that members hold me accountable too. I’m not perfect; for example I didn’t get phone rooms at our Division location as soon as I said I would, but eventually I got them set up. But I get called out on things as needed. It’s my job to call other people out on things as needed too, so it’s good that everyone’s held accountable.

Authenticity.

When we started six and a half years ago, conversations were mostly focused on work. And after a few years, people started requesting deeper conversations; less small talk and more vulnerable. And nowadays it’s super-common for conversations to be about life things: partners or dating or children, or buying a house, or personal struggles and challenges. It’s more vulnerable. People share more often what’s most alive for them in the moment, while being considerate of what they think other people want to hear. And I love that.

Written by Alex Linsker