If you’re joining a worker cooperative for the first time, building business skills is about a lot more than understanding balance sheets, profit margins, and your market. Certainly, these skills are important, and remain crucial for worker-owners to understand. Yet as new members join a co-op and move towards worker-ownership, it is also critical to build self-confidence, creativity, interpersonal skills, problem solving techniques, and a sense of ownership.
In a cooperative, it’s not just about how to run a business: it’s about how to run a business together.
Every worker cooperative should strive to build all of the above skills in unison, weaving together soft and hard skills with a focus on engagement, participant needs, and cultural context.
Just recently, we were able to help a New York City-based cooperative realize this goal.
In May, Urban Upbound, a non-profit that provides social services and also helps start new co-ops in New York City, and their worker cooperative client Paw Partners, got in touch with us. Paw Partners is a new worker cooperative offering dog-walking services in the city. They wanted us to create a curriculum for new members joining their cooperative about building self confidence as well as business skills – such as pitching to potential clients and analyzing the market. Furthermore, they wanted to have the curriculum be participant centered and game-ified. We thought this was an exciting project, and we dove right in!
After getting an understanding of learning goals, timeline, and the participant’s cultural context, we set about designing a game to help members build their business skills, confidence, and a formal prospective client pitch, all while having fun and learning-by-doing.
Games in Education: Learning by Doing
Something that both participatory democracy and engaging education have in common is the concept of “learning-by-doing.” It is a concept we are firm believers in at TESA. A well designed workshop or curriculum should put the power in participants’ hands, trust their knowledge and instincts, and provide a structure and pathway for learners to build on the experience and intelligence they have.
For Urban Upbound and Paw Partners, we developed a two-part workshop series with the main element being a game that simulated – through movement, problem solving stations, and local landmarks – the many roles of a worker-owner in a dog walking co-op. Participants played the game in pairs, earning credits for overcoming different challenges and scenarios like difficult customers, tabling at a local fair, and cold pitching potential new potential clients. What’s more, we built in different scenarios that allowed participants to use their game-credits to make both long-term and short-term business decisions like purchasing insurance and advertising. We also made sure to have plenty of humor as well as dice-rolling, to give participants the tactile feeling that comes with playing a board game.
Furthermore, as participants moved through the game, they created the building blocks for a prospective client pitch they would use in real life, which they got to practice as they played. We also built reflection and analysis stations, so participants could think about their decisions and how they approached the game’s challenges. Finally, we developed a follow-up workshop focused on putting the pieces of their real-life pitch together into a replicable and formal structure.
This project was a great success, and we had a wonderful time working with Urban Upbound and Paw Partners. We’ll leave you with their words:
“TESA was fantastic. They designed an engaging, thoughtful walk-around activity to help our co-op members feel confident developing and delivering a pitch. Everything, from the industry specific content to the game materials and graphics that included elements of our brand and logo, was well designed. TESA was very receptive to our feedback throughout the process and completed the game in an extremely timely manner. We are confident this game will help our co-op members.”
-Oliver Allen-Cummings, Urban Upbound