Management Training in a Worker Cooperative

The day began early as we jumped on the bus to head off to Mondragon’s Otalora Management Training Institute for a full day of discussion about the methodology of training Mondragon’s managers, how Mondragon uses its system to help and enhance cooperatives, and a discussion with the International’s CEO regarding the future of Mondragon’s international operations. For this post, I will just focus on the management training concepts.

First, though, Otalora is housed in a midevel fortified home (a sort of small two story castle) from the middle ages. It is an incredibly beautiful building situated in rolling hills.

We met with Julio Cantón, head of the Management Training and Development Center (Otalora) for Mondragon. He has been involved with the cooperative movement for more than 50 years. Working mainly in the FAGOR group, in Human Resources, he has been in charge of management training since 2000. The following are my notes through a translated presentation.

He began his discussion by defining the two management teams in every worker cooperatives (and every cooperative for that matter): The Governing Council (Board of Directors) and the Professional Management Team. Both, he noted, need training but each has a different function.

The cooperative is an unfinished project. It was created in the late 1990’s as the Mondragon faced the realities of competition after Franco and Spain’s entry into the Common Market. MCC encompasses all of the different cooperatives and aligns them into sectors. This was done in a democratic way—the cooperative leaders had to “seduce” all the different cooperatives. In the end, all of the general assemblies of the cooperatives had to vote to join the MCC. It is this nature of the cooperatives, the constant dialect, that will keep this project, MCC, as an ongoing project and the leaders will have to constantly pursue, persuade and seduce the participants in the cooperatives.

Cooperative Manager need to be a different type of manager. Otalora undertook the attempt to determine a Mondragon vision of a cooperative manager. By this, they created a “Profile of a Cooperative Manager. The design process involved two levels. First, a working group was created of Otalora staff and cooperative directors. They proposed a profile. Second, the design was submitted for peer review to all of MCC’s directors (general managers). This provided important feedback and the profile was adjusted until consensus was reached.
I liked some of the ideas presented in the profile and that the MCC discussed this concept of what qualities make up a model manager. Especially, I enjoyed the discussion over encouraging dissenting opinions as a quality of leadership. Not simply allowing people to voice their minds, but actively placing critics onto key teams and committees. Winning over critics is a leadership quality and, I imagine, helps unify the cooperative when the final decision is reached.

On the other hand, this presentation didn’t really seem to present any real cooperative difference. It could have easily been a consultant lecturing from the dogma of any business school. How do Mondragon’s Basic Principles play into the role of a manager? How does the Identity Statement adjust the actions and attitudes of the manager?

Further, on the issue of technical knowledge, I was shocked that the MCC training program saw no need to create a cooperative response to management technique. How can they really believe that the method of managing corporations is separate from the ideology of the profit motive? Isn’t the whole concept of “human resources” itself a dehumanizing phrase that makes workers merely another “asset” to be manipulated and used up for the purpose of increasing shareholder value? Doesn’t the cooperative world have a better way of marketing its goods and services that doesn’t exploit people’s desires and fears?

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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