1. An act or instance of working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit; joint action.
1. The act of working together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.
1. A settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.
I hear these three words in the credit union movement over and over. I'm glad I do. After all, each is necessary for us to realize our potential, maximize our impact, and fortify our future. Unfortunately, too many credit unions do not understand their importance. Worse, the ones that do get it sometimes think that doing any of the three without the others is sufficient.
Here's why it isn't.
Cooperation amongst credit unions means that the parties involved work together with a common purpose. I believe credit unions in fact do have a common purpose. There is, however, debate over what that purpose is. Some seem to think our purpose is being the low cost leader in the financial services world. Others think our purpose is to be cooperative banks; different in structure than banks, but direct competitors. Still others believe that credit unions are charitable organizations that fund our good work in the world with financial services. Most of us believe our purpose is some combination of these three. Cooperation, full cooperation anyway, requires a clear purpose. While way too many of us are not on the same page, we are for the most part in the same book. That's a start.
But say we all worked together with a common purpose. Let's say this is it: credit unions exist to provide members with control over their financial lives through the governance of their financial institution, access to affordable financial services, financial literacy education, and community impact. A credit union whose member owners, environmental factors, resources, or board disagree with the collective purpose, or even one component of it, would feel obliged to break from the pack. This is where compromise comes in. Each participant in the cooperative ensemble must be willing to give something, anything, up for the common good. Without compromise, we cannot be cooperative.
What about collaboration? A joint intellectual effort should go like this: a bunch of credit union people, regardless of seniority, sex, title, geographic location, politics or relationship with the meeting scheduler, come together to pick each other's brains about how to tackle a problem. All ideas are taken into consideration, none trumps any other, and collectively a solution is formed from the group that far exceeds the value of a solution any single member of the group could have come up with.
But what if the solution isn't consistent with our purpose as credit unions? Collaboration can yield great ideas, but those ideas need to be put into play and need to be consistent with the entire group's purpose. The solution must be one that credit unions will embrace and pursue. Without cooperation, we cannot be collaborative.
So, how about compromise? This is a touchy subject. There are certain things we should never compromise as credit unions: our autonomy as a movement (ahem, TARP debate), our member-ownership, and our mission, for example. Working within a system, a cooperative of cooperatives, however, we must at times allow ourselves to give up certain things for the greater good. Support of the corporate system has served as a simultaneous point and counterpoint to this statement.
We can't compromise for the sake of compromise. There are some things that we simply should not budge on. This is why collaboration and cooperation become so important. How can we put our collective minds together to create solutions to current problems, cooperate under the flag of a common mission, and give up a little as individual credit unions to see our vision through?
The three C's of credit unioning are easy to say and hard to do. And, try as we might, none of them are sufficient by themselves.