No two companies are ever alike.  They all have their individual quirks, their own ways of doing things, and their idea of how results should be achieved and what these results ought to look like.  A particular model may work well for some companies, while poorly for others.  This week, let’s take a look at how one particular model is doing compared to all the others.

Just last week, The Nation released an article extolling the virtues of workers’ cooperatives, claiming that they’re more productive than traditional companies.  While they’re not common in the United States, in Europe they form a significant part of the economy in places like France, Italy and Spain.

At Happy Team Check, we talk a lot about how employees are better engaged at their jobs when they feel personally invested in the work their companies do.  But what if your employees are not just invested in their work?  What if, like workers at workers’ cooperatives, they are also invested—quite literally, in fact—in the future of their company?

Two distinguishing factors differentiate workers’ cooperatives, or even companies like them (e.g. labor-run firms), from traditional companies.  The first is that the employees are also the company’s managers.

In companies where employees run the show, not only are employees usually given complete autonomy to do their jobs the way they want to do it, they’re also capable of working better with one another because there is mutual agreement on what needs to be done and who needs to do it.  Instead of investing precious resources (time, money, etc.) into having to train employees and getting them to accept orders given to them, employees instead are given a direct stake in managing production and the processes needed in order for these companies to work.

The second factor, meanwhile, is that these employees are better prepared to adjust to varying economic climates.

It is often said that when times get tough, the tough form co-ops.  For employees at workers’ cooperatives, this emphasis on managing oneself is great in building understanding so that when there is something wrong, everyone is on the same page.  Unlike normal companies where loyalty is to shareholders and investors who may not be aware what’s going on in the ground, in these companies’ loyalty is to the employees themselves, and so these companies can better adjust to ensure that employees aren’t affected by a souring economic climate.

But what does this all have to do with employee engagement?  Simple: for all this talk about employee engagement, we often overlook how non-traditional companies do it.

Oftentimes we talk about employee engagement only from the point of view of traditional companies—that, in fact, a solution to whatever problems we may have can be easily found through reinventing the wheel.  But what if the best solution to your problem, to why your employees aren’t engaged well enough, is found in another model that could be worth taking a look into?

We’ve seen companies try and bring in ideas from elsewhere to see if their companies will work better.  The introduction of holacracy at Zappos, for one, is a noted example of experimentation with corporate structures in order to boost worker productivity and their moral investment in the company.  For a change, let’s try bringing in mechanisms for allowing employees to make management decisions together.  That might help advance the case for cooperative-style management at more traditional companies.

In a world where employees now are increasingly demanding satisfaction at work from the feeling of autonomy and empowerment as opposed to a hefty salary, companies will ultimately need to start moving in that direction.  Trying to push towards cooperative-style management is a worthy first step in that direction.