The Pillar of Shared Ownership

In the early days of our inception as Rising Sand Organics, we shared a lofty vision and flowery language around working relationships and crafted our Articles and Bylaws purposefully, to circumvent the issues inherent in the employer/employee structure. Offering legitimate legal ownership to each member, we thought, will catalyze greater involvement and buy-in, enhance our motivation, and lead to a deeper sense of meaning in our work. This has, to a large extent, been the case. The reality of ownership at the ground level is quite nuanced, however, and we continue to face the challenges of shared ownership, as we work together to navigate a relationship space in which we’re largely inexperienced.

Ownership is, at face value, a relatively straightforward concept. You own something; it’s yours. Its deeper reality, however, is entirely more convoluted than that. Official, fountainpen ownership has its virtues, but my belief is that true, embodied ownership includes decision-making ability, mastery over operations and intensive knowledge of the internal processes of a business. Ownership is leadership; it is decision-making, and it is responsibility. By the nature of our varied time-commitments and experience levels, we have faced continual difficulties in these regards. A small faction of our group compromises the vast majority of the work hours, and thus makes a vast majority of the decisions in the day-to-day. This is reality, and it is understandable. Because that faction spends the most time on-farm, they can generate knowledgeable and appropriate ideas and put them into practice in a timely fashion. On some level, however, a greater share of decisions made equals greater ownership, perpetuating an imbalance, or, at the very least, a feeling of imbalance at times.

This has been addressed and addressed again, to our collective satisfaction in most cases. The truth of the matter, though, is that our difficulty is centered in a deeper plane than surface-level decision making. We have struggled collectively to escape from our familiar norms of bosses, shifts, and clock-punching. This is understandable, as we all come from long histories of conventional work environments, and set quarterly time commitments for ourselves individually. While highly practical for planning purposes, these time commitments serve to introduce an hourly-focused mentality into ownership — two realities which, I would argue, are all but mutually exclusive. This surfaces in a continuous dilemma: I signed up for 21 hours/week. A project needs to be done on the 22ndhour. Is it my responsibility?

The underlying matter is expectation. What are my expectations for myself, what are my expectations for others, what are others’ expectations for me, and what are my perceptions of these expectations? This very conflict bubbled to the surface last week, and I was faced with a situation in which I felt another member wasn’t putting forth enough personal stake in the operations of the farm. Opting for clear communication, I called her and we held a relatively brief, icy discussion, which left me feeling ambivalent, at best. We were cordial enough, but having aired my peace, I felt empty; wondering if it was my place to intervene, and if my expectations were justified. Days passed, and on Friday evening, she reached out to me and informed me that she had decided to take on the responsibility after all, which I took to be a positive implication.

Now this week, moving into a new home and simply blasted with personal, off-farm obligations, I’ve got no choice but to reach out to my partners and ask for understanding and grace — ultimately trusting that those who are more invested will take on the burden of the extra workload and things will keep running smoothly until I can make it up on a less busy week. Where last week I was trying to enforce my expectations, today I am asking for some understanding among my peers, to oversee my absence of ownership. It’s a tricky balance, and shared ownership is tough. However, I’d certainly take shared ownership over no ownership, and we will continue to address issues as they arise, learning as we go.