Sometimes you find life lessons in some of the most unlikely places: a song lyric that rings true, graffiti on a sidewalk, the occasional XKCD web comic in which one finds this gem, “Take wrong turns. Talk to strangers. Open unmarked doors. If you see a group of people in a field, go find out what they’re doing. Do things without always knowing how they’ll turn out.” The evidence for that wisdom is around us – it’s where we see the greatest creative risks that remind us of all the possibility in the unknown.

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to witness this in credit unions. I was at the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) Experience Learning Live conference for trainers, and two credit unions shared their story of cooperation.

At the conference this time last year, the training teams from Red Canoe CU (Longview, WA) and Empower CU (Syracuse, NY) met. Over the course of the conference they laughed together and bonded and knew they wanted to work together in some way. They asked themselves, “What can we do together that would benefit our members?” and hatched a plan.

They got to know one another better, talking about their strengths and what they were bringing to each team. They talked about the culture at each of their credit unions, the supportive nature of their executives, and felt they had positive alignment in many key ways. They divided their respective credit unions into teams, so that people from each credit union were partnered with other credit union employees three thousand miles away. Thus, a co-opetition was formed.

A virtual space was created for everyone to communicate and connect across the country. They gave sneak peeks to generate buzz and excitement for their staff. Then they rolled out the challenge: together, the teams at Red Canoe and Empower were going to save their members $2 million dollars. This was a stretch goal – a small reach for the timeframe they were looking at would have been $1.5 million dollars (through interest members would save on loan buyouts from other financial institutions, excluding mortgages). They wanted the goal to be challenging, but still achievable if they worked hard together.

The results? Through cooperation, encouragement, and engaged employees… they saved their members $2.7 million dollars in just three months. Wow!

In credit union land, we cooperate on a daily basis through services like the shared branching network, where we help serve one another’s members on a transaction basis. At Verity, we’re so good at doing mortgages that we help other credit unions offer mortgages to their members. As a movement, we share ideas and lessons learned so that we can grow together in serving our memberships.

And what Red Canoe and Empower’s training teams did was to take cooperation to a new level – they found a way to fully realize that cooperation is about bringing together different strengths and work together for the greater good, and launched a creative, energizing, team-building effort with results that speak for themselves. Together, we can do so much more than what we could do on our own. I’m inspired.

Sasha Kemble

Sasha may be the shyest social person you’ll ever meet. She joined Verity in 2009, with a couple years in the Credit Union Movement already tucked under her belt (amidst coffee-making and bagel-slinging, running a non-profit, and trying her hand at farming). 

An eternal optimist (except, you know, when she’s not), she enjoys exploring her surroundings and having adventures with friends; yoga, running, reading, writing, and good food. Though not a remarkable cook, she is nonetheless a sincere one and admits she’d be better if there were three more hours in every day. When not doing one of the many activities mentioned in the previous two sentences, she counts herself lucky to be peacefully at home, cuddling with her partner and their cat.

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