I recently visited a 50+ employee company based in the Bay Area. We were in a typical conference room with a projector, glass walls, well-appointed plants, and absurdly comfortable chairs. Around the table were nine of the company’s leaders—the founder, three other members of the C-suite, and five supervisors in upper management. As they began introducing themselves, I noticed something. There was an odd feeling in the air.
One member of the C-suite fumbled over his title and rolled his eyes at himself. Another kept making little jokes that everyone half laughed at. They were acting as if they were in the awkward early minutes of a long-anticipated first date. It was a room chocked full of giddy executives. From what I could tell, there was nothing about me personally that created this anticipation. They were not intimidated or even particularly impressed by me. So I went on with my spiel, looking for cues on how to build a rapport and speak to their concerns.
As we got to the end of the Q&A session, the CFO asked, “So this is a real option for us, then, right?” In the silent pause that followed, all eyes fell intently on me. Here was the cause of their anxiety. Today, at this meeting, they were flirting with something big—the possibility of becoming worker-owned.