21. October 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: About Co-operatives, Uncategorized

The rise of the “precariat” is well documented. Young people find themselves freelancing more and more (not just young people we might add!) and there is a real desire for structures that provide solidarity and insulation from the poor treatment an individual can suffer at the hands of unscrupulous quasi-employers or customers.  A Freelancers Co-op can be many things. It can provide marketing of members’ services to customers with more reach and punch than an individual; the ability to tender for larger pieces of work; a “whole offer” for customers combining the skills of many members in one package; back office services like invoicing, accounts or factoring; shared office space; mutual support etc.  Whatever the members want to source or provide collaboratively can be made available to members either as a “take it or leave it” offer or as a menu of services.

Having met when we co-delivered a weekend workshop with Alt Gen for young people setting up co-ops as part of the Stir To Action summer events programme, Jonny from Stir To Action asked if we could put together an overview of the key steps people might take to put together a freelancers’ co-op, to empower, inform and inspire people.  Jonny got one of the STIR designers to turn our clunky diagram into a thing of beauty (excerpt below).  We will make it available in the future but meanwhile if you want to see the goods you need to order the magazine.

How to set up freelancer co-op

or ‘How to make God laugh’ – Woody Allen

Participative strategic planning is a means for engaging all members in planning the future direction of the co-operative business. In this way we can avoid conflicts caused by lack of information or misunderstandings about ‘how we do things here’. It’s strategic planning done in a co-operative, collaborative and participative way.

Strategic planning is a way of coping with change and planning for the future. It aims to accomplish three tasks:

  1. to explore and clarify direction for the medium to long term, identifying desired outcomes
  2. to select broad strategies that will enable the co-operative to achieve those outcomes
  3. to identify ways to measure progress

Co-operatives use the process to build member commitment by involving them in the creation of the plan, but how you go about it will depend on your co-op’s structure, how long you have been established, your economic sector and the complexity of your business

One approach is to hold an annual Away Day aiming to integrate new members, facilitate interaction between different teams, and discuss co-operative performance and future plans.

It’s helpful to clarify the language of strategic planning before you start – so you can at least agree a common understanding. For example:

Strategic work is about where you want to go, it’s about the long term and involves setting aims and objectives, goals and outcomes – or draining the swamp?

Tactical is about how you’re going to get there, agreeing a route or a map. It’s more reactive and perhaps opportunistic, involving setting milestones towards the achievement of goals and organising timetables, action plans and rotas.

Operational is about the journey, it focuses on the short term day to day outputs, crisis management and fire-fighting – or fighting the crocodiles?

So make sure you look up from time to time from fighting the crocodiles to see if you can find time to drain the swamp!

Key questions for strategic planning:

  • are your co-operative vision and values clear, agreed and owned?
  • how well do you understand the market? Is it growing, shrinking, or flat-lining?
  • how well-informed are you about suppliers & competitors?
  • how fit is the co-operative organisation? Purring along nicely or bit bumpy?
  • are members ready to act?

 Strategic planning – beyond the systems approach

In a recent (2014 & 2015) Co-operative Skills Seminar on Strategic planning for worker co-operatives, we discussed how existing management tools are inadequate for worker co-ops, since they are based on ‘systems’ thinking, which assumes controllers and controlled. Instead of thinking about organisations as machines, controlled by managers pulling levers, Ralph Stacey of the University of Hertfordshire talks instead about ‘complex responsive processes’ with high participation and constant change. He describes organisations (including co-operatives) as processes of human relationships and communication where people create and are created by the organisation and where no one can plan or control this interplay.

The seminars presented some tools and techniques based on this understanding of business as a series of interactions and conversations between people at all levels of the business.

Tools and techniques for participative strategic planning

Active Business Planning uses project management techniques, researching information on size and characteristics of the market, acceptable pricing, level of sales, etc. simultaneously and using the knowledge gained in one area to amend others. Active business planning uses a timeline (GANNT) chart to identify the dates of starting and ending each business planning action.

Agile is an approach to business planning based on techniques typically used in software development as a response to unpredictability. In contrast to traditional project management, with its sequence of: define aims – market research – product development – market strategy – implement strategy, the Agile approach is iterative and incremental, with all activities blending into several iterations and adapting to discovered realities at fixed intervals.

RISK ANALYSIS is a slightly different approach, involving looking at all the risks to your co-operative business and quantifying them in a table according to:

    1. How likely is it to occur?
    2. What impact would it have on the business if it did occur?

You then multiply (1.) by (2.) to get a rough and ready way to prioritise action. The final two columns in the table encourage you to think about how to prevent the risk from happening and if it does happen anyway, how to minimise the impact on your business.

Appreciative Inquiry is a more positive, ‘glass half full’ approach. It involves four stages:

  1. DISCOVERY Focus on what’s working, build on success. What are our strengths? What do we enjoy? What do we want to do more of?
  2. DREAM Use our strengths and what we want to do to create a shared vision of the future – what might be?
  3. DESIGN Co-create a design to make it happen, based on our values & principles
  4. DELIVERY What will be? Sustain the vision through empowering people, learning, adjusting, improvising

Check Co-operatives UK for information on when the Co-operative Skills Seminar series will be repeated. Along with Strategic Planning the series includes:

  1. Communication
  2. How to manage without a Manager
  3. Communication and working with conflict
  4. Being a Good Co-op Member

Co-operantics offers a unique new service in support of co-operative performance assessment

As your co-op develops there will be a growing need for skills assessment and analysis of where skills gaps might exist across the whole business. You may also want to think about quality controls, standards, targets or best practice, to ensure that all employee members are offering the best customer service, meeting agreed targets and complying with best practice while the co-op delivers the member benefits, terms and conditions that your members want. To achieve this, the co-op will require some kind of assessment, to ensure these standards are being met.

If these assessments are not carried out, members will be unaware whether or not they are meeting performance standards, there can be role confusion – duplication or gaps, which can cause tensions or conflict. If the assessments are carried out inadequately or if they are seen as a mere tick box exercise, they can cause resentment and frustration or – even worse – a feeling that you are being ‘got at’ or punished for some misdemeanour. If personal development and work related aspirations are not met, you risk losing valuable members from your co-op.

Achievement of goals and compliance with standards can be assessed using an Appraisal – which identifies the tasks, skills and knowledge involved within a job description and assesses performance. A more holistic, person-centred approach is the Personal Review, which focuses on personal development and members’ strengths and weaknesses so that strengths can be built on and training needs assessed. The training needs assessment could then be the basis for a Personal Development Plan – an excellent and proactive approach to career development, building up members’ skills and knowledge as part of continuing professional development for the benefit of members and the co-operative itself.

There are a number of ways in which your co-operative can address performance assessment, and Co-operantics can help you choose the right one, details below.

Designing an appraisals or review system Your Co-operantics consultant works with nominated member(s) of your co-op to review the processes you currently use and proposes improvements. This will usually take the form of a combination of workshops and consultancy.   We focus on how a new system will mesh with and reflect the ethos and strategy of the co-op, supporting workers and members to reach their full potential and the co-op to meet its members’ needs.
Member personal review  Individual members identify key elements and skills involved in their job description, then carry out a preliminary reflective review. The Co-operantics consultant then comes in and carries out a second review, in which we aim to challenge the individual, and help them to clarify their answers. The final step is to work together to identify personal improvements, training requirements and personal targets for creating a personal development plan.
Co-op Member competency appraisal Your Co-operantics consultant will help the co-operative identify and separate out ‘co-op member competencies’ from ‘job competencies’, drawing up a standard list of co-op member competencies that every member must fulfil. Members and probationary members are assessed either by the consultant or HR team or sub-committee, and any lack of competencies will form the basis of training or development plans.
Job competency appraisal Your Co-operantics consultant will help the co-operative identify and separate out ‘job competencies’ from ‘co-op member competencies’, drawing up a list of job competencies attached to every job description. Members and probationary members are assessed either by the consultant or HR team or sub-committee, and any lack of competencies will form the basis of training or development plans.
Buddy system  Each member has a ‘Buddy’ to support them – a bit like a personal HR worker. Co-operantics will mentor the Buddies – providing them with training and support. Like the personal review above, the member carries out a self-assessment review and discusses it with their Buddy. The Buddy then presents it and their recommendations to the committee, but without the member being present. The Buddy monitors progress on Action points agreed by the co-op, so the co-op decides improvement actions, rather than the member.
KPIs/personal targets  Co-operantics will run a training seminar on KPIs – what they are and how to use them for performance management. Worker-members are allocated Key Performance Indicators relating to their job role. Regular review meetings are held to assess performance against KPIs and discuss related issues.

Co-operantics can help you to address performance assessment, working to support your HR team or sub-committee or taking on delivery of the entire task. We can advise on the most appropriate approach depending on the type and culture of your co-op, the number of members and the sector you are working in.

Please get in touch with us if any of the above options sounds right for your co-operative. Alternatively, we are happy to discuss other ways in which we could support your performance assessments.



28. July 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized

The issue of how to carry out appraisals and personal reviews comes up as a common theme among worker co-ops.  Reviews can help us to:

  • ensure that our worker-members are adequately skilled, suitably trained and capable to perform their duties
  • identify issues that are making life difficult for members so we can provide support or training
  • identify opportunities and untapped skills/potential within our co-ops
  • ensure that the day to day job role reflects what people want to do with their life or ties in with their career progression so we don’t lose members
  • identify weaknesses and risks within the team

Personal reviews should be able to feed into or draw upon a “global view” of the whole co-operative, enabling it to assess whether or not it has sufficient skills, and spread of skills, among its worker-members to provide the goods or services that produce its income, and where risks to the business lie (such as reliance upon the skills of one member).  Reviews can also reveal weaknesses and gaps such as the jobs that are being carried out that aren’t actually anyone’s responsibility but are crucial to success.

If you are interested in reading more, we have gathered some information on different approaches we have come across which can be viewed on this page.  We also offer consultancy services to help your co-op design a process or get it right.  Check out our Appraisals and Reviews service.

17. June 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized

Cooperantics and Rice Up Wholefoods are collaborating to provide a co-operative networking breakfast in Southampton.  Rice Up is providing venue space and taking care of catering.  Cooperantics is providing facilitation and promoting the event.  Both co-ops are contributing worker time for the mutual benefit of local co-operatives. All we are asking is that participants pay £5 to cover the cost of the breakfast.

  • Tues 14 July 2015, 8 am
  • at Rice Up Wholefoods, 20 Hanover Buildings, Southampton SO14 1JH

Why come?

  • Get that elusive contact that will help your co-op increase sales
  • Promote your co-op to a wider audience through other co-ops
  • It’s a great opportunity to brush up on your pitching skills in a safe environment
  • Meet members of other local co-ops – the first step to creating a mutually supportive network

About the session
We are using the “Principle 6″ approach to co-operative networking, developed by Sion Whellens of Calverts/Principle Six.  It provides a simple but effective framework for co-ops to pitch their needs to each other and access each other’s networks, strengthening our individual co-ops through co-operation.  If you were at the recent Co-operatives South East networking session or at the Worker Co-operative Weekend you will have seen how easy it is, and how effective it can be.
For those interested in reading more, the Principle 6 methodology is available for download here but the great thing about this approach is that anyone can participate. Principle 6 slides link

8.00 Breakfast
8.15 Introduction to Principle 6 networking
8.30 Pitching session
9.00 10 min extended pitch: Rice Up will give an extended pitch about their co-op
9.10 Referral session

We will finish sometime between 9.30 and 10.00 depending on numbers but you can carry on networking once the session is over.

Breakfast will be suitable for vegetarians/vegans. If you have any other dietary requirements please let us know.

How to book
If you want to attend please contact nathan@cooperantics.coop.  Booking is important!

And don’t forget to share with other co-ops who may be interested.  Thanks!


The 5th Co-operative Principle, “Education, Training & Information”, serves as a useful reminder that one of the keys to success for a co-operative lies in investing in your members.  As well as job-specific and co-op specific training it’s important to help new co-op members understand that all co-ops share the same history, values and principles and philosophy as part of an international movement.

Our co-operative induction session picks apart the fundamentals of what it means to be a co-operative and enables new members to gain an understanding of how co-operative principles apply to their co-operative and their role within the co-op.

Co-operantics induction training includes:

  • What is different about a co-operative business? Different types of co-op
  • The history of the UK co-operative movement
  • Co-operatives as an international movement
  • Review of some essential co-operative skills: communication skills, participating in meetings, decision making
  • Rights and responsibilities of membership; member job descriptions and member agreements

We can offer a bespoke session for your new members; alternatively, if there is sufficient local demand we will run a regional session together with new members of other local co-operatives.  Contact us for more information or to discuss your needs.

Here are some testimonials from a recent Induction training with newer members of Essential Trading:

  • Really informative & good handouts. Be good to see others have similar training
  • Interesting
  • Very informative!
  • Very happy with the workshop especially the history of co-ops covered
06. April 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized

From Co-operantics. We’re taking a break for a few days. Please feel free to browse our site – you will find lots of useful information, tips, techniques and games. Or leave us a message: kate or nathan [at] cooperantics.coop and we’ll get back to you after Monday 13th April.

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes. Pictures & diagrams can help us to simplify complex relationships. Imagine, for instance, if you were trying to describe all the lines of communication in your co-op. If you try it in words it might run to 30 pages, but you could probably sum most of it up in one (albeit complex) diagram.


How the different parts of your co-op might relate to one another?

That’s not the only reason you might find diagrams useful:

  • Some people understand images better than words
  • Some people don’t have the time or attention span to commit to a long written document
  • It is easy to “zoom out” and get an overview, to spot fatal flaws in a process or proposal

When trying to develop a new strategy for our co-op (e.g. new marketing strategy, or new way of organising the workload) one of the best tools I have found is to try and assemble the ideas in a diagram or picture – even if it is just words connected with arrows.

Have you ever spent a day working hard to develop a strategy or process, the group creates a diagram and then someone is given the soulless job of spending half a day turning those pictures into 4 or 5 pages of words. Somehow, the meaning gets lost in translation. Not enough people read the document because it’s just too much, too dense or becomes more complicated once it is put into words. Those that do retreat to solitude so they can focus enough to understand it. Readers have to construct a mental diagram to make sense of it. There is scope for people to not quite “get” the plan or get it in the wrong way. When the diagram is presented, everyone looks at it together, they challenge it and describe what they like or dislike, they grab the pen and make corrections, suggest improvements, add the missing parts or spot the “fail”.

Here are some sweeping observations I’ve made watching groups of people presented with diagrams or strategy documents:

  • Diagrams tend to provoke questions, challenges, declarations of not understanding (which is a good thing), identification of faults and problem solving suggestions. They also provoke physical interaction – people crowd together around the image.  Emotional responses such as enthusiasm or rejection are declared.
  • Written papers prompt semantics (arguing about the meaning of words), arguments about grammar, boredom, yawning and switching off. Discussion papers provoke a retreat into solitude.  It is difficult to gauge responses as emotions are guarded.

I’m not saying there isn’t a need for detailed procedures or guidance to accompany the overview – that is the next level of detail – but if developing understanding is the first goal, why do we turn pictures into words?


Example: An overview of the strategy for developing new services for members in a co-op, and recruiting other service users as members. How many words would this take to desribe?

Among the services that Co-operantics offers are:

  • Faciliation of strategic reviews/away days
  • Reviews and development of your governance and management
  • See an overview of typical services here

If you are looking for those services please get in touch


04. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized

Lucky winners of our ‘Business Tools for Worker Co-operatives’ survey prize

The New Leaf Co-op, Edinburgh have won three hours’ worth of mentoring support worth £250!

The survey produced some interesting results, somewhat confirming our beliefs about the challenges of delivering training to busy worker co-op members.

We will be developing an innovative initiative for delivering support on worker co-op management, and introducing ‘co-op friendly’ management tools in 2015.

Watch this space!

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized

It’s been a great year, with some hopeful & positive initiatives.  Here are some of our highlights:

See you at CBC’s Ways Forward III, Manchester in January &/or at Co-op Future’s Can Do Co-ops, Church Stretton in February

Thanks for all the support, work & fun we have had with our many friends, colleagues and collaborators & here’s to a successful, peaceful and co-operative 2015!

Wishing you a co-operative festive season identity.coop

Wishing you a co-operative festive season identity.coop