30. March 2016 · Comments Off on some thoughts on leadership in co-ops · Categories: About Co-operatives, Communication skills, Meetings and decision making, Team Working, Uncategorized

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Who’s afraid of leadership?

I was once at a housing co-op event, held to promote the co-op and recruit new members. All the members – 8 or 9 of us – turned up at the community centre to arrange the room and get ready for our audience. There were chairs stacked against the wall, and we all started lugging them to the centre of the room – but it was soon apparent – not just to us, but to the early arrivals who began to sit down, that we had no idea how to arrange the seating, no idea how many people would turn up, no previous agreement whether we would make rows of chairs or a big circle – it was chaos. So much so that some of us began to laugh to try to make a joke of it, while others got more and more frustrated and anxious. We finally got it sorted, but it was obvious we’d made a pretty negative impression on our audience who – no matter how impressive and persuasive our subsequent presentation – had had a clear demonstration of our inability to work as a team and our lack of leadership skills.

I have often remembered that moment and wondered why it happened like that. We were not totally lacking in team skills – in fact one of the impressive things about this group was the way in which they were able to pull together to organise things – but I think there was a fear of showing leadership. An idea that perhaps in a co-operative, showing leadership is wrong. I believe this is due to a misunderstanding about the nature of leadership, and an assumption that a ‘command and control’ style of leadership is the only way.

Leadership theories

Nothing can be further from the truth. It’s interesting to review the many theories of leadership but for our purposes here, let’s look at commonly-held assumptions about what leadership means and what leaders do. In ‘traditional’ hierarchically structured organisations, power is located at the top, and leaders lead from the front. Leaders have authority, take control and attract followers. Line managers tell people what to do, who then have others that they manage in turn. In such a structure it’s hard for individuals to be innovative and creative. Someone at the top who doesn’t understand the day to day realities of work at the ‘coal face’ takes decisions which workers may not agree with but must comply with if they want to keep their jobs. Of course employees can and should join a trade union which will support them and lobby and campaign to change things, but in some circumstances, confrontational approaches can be counter-productive.

So perhaps we need to get rid of the structure and the leaders and all decide everything together? Apart from the impracticability of such a step (you’d never get any work done) Jo Freeman, in ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’ explains how misguided it is to assume that without a structure, there will be no leaders. Leaders will always emerge, attracting followers by dint of their charisma, power, or resources, but without a structure or a system of accountability, you’ll have no way of getting rid of them.

Leadership in worker co-operatives

So we need a structure. And of course co-operatives have such a structure, where people can be elected to a Management Committee, or Board of Directors, but will have a specific term of office, and will only be re-elected if members feel they are doing a good job. However, like every democracy, it only works if people have information accessible to them about how the co-op is doing and how successful it is in achieving business, social and environmental goals. The MC then is accountable to the members, but they will also need Terms of Reference so they understand their roles and their delegated powers.

Run the group delicately, as if you were cooking small fish”

So how do you show leadership in a worker co-operative?

In contrast to a typical hierarchy, leadership in a worker co-operative is collective. It’s not just the MC who need to be leaders – anyone can show leadership at any time. But what does this mean and how can it work?

The Tao of Leadership, by John Heider provides simple and clear advice on how to be an effective leader: be unbiased, trust the process, pay attention, and inspire others to become their own leaders. For example:

lead in a nourishing manner
  • give away control
  • look for opportunities to give others control
  • try to ensure that decisions are taken by the people most likely to be affected (subsidiarity)
lead without being possessive
  • lead by example rather than by telling people what to do
  • avoid egocentricity
  • be’ rather than ‘do
  • be aware of what is happening in the group and act accordingly

“specific actions are less important than the leader’s clarity or consciousness. This is why there are no exercises or formulas to ensure successful leadership”

be helpful without taking the credit
  • be modest, allow others to take the credit.
lead without coercion
  • promote collaboration
  • provide tools for collective working
  • clarify roles, authority and accountability
  • delegate
  • create an environment for thinking

“Run the group delicately, as if you were cooking small fish. Too much force will backfire; the leader who tries to control he group through force does not understand group process. The wise leader stays centred and grounded and uses the least force to act effectively”

The result will be thinking, passionately proactive and creative people who communicate effectively, who understand how to work as a team, how to respond positively to conflict and how to help new members feel at home and hit the ground running.

So in our housing co-op example, should we have been dreaming about the best seating layout for our meeting? Well perhaps not, of course there are circumstances where simply delegating a few tasks will avoid such a muddle. If someone had shown leadership by asking everyone what would be the best layout, then suggesting we divide up the tasks between us: someone to stick up notices so people know where to come, a couple of people organising chairs, a couple of people making tea, someone putting the recruitment leaflet on every chair – etc. Simple stuff, but someone does need to take that initial lead.

Here’s some useful reading on leadership in collectives by Alanna Krause

29. September 2015 · Comments Off on A new service from Co-operantics: Appraisals and Personal Reviews · Categories: Communication skills, Coping with conflict, Meetings and decision making, Team Working

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.

kate@cooperantics.coop

nathan@cooperantics.coop

27. April 2015 · Comments Off on Induction of new co-operative members · Categories: About Co-operatives, Communication skills, Meetings and decision making, Uncategorized

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
16. July 2014 · Comments Off on Co-operantics Conversations #7 · Categories: About Co-operatives, Communication skills, Coping with conflict, Meetings and decision making, Team Working

Conversation #7 is with Bob Cannell of Suma Wholefoods.

Suma is the UK’s largest worker co-operative and largest independent ethical wholesaler and distributor. It is the market leader in the wholesale natural grocery market.

Founded in 1976, they have been operating from Elland in Yorkshire since 2001. They are also the largest single pay organisation in Europe with all 190 workers earning the same hourly rate regardless of whether they are picking orders, working in personnel or developing new products.

Last year saw another record-breaking set of accounts as Suma turned over £34 million with sales throughout the UK, and to over 50 countries internationally. Suma is run democratically by members, and was awarded Co-operative of the Year 2014.

Hi Bob,

My first question is:

Q:               Which is a more powerful influence on members’ behaviour in your co-op – Rules or policies & procedures – or culture within the membership?

A:                It’s a mixture of all three at Suma. We agree basic principles and on some issues quite detailed rules (e.g. good behaviour) because members are very concerned about those things. Over time habitual behaviour does build up custom and practice which sometimes takes over from old rules agreed in the old days.

And there is a Suma culture but it’s a shifting fog when you try to say what it is. We tend to ask members what they want in terms of behaviour. Eg the Suma member job description merely set down how members wanted their colleagues to act as members (and by inference themselves too). It’s recently been refreshed by popular participation and a couple of changes made.

Essentially what is important is the real living relationships between people which is a constantly shifting web of complex processes of relating. You can’t write them down in set rules but you can agree limits to behaviour. You have to understand that blindly following rules will cause more trouble than good. In coops there is no Big Daddy or Big Mummy boss to force employees to be like obedient but surly children obeying ‘their stupid rules’.

So members in a worker coop will suddenly revolt against their own democratically agreed rules. It’s exciting.

Q:               How do new recruits ‘learn’ the prevailing culture of the co-operative? Here’s some ideas for starters:

  • Observing colleagues during the working day
  • ‘water cooler’ or lunch break gossip
  • Behaviour of members in meetings
  • Ease of participation in meetings
  • During the induction process

 A:                All of the above. We spend nine months training people to be Suma members before they are voted in (or occasionally not). There is always explicit culture which can be taught and implicit culture which is under the surface and can only be experienced.

Suma trial members (as we call our trainees) work alongside members and colleagues from day one and we expect them to talk and find out ‘what’s really going on’ and to talk to their minder (mentor) or to us in Personnel at their reviews.

It’s great when a TM says ‘you said Suma was xxx and it’s not!’ And we say ‘now you understand the paradoxical nature of this place. Everything is to be played for and you need to become a player and not a bystander if you are to be a proper participating member. If you don’t like what you experience try and change it!’

Q:               What might be the pros and cons of the various ways in which new recruits learn your culture?

A:                This is the classic ‘learning from Annie’ idea in HR lore. Annie is the most experienced worker but she’s also really cynical about the show, also knows all the cuttable corners, all the ways round the rules etc. So just throwing them into the deep end can have a catastrophic effect on morale and initiative.

In Suma the most difficult thing to learn is how to get changes made (at any level or significance). The only way to do that is by experience of trying. It’s like punching fog or struggling with an octopus or goading a cart horse ( if you are too aggressive it will kick you). So learn from other members’ experience and try not to make all the same mistakes.

Mentoring is crucial for many triallees as we call our trainees. Person to person communication is the thing. Don’t talk about people, talk to them.

Much traditional HR is about doing things to people or forcing them to fill prescribed boxes (competences for example). We want our trainees to surprise us with things we hadn’t imagined, new ideas that are ‘outside the box’ and then put those ideas into action if they can and learn from the experience for future attempts.

Q:               Have you considered other ways you might adopt?

A:                Yes, we are always on the lookout for new ideas. Worker coops are such weird places of employment. All kinds of standard HR techniques just don’t work. Performance appraisals for example don’t work with multi-skilled self-managing members. Think about the power relations in a normal appraisal and you can see why.

Disciplinary and especially grievance processes can and do destroy worker coops by disrupting the internal relationships to such a degree that managing the business becomes impossible. So we pioneered the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques such as mediation, conciliation and arbitration instead. Bad behaviour has to be controlled – but not by Big Daddy. There is no hidden boss to make these procedures work.

More recently we are getting into how we can improve our members’ interpersonal communication skills. Yorkshire folk are not known for Italian level conversational skills. But it is in everyday conversation that the practical management and governance of worker coops gets done. If you can’t have that awkward conversation with your annoying colleague you just suffer in sullen silence for years. And the level of cooperation in your team and the coop suffers.

Q:               Do you use a member job description?

A:                I think we invented the concept of a member job description in 1995. It’s a crucial and central part of our Suma culture and underpins all our people processes from recruitment to retirement.

It’s in use all over. I find bits of it in documents from US and Canadian worker coops as well as in the UK. If anyone would like a copy of the new one please email me bob[at]suma.coop.

Q:               What changes have you seen in your co-operative’s culture over time? Why do you think this is and what do you think the causes have been?

A:                People have become more interested in pay and security and maybe less in ethics and principles. Not surprising given the state of the economy outside. Suma is a little haven of good jobs. There are fewer political worker coop warriors like me these days who believe worker cooperation is a revolutionary activity. But I’m seeing some welcome signs of a strengthening demand for economic democracy amongst younger people in the aftermath of the tax avoidance scandals and the obscene concentration of wealth in the 1%

Suma is a great example to them that it is possible for working people to run their own businesses without an executive elite so we can enjoy the full fruits of our labour

Thanks a lot Bob!

Check out Suma Wholefoods and follow Suma @SumaWholefoods & Bob @bobcannell

Don’t forget, you can find lots of tools, tips and techniques for building and nurturing a strong co-operative culture right here (see links above). Or contact us if you’d like us to run a workshop, or provide consultancy support, advice or guidance on co-operative skills. More information on our services can be found here.

 

03. July 2014 · Comments Off on Co-operantics Conversations #4 Hamwic Housing Co-operative · Categories: About Co-operatives, Coping with conflict, Meetings and decision making

Today’s Conversation with Hamwic Housing Co-op in Southampton, an older and more well-established housing co-op, points out some of the problems that can crop up if a strong co-operative culture is not renewed and nurtured over time.

We talk to Dave Morris, outgoing Secretary of Hamwic:

Hi Dave,

My first question is:

Q: Which is a more powerful influence on members’ behaviour in your co-op – Rules or Policies & Procedures – or culture within the membership?

A: In our co-op a third of the members follow the rules policies and perform their voluntary duties to a reasonable level, given the part time job roles. Another third think they understand the rules but make up their own versions, are disruptive and generally challenge everything and come from a negative stand point although some still manage to contribute their time and efforts. Then a third either don’t care or don’t understand what they have joined. Culture tends to override sense on some decisions – a mob mentality at times

Q: How do new recruits ‘learn’ the prevailing culture of the co-operative?

A: We have tried inductions. It can help. Joining a group can help and working with other members. These only work though if members are willing to get involved. I think tying in training to steps on the ladder in getting a flat or renting a room may help, like if it is a part of the points system you need to get completed and signed off before getting options to apply…this would cover old and new members.

Q: What would you say are the advantages of the way in which new recruits learn your culture?

A: The advantages of new members is by learning our culture they get motivated to take control of their destiny and help the co-op contribute skills and man/woman power.

Q: And the disadvantages?

A: Disadvantages are learning bad habits from the bad element like arguing for the sake of it and petty wars that go on. So they get turned off and leave.

Q: Have you considered other ways you might adopt?

A: Yeah, we have discussed whether the co-op should be run by the Co-ordinating Committee, with housing block reps who relate the others’ needs and then maybe we could cut the General Meetings down by half. But that needs a lot more thought. We’ve also thought of other things like employing our own odd job man/woman to cut down on the raft of smaller jobs and expenses and that could combine grounds maintenance as we are a smallish co-op.

Q: Do you use a membership agreement?  (document outlining what you can expect of your co-operative and what your co-operative expects from you; Rights and responsibilities of membership)

A: Our application form states you will agree to this and that when you join. We have rules, policies and standing orders that everyone gets a copy of. And in the inductions we always mention what is expected.  The tenancy agreement ties in with all these in legal terms as we have had this checked with a solicitor.  As long as the General Meeting agrees we can remove people for the worst breaches of policy, although in practice this doesn’t always work.

Q: What changes have you seen in your co-operative’s culture over time?  Why do you think this is and what do you think the causes have been?

A: The co-op is constantly changing. Sometimes new blood gives it a positive kick up the arse, by members forming new friendships and working groups and exchanging ideas. We have had some great members in recent years. But some older members resent change and want their say which often leads us down a dead end, even when we are trying to point out long term benefits. Some members only want cheap rent or what they can get out of us (repairs or refurbished flats).  I think in our own co-op if we make it through the next ten years we’ll be ok. But trying to keep a lid on reckless behaviour by some members in terms of spending money and fighting with other members who form factions is difficult as no one wants to be the ‘bad guy’ and tell them what to do.  Most members have no idea of business and just see someone telling them what to do. The solution is more education and rotation of members in sub groups. i.e every one switches after twelve months, ‘cos we always change officers every year or more…..convincing the groups to do this maybe another hurdle!

Thanks a lot for telling us like it is Dave!

Check out Hamwic Housing Co-op

So what do you think? Do you have any thoughts, opinions, experience to share? We’d love to hear your comments or questions. Or if you would like to join in the ‘Conversations’ then answer the questions above, add any further ideas you may have and email to us at:
kate [at] cooperantics.coop
and we’ll be happy to have a Conversation with you!

Don’t forget, you can find lots of tools, tips and techniques for building and nurturing a strong co-operative culture right here (see links above). Or contact us if you’d like us to run a workshop, or provide consultancy support, advice or guidance on co-operative skills. More information on our services can be found here.

 

Co-ops Fortnight 21st June – 4th July – is the perfect time to come together and promote the vibrancy and strength of our sector. Co-operantics will celebrate Co-ops Fortnight with a series of ‘Co-operantics Conversations‘ where we will ask co-operators how they build and nurture a strong co-operative culture.

As a result of criticism levelled at poor governance at The Co-operative and the Co-operative Bank, there’s been a lot of heat and not a lot of light shone on the topic of co-operative governance. Experienced co-operators have talked about the importance of co-operative culture. But what is it? How do you build it and nurture it? We think there is much that co-operatives can learn from each other, both in the UK and overseas.

Our first Conversation is with Siôn Whellens of Calverts Co-operative: Design & Print

Hi Siôn,
My first question is:
Q: Which is a more powerful influence on members’ behaviour in your co-op – Rules or policies & procedures – or culture within the membership?
A: We don’t have lots of policy codes, but we do have a lot of accepted procedures, developed by consensus decision making over the years. So often, ‘the way we do things’ has its roots in policy decisions and rule-making from a long time ago, before most of the current members can remember or tweaked from time to time.
Q: How do new recruits ‘learn’ the prevailing culture of the co-operative?
A: Watching the way clients, customers and neighbours interact with us; social media and our website; the reputation of the co-op; observing colleagues during the working day, ‘water cooler’ or lunch break gossip, behaviour of members in meetings, ease of participation in meetings and during the induction process.
Q: What would you say are the advantages of the way in which new recruits learn your culture?
A: People can take as long as they need to ‘get’ the culture (which can also be a disadvantage, but mostly it’s an advantage); it’s a mixture of ‘hard’ learning (e.g. understanding financial reports, environmental policy and procedures) and ‘skills’ learning (modes of discourse and interaction). It’s cheap, efficient and humane because it doesn’t rely on hard power or a management cadre, although it does rely on goodwill and the ‘soft power’ of the group.
Q: And the disadvantages?
A: We tend to assume that given enough time, people will align with and find their positive place in the culture, so we don’t ‘hand hold’ that much and we don’t review members’ performance as members, so it can take a long time to resolve problems.
Q: Have you considered other ways you might adopt?
A: More formal training in co-operative knowledge and skills during the probation year (quite likely to implement, if the current worker coop skills training and other events like Worker Weekend continue); a system for formal peer appraisals (always rejected!)
Q: Do you use a member job description? (A document outlining what you can expect of your co-operative and what your co-operative expects from you; Rights and responsibilities of membership)
A: No! It might be difficult to introduce one, unless there was something we could borrow and tweak, because when things are going OK people say ‘why fix it if it ain’t broke’ and when things aren’t going well people have other priorities.
Q: What changes have you seen in your co-operative’s culture over time? Why do you think this is and what do you think the causes have been?
A: Less overtly political as the business entered its golden phase and early members moved on; less ‘office politics’ (i.e. internal caucusing and organising around ‘agendas’), as the average age changed from 25-ish to 45-ish, and also because it led to conflicts which caused a lot of grief and nearly destroyed the co-op. We grew up.

Thanks a lot Siôn!

Check out Calverts Co-op: Design & Print and follow Siôn @Scumboni

So what do you think? Do you have any thoughts, opinions, experience to share? We’d love to hear your comments or questions. Or if you would like to join in the ‘Conversations’ then answer the questions above, add any further ideas you may have and email to us at:
kate [at] cooperantics.coop
and we’ll be happy to have a Conversation with you!

Don’t forget, you can find lots of tools, tips and techniques for building and nurturing a strong co-operative culture right here (see links above). Or contact us if you’d like us to run a workshop, or provide consultancy support, advice or guidance on co-operative skills. More information on our services can be found here.

At the recent Worker Co-op Weekend (an excellent get together of 20+ worker co-ops & about 30 people, held in West Sussex last weekend) there was one topic which came up again and again – the Co-operative Member Job Description – or the ‘Job of Membership’ as it is called at Delta-T Devices, a worker co-op specialising in instruments for environmental science.

So what is it, and why do we need another job description on top of the one that describes your work tasks and responsibilities?

The member job description tells you what you need to do to be a ‘good co-op member’. It describes the behaviours and skills required for you to participate effectively in the co-operative, and it reminds you that as a co-op member, you have responsibilities as well as rights. Responsibilities to be prepared for meetings – to read papers in advance, have an opinion and turn up on time. A responsibility to be a good communicator – and if your communication skills are not up to scratch, a willingness to attend training.

Suma Wholefoods, the UK’s largest independent wholefood wholesaler/distributor first developed the member job description. They use it in induction – potential members are recruited on short term contracts and their first job is to ‘become a member’. It’s only after successfully demonstrating that they understand what is required of Suma members that they are accepted into full membership. Only those people who are able to meet those requirements are accepted.

At Unicorn Co-operative  Grocery, the member job description is used in recruitment as well as induction, peer appraisal and training. Job applicants are sent a copy of the member job description so they are aware from the beginning what it means to be a member of Unicorn.

So the member job description can help you to get the right people in the first place, support effective induction into the co-operative, set standards of behaviour, provide a framework for peer appraisal and provide guidance for training.

We will be addressing what might be useful to include in a member job description at the co-operative skills seminar: ‘Being a good co-op member’ at Hamilton House in Bristol on Tuesday 3rd June. Book here!

19. March 2014 · Comments Off on Co-operative Skills Seminars: ‘Strategic planning and managing change’ · Categories: Communication skills, Meetings and decision making, Team Working, Tools, tips & techniques

Part of Co-operative UK’s Co-operative Skills Seminar programme, Strategic Planning and Managing Change is a completely new seminar, designed to meet worker co-operative training needs identified by the Worker Co-operative Council.

The content was influenced by the Worker Co-op Code of Governance, by our recent work with Unicorn Grocery in Manchester and by Bob Cannell’s work on co-op friendly management techniques (Oct 2010 Break Free from our Systems Prison) as well as experience with other worker co-operatives addressing issues around change.

However since this topic is so broad, we will be circulating a brief questionnaire to everyone who books for the seminar, in an effort to ensure that the content is relevant and pitched at an appropriate level for participants. Additionally, we would be happy deliver an in-house version of this seminar, tailor made for the requirements of your co-operative. Please get in touch if you would like to know more.

The seminar aims to help you improve participative strategic planning, helping your co-operative grow or change, and covers:

  • exploring your shared goals and what motivates your members
  • participative strategic planning tools
  • typical challenges
  • change management techniques

Book here!

Happy New Year from us at Co-operantics – we hope 2014 brings us all peace, happiness and co-operation.

Here at Co-operantics Towers we are very excited about a new series of seminars we are working on with Co-operatives UK, Seeds for Change, Rhizome and Dynamix – focusing on Co-operative Skills. We expect to be launching the seminars in Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol later in the Spring – watch this space for further information!

In the meantime, maybe you’d like to have a go at our Co-operative Skills Audit, which will provide you with a yardstick to assess communications, meetings and decision-making, as well as how effectively you deal with conflict and how well you work as a team.

Enjoy!

 

10. July 2013 · Comments Off on Decision making · Categories: About Co-operatives, Meetings and decision making

Co-operative myths: decision-making is done by all, or how many co-operators does it take to change a lightbulb?

The last instalment of our series looks at the myth that in co-operatives, decisions are taken by everyone.

In this series Co-operantics aims to debunk some of the commoner myths about co-operatives – the stereotypical beliefs that people hold about what a cooperative is, which can lead to misunderstanding and can prevent people from recognising the very real value of the co-operative business model.

In co-ops everyone takes the decisions – right? Wrong! If they did, it would be difficult to get any work done!

Depending on the type of co-operative, everyone can be involved to some extent in decision-making, but the kind of decisions people can influence will vary according to co-operative structure. In a more hierarchical co-operative, with representative democracy, operational decisions will be taken by managers employed to run the co-operative, whilst member representatives may be able to influence strategic or policy decision making at Board level. The Co-operative Group is the largest consumer-owned cooperative in Europe, with a turnover in 2012 of over £13 billion. It is run like a conventional company, by employed staff and managers, but members sit on local and regional committees and also at national Board level, and are provided with induction and training to provide them with the skills and knowledge necessary to participate in running such an enormous business.

Employee-owned co-operatives tend to have less hierarchical structures, but nevertheless have a range of approaches to decision-making. Some, like Unicorn Grocery are committed to a highly participative approach to strategic management. They hold an annual away day where all members can contribute ideas and debate potential projects and initiatives, which can then be taken up and implemented by a strategic team or by relevant departmental teams. In other co-operatives, strategic decisions will be taken by a Board of Directors or a Management Committee, whose members are elected annually, often with a proportion standing down each year to ensure continuity whilst bringing in new blood.

In all co-operatives, people taking decisions must have delegated authority to do so, they must have the autonomy to get on with it without anyone peering over their shoulder telling them what to do, and perhaps most importantly, they must be accountable to the members in general meetings or at the Annual General Meeting (AGM).

There are a variety of levels at which decisions can be taken. In all co-operatives, employees should have job descriptions, which will include the kind of decisions to be taken on a day to day basis, as part of the job. Employees should also have easy access to the co-operative’s written policies and procedures, which will provide guidance for individuals on decision-making. Departments and teams should have an agreed remit, including the kinds of decisions they can take, perhaps with a budget limit. The co-operative’s Constitution will state what decisions can be taken at General Meetings and the Annual General Meeting, the latter usually concerned with election of Directors or Management Committee Members, approval of the Annual Accounts and acceptance of the Board or Management Committee Report, describing how Directors have implemented the co-operative’s business plan during the year.

Of course in smaller co-operatives, operational and strategic decisions will be taken by the same people, but wearing different hats, so it’s useful to find a way of differentiating operational decisions from tactical or strategic ones, by holding different types of meeting – or remembering which ‘hat’ you’ve got on!

Finally there are a range of approaches to decision-making, from Command (authority lies in the job description) through Delegated (authority lies in our remit) to Voting (authority lies in agreement by over 50% of the members) to Consensus (authority lies in arriving at an agreement that everyone can commit to).

It’s clear that each of these approaches has its advantages and disadvantages which are discussed in more depth here, however it is important that co-operatives understand the difference between voting and consensus decision making. It’s a mistake to resort to voting if your attempt to arrive at a consensus decision fails. It’s better to decide beforehand whether or not a decision requires consensus, and we believe there are clear circumstances under which consensus decision making is to be recommended. If the decision is going to affect large numbers of members, if it implies significant expenditure, or if it will impact on the co-operative in the long term, then it is worth using the techniques of consensus decision-making to arrive at a decision that everyone will commit to and no-one will ignore or subvert. However consensus decision making requires a good understanding of the techniques involved and can be time consuming. Seeds for Change have recently published their excellent Consensus Handbook with clear guidance and some thoughtful reflection on power and conflict.

And lastly, beware the dangers of Groupthink! Just because all your mates think it’s a good idea is not a good reason for agreeing something – co-operatives need assertive members who think for themselves and share their opinions including fears and reservations.