29. March 2016 · Comments Off on About Co-operantics · Categories: About Co-operantics, About Co-operatives, Uncategorized

hoot if you're a cooperatorCo-operative skills aren’t just for co-operatives! We believe that these skills – developed in co-operatives of all kinds – can be useful for any groups of people wishing to work together to solve problems or achieve social goals. Of course we consider the co-operative to be the best model for any kind of enterprise, with social aims at its heart and democratic ownership and control its body – but our aim is to promote co-operative ways of working throughout all sectors of the economy.

Co-operantics Mission

To improve co-operative skills* in co-operatives. To promote and develop cooperative skills throughout all sectors of the economy and sections of society.

*Co-operative skills include communication, running effective meetings, decision-making, coping with conflict, negotiation and team working.

Co-operantics can save you money!

Through learning and practising co-operative skills, workers will be able to reduce workplace tensions and solve conflict, thus saving personnel time and avoiding the need for costly employment tribunals. They will learn how to:

  • give and receive criticism assertively
  • cope with the inevitable conflicts that arise and avoid unnecessary conflict
  • use techniques of principled negotiation
  • make it easy for new members to participate

Other benefits include meetings that are more decisive and more amicable, leading to decisions people will commit to and won’t subvert

How we work:

Workshops

Our half-day workshops are highly participative and interactive. It’s accelerated learning with materials available for download in advance. Topics include communication, meetings and decisions, conflict management, techniques of principled negotiation and team working.

Consultancy support

We are experience co-operative support practitioners and can provide a range of co-operative business support services, some of which can be viewed here.

Coaching

We offer coaching for individuals and small groups to explore issues around communications, assertiveness, confrontation and negotiation. Coaching can also be used to support project planning, setting goals, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Coaching can be face to face or via phone calls and email.

Facilitation

We are often asked to facilitate meetings in co-operatives where there has been a breakdown of communications of some kind, and the co-operative needs someone who will be neutral but who also understands the dynamics of co-operative working. We also facilitate members’ days, team-building events and participative planning events.

Downloads

Throughout this website there are free downloads – tools, tips and techniques for improving co-operative working. These will be of special interest to anyone attending a workshop, since they will be able to download and read them beforehand.

Co-operantics Code of Conduct

Co-operantics is itself a co-operative, so in order to fulfil our mission we will abide by international co-operative principles and values.

We will maintain professional co-operative business advice standards, once they are developed and implemented, indeed we will play our part in developing and agreeing those standards. We will regularly review and update our knowledge, skills and experience, attending CPD events, sharing best practice and encouraging peer learning amongst cooperatives and co-operative business advisers.

We will always respect our clients and act in their best interests, seeking to build capacity rather than developing dependency, whilst recognising that it may be in our clients’ interests to utilise our skills rather than acquire those skills themselves.

We will always respect client confidentiality.

Co-operantics members will declare any conflicts of interest where they exist. If a Co-operantics member has ethical concerns with a particular cooperative or sector of the economy, the work will be passed to another member, unless it is in conflict with Co-operative Principles, in which case the work will be declined.

We will at all times abide by Co-operantics Equal Opportunities & Diversity Policy, assessing achievement of goals and targets in an annual review.

We will at all times abide by Co-operantics Environmental policy, assessing achievement of goals and targets in an annual review.

We have a compliments and complaints policy to ensure we gather feedback on our services.

About us

Kate WhittleKate Whittle has been working in the social economy for over 20 years, both in the UK and in the Dominican Republic, where she worked as a volunteer with a federation of co-operatives in the Cibao.

Kate at cooperativa Amor y Paz large

She has worked with co-operatives of all kinds, social enterprises, voluntary organisations and co-operative development agencies. From 1999 to 2004 she was an Associate at the Co-operative College. From 2003 to 2005 she served on the Board of the Phone Co-op. In 2003, together with Bob Cannell and David Dean, Kate founded  Co-operative Business Consultants aiming to promote participative and co-operative management. Together with Nathan Brown and Alex Lawrie of Somerset Co-operative Services, she developed and taught the Understanding Co-operative Enterprise Unit of the ILM accredited VRQ Level 5 training programme for UK co-operative business advisers. Kate also acts as the Internal Verifier for Jim Brown’s ILM accredited VRQ Level 5 Certificate and Diploma in Social Enterprise Support. Kate was commissioned by Co-operatives UK to develop and run Co-operative Skills Seminars for UK worker co-ops. Kate designed and taught the Strategic Planning and Managing Change seminar. The training was very well received by some of the UK’s largest worker co-ops: Suma, Infinity, Delta-T, Essential Trading and Unicorn Co-operative Grocery.

Kate is the Secretary of GO-OP Co-operative, aiming to be the first co-operatively owned open access train operator in the UK, and a member of The Phone Co-op, Sims Hill CSA, Bristol Credit Union and the Bristol Pound.

Kate says:

“Over the years I have collected masses of useful information, tools and techniques for co-operative working, the sources of which are now lost in the mists of time. Some of the material has been adapted from ‘Organisational Issues in Democratically Managed Businesses’, a collection of training materials published by ICOM in 1992. (ICOM was the UK federation of worker co-operatives which merged with the Co-operative Union to form Co-operatives UK in 2000). This small collection of tips, tools and techniques for co-operative working is just a start. We will add more materials over time, and we hope that colleagues and clients will contribute to the development of this site.  If you have other materials you think should be available here, please let us know, we’ll be happy to acknowledge the source, or send us a link to your website.”

Nathan Brown of Co-operantics

Nathan Brown of Co-operantics

Nathan Brown has been working in the co-operative development sector for over 15 years. His hands on experience as a co-op member includes management roles in a Housing Co-operative, Credit Union, Worker Co-operative, Consortium Co-operative and Multi-Stakeholder Co-operative in addition to participating in various informal music, housing and food collectives since he was a teenager.   Nathan is a Director of Olmec Co-operative CIC, South East Co-operative Support Limited, and is also Secretary of a Society for the Benefit of the Community.  He is still a member of the Phone Co-op, the Co-operative and 2 unincorporated food co-ops and served for 12 years as a voluntary Committee member and Research Officer for a national campaign organisation.  He holds a Certificate in Training Practice (IPD) and Certificate in Social Enterprise Support (ILM)

Nathan says:

“I believe that co-operation is a natural choice for anyone with a bone of social justice or humanity in their body.  As children, on our estate we even formed a sweet buying group with its own street stall (less Rochdale Pioneers and more Bash Street Kids) but that’s another story!  The simple, effective, technology of co-operatives can be easily de-railed by competitive behaviours that are nurtured by society – focusing on what makes us different rather than what we hold in common. Co-operantics aims to help people get back on the rails and make their co-op a success.”

14. January 2016 · Comments Off on The People’s Railway – first thoughts from a co-operative perspective · Categories: About Co-operatives, Uncategorized

21st January sees the 4th Ways Forward Conference in Manchester: ‘Building an Economy to Serve People not Profit’. Follow developments on twitter at #WF4.

The conference – organised by Co-operative Business Consultants – aims to explore and debate responses to the challenges presented by Jeremy Corbyn’s call for democratic co-operative management of the public sector and other national industries, such as the railways and the energy sector:

  • Exploring how workers and users can be effectively involved in public sector management
  • Facing up to management capture as a major challenge for co-operatives
  • Considering Co-operative viability in the global economy

I’m facilitating the ‘People’s Railway’ session, with speakers Christian Wolmar, award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport and the author of a series of books on railway history and John Tilley, RMT Regional Organiser, Norttrain_image2.jpgh West & Eire Regions.

So I’ve started considering the issues from a co-operative perspective, and of course they are many and significant. (Thanks to Jean Nunn-Price and Alex Lawrie of www.go-op.coop for input).

  • Perhaps the biggest question is what could replace the present franchising system? Franchises are a high stakes gamble and for a co-operative the stakes are too high. No co-op could justify to its members the multi-million pound gamble that is tendering for a franchise. We need a different system, such as for example micro-franchises? Or core routes state-owned, and other routes open access?
  • Then what could be the role for co-operatives? Co-operatives need to be entrepreneurial, and that means they need to be able to alter their geographical remit at will, as business opportunities permit. So their role might be to complement a national publically owned and democratically accountable rail service.

As ever, a focus on international co-operative principles provides a useful starting point:

  • Autonomy: a co-operative is an independent organisation, not owned or linked to the state or any other organisation
  • Democratic Member Control: Who would be the members? The main stakeholders would be:

o   Travelling public

o   Staff &/or Trade Unions

o   Investors

So the co-operative could have representation from each category – which suggests some form of multi-stakeholder co-operative. GO-OP Co-operative is a bona fide co-operative, registered using Somerset Rules, and has User (passengers and employees) and Non-user (investor) classes of shares, and voting arrangements are organised such that the User members always retain control of the co-operative.

  • Membership in a co-operative is voluntary – no-one can be forced to join. So what about staff who don’t want to join?
  • Member Economic Participation: You wouldn’t have to be a member to travel, but member benefits, for example dividend on spend, need to be part of the deal.  Of course members will be able to choose Directors and attend the AGM.  There could also be local member groups to give feedback on the quality of the service and hold social events.
  • Organisational structure: UK Railway management is structured on a hierarchical model, with pay structures that are highly inequitable. How could management structures be converted to a more equitable model without losing experienced staff?
  • Collaboration with other rail industry organisations – specifically Network Rail: Network Rail would need to be re-structured to become democratic and accountable to its passengers. The Co-op Party has called for Network Rail to become a consumer mutual, where passengers would be represented on the Board, be involved in the development of a strategic plan and have powers to control remuneration and appoint and dismiss the Chair and non-executive directors.

These are just some of the issues that need to be considered – but I’d be glad to hear thoughts and comments from co-operators & and anyone interested in making our railways more efficient, democratic and accountable.

Kate Whittle, January 2016

@cooperantics

09. December 2015 · Comments Off on Can co-ops offer their members a better work/life balance? · Categories: About Co-operatives, Strategic planning, Uncategorized

In private enterprise 58% of those in full time work believe they have no influence in the workplace, increasing to 70% for part-timers. (Source: YouGov polling, commissioned by Co-operatives UK May 2015). So it’s only if your employer offers good terms and conditions of employment, including flexible hours, that you will be able to benefit from good work life balance. And of course in private enterprise, employers need to prioritise return on investment for owners and shareholders.

Co-operatives on the other hand are run for the benefit of their members. So in worker co-operatives, where employees are the members, we might assume that one of the benefits on offer would be working hours flexible enough to ensure that members can meet family, education, leisure and social commitments – in other words, a good work life balance.

But there are different types of co-operatives – offering membership to tenants, savers or consumers – and it’s useful to distinguish between them. Consumer retail co-operatives (the familiar high street ‘Co-op’) are run for the benefit of the consumer – or shopper. They are managed like any other supermarket, except that profits are shared with members rather than external shareholders, and members can be elected to the Members’ Council and have a say on business issues. Although employees can be members, the co-operative is not run primarily for their benefit. Issues like work life balance will be covered in a contract of employment and dealt with through the HR department.

In a worker co-op however, the members are the employees and the co-operative is run primarily for their benefit. Members will have influence in the workplace, and will be able to contribute to discussions on the products or services that are sold, on the way work is carried out and on terms and conditions of employment, including work life balance.

“If only …”

But does it happen? Frustratingly, it can be challenging for worker co-op members to be able to achieve good work life balance, for several reasons, for example:

  • In the start-up period, founder members will often work for very low or no pay, in order to get the co-operative off the ground, so any talk of work life balance will be accompanied by a rueful smile …
  • Members have a responsibility to contribute to management decision making, leaving less time for other commitments
  • the co-op may decide to support the local community or people on low incomes and keep their own wages to a minimum, so members may need to work long hours
  • there may be a limited understanding of the enterprising nature of co-operatives, with a lack of research into potential markets which could provide the financial sustainability to permit members to achieve better work life balance
  • the co-op may be going through a period of change, cutting back on costs in certain areas to spend on new premises, additional equipment or raw materials

How easy is it for members of a large worker co-op to achieve good work life balance? Bristol’s Essential Trading is a worker co-op with over 80 members and is one of the UK’s ‘top 100 Co-ops’ according to Co-operatives UK.

Richard Crook from Essential says:

“… the realities of running a democratic business mean there are increased time demands over and above operational needs that might ordinarily be expected from an employee. Things like reading minutes, attending meetings, writing proposals, reading proposals, dealing with ‘people management’ issues, etc. all seem to add to the ‘work’ side of the see-saw – but at the same time because they can occupy the cerebral side of work rather than the physical, they do have an annoying habit of popping into one’s head during what should be ‘life’ time. Hence it often feels like the line is blurred between ‘work’ and ‘life’ in a worker co-op. People do really commit to the worker co-op they are members of, arguably sometimes too much for their own health and well-being, but this is done I think because they feel they are genuinely contributing to something alternative and often life-changing.”

What we can do to help co-ops be more sustainable?

Join them! Co-ops make an important contribution to the solidarity economy, they have an important part to play in that they (especially worker co-ops) offer an alternative form of business to the capitalist model. Business doesn’t have to be like Dragons Den or The Apprentice!

Buy goods and services from them! Co-operantics has (home) offices in Southampton & Bristol and in Bristol that means saving with Bristol Credit Union, buying organic vegetables from Sims Hill Shared Harvest, , eating in Café Kino! Showing international solidarity at Kebele, enjoying music & workshops at The Folk House, reading news and views via The Bristol Cable, getting open source ICT from Bristol Wireless, going to the movies with Cube Cinema, reading about Re-enchanting the Forest with Vala Publishing, taking a trip round the harbour on a Bristol Ferry Boat, buying wood from Bristol Recycled Wood Co-op, and wooden gifts, logs and charcoal from Forest of Avon Products. We also get electricity from Co-operative Energy and phone & internet through the Phone Co-op (also the only UK supplier of the Fairphone – the first mobile phone made with materials from non-conflict zones). And too many more to mention – check out the CUK Directory for more UK co-ops.

So let’s do it! Let’s make 2016 the most ‘co-opy’ year yet!

Seasons Greetings and all the best in 2016 from Co-operantics.

21. October 2015 · Comments Off on How to set up a Freelancers Co-op · 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 new year (update: available as PDF to download) but meanwhile if you want to see the goods you need to order the magazine.

Freelancer Co-op Guide excerpt

28. July 2015 · Comments Off on Appraisals and personal reviews · 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 on Co-operative Networking Breakfast in Southampton · 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

Timeline
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!

 

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
06. April 2015 · Comments Off on Happy Easter! · 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.

13. February 2015 · Comments Off on Got the picture? · Categories: About Co-operatives, Communication skills, Uncategorized

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.

coopukbk5unicycle1b

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?

Diagram

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 on Happy New Year – & Congratulations to The New Leaf Co-op! · 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!