Co-operative online learning – a primer

This primer is written for teams or individuals tasked with organising &/or designing &/or delivery of online learning in a worker co-operative or co-operative network. It’s for people new to online learning or those who wish to review their practice.

Download pdf here:  CO-OPERATIVE ONLINE LEARNING – A PRIMER

Content summary

What do I mean by cooperative learning? How can we replicate those concepts and techniques in an online workshop? Benefits of online learning.

Organise
• skills audit &/or training needs analysis
• agree outline content and learning goals
• agree target audience
• decide which platform is most appropriate
• install the platform
• familiarise yourselves with the platform

Design
• planning, learning goals, scope of the training
• review any existing face to face (f2f) materials and discuss and agree which materials can be used with no adaptation, which need adaptation for online use and which are not suitable
• adapt existing exercises and design new ones with the online medium in mind
• produce preparatory reading, an agenda or timetable, handouts and a guide to the platform you will use
• have the programme reviewed by other members of your co-operative or network
• agree the various roles: facilitator, tech monitor + +
• produce and send the agenda to the participants, along with any preparatory reading and the tech guide to the platform
• useful tools for online learning

Delivery
• facilitation of online learning
• two processes to be aware of: task & group function
• techniques and methods
• hold a familiarisation session for participants before the start

Evaluation thoughts

Resources

Continue reading “Co-operative online learning – a primer”

Co-operantics guide to co-operative online meetings

Meetings are the life blood of a co-operative. They are where information is shared and discussed and where decisions are taken. Where members can get updates on progress of the various jobs and tasks that have been delegated and where people are mandated to take action.

It seems it is going to be a while until we are able to meet together f2f (face to face), thanks to the coronavirus attacking our communities, so here are some techniques and tips to help you make your online meetings as effective as possible. Continue reading “Co-operantics guide to co-operative online meetings”

from Conflict to Co-operation revisited

It’s hard to believe it was over 10 years ago that I wrote these booklets, together with the excellent cartoonist and illustrator Angela Martin and our patient and knowledgeable editor, Sarah Alldred (then at Co-operatives UK) now at the Co-operative College.

I’d started thinking some time before that helping co-ops set up effective democratic governance structures wasn’t enough – that within ‘flat’ organisational structures, different behaviours are needed. I realised that would-be cooperators will bring their own assumptions about the way work is organised and about the way decisions are taken, based on previous experience – in private enterprise, local government, education, or the charitable or voluntary sectors. Such assumptions if unchecked could lead to conflict or at the very least undermine attempts to establish a ‘co-operative culture’ in the workplace.

I’d also been working on conflict resolution in co-ops, and thought it would be useful to have an accessible and fun resource that people could dip in to for tips and techniques for handling conflict.

So the idea of ‘from Conflict to Co-operation’ was born. There are five booklets: Continue reading “from Conflict to Co-operation revisited”

Peer appraisal in worker co-ops

– or “how do you tell your co-worker their work is crap?” (Hint: You don’t)

Many moons ago, at a worker co-op conference, someone asked me: “how do you tell your co-worker their work is crap?” Good question, I thought, but I hadn’t the slightest idea how to do it. Except I thought then – and still do – that you should never tell your co-op co-worker their work is crap!

Worker co-ops are run for the benefit of the employees – their members – so of course the very last thing you want to do is fire someone. But you do need a way of providing support to your members – and a means of getting everyone on board with quality, timeliness and commitment to your mission and aims.

Appraisals provide members with support as well as providing a structure for holding them accountable. Any kind of business with employees (or volunteers) needs to carry out regular staff appraisals. But it’s how it’s done that interests us here.  In a worker co-op you will find a flatter, more democratic organisation. You may find that all the employees are Directors and you may find a variety of organisational structure – management by General Meeting (GM) or Management Committee, which may have delegated powers, or be representative of different teams or departments. There is also a growing body of worker co-ops adopting Sociocratic tools and structures. So we are not looking for a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Continue reading “Peer appraisal in worker co-ops”

Who’s afraid of leadership?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to co-operative leadership, because there are so many varieties of co-operative, depending on co-operative type, organisational structure, and sector of the economy.

In a consumer retail co-operative for example, the hierarchical structure pretty much dictates who holds what power and while of course there are opportunities for career development and promotion, there is less flexibility and those at the top of the tree can control the way authority is delegated to those below them.

I often remember an early lesson in co-operative leadership – or the lack of it!  I was a member of a co-housing group, run as a co-operative and we held an event to promote the co-op and recruit new members. All the members – eight or nine of us – turned up at the community centre to arrange the room and get ready for our audience. Continue reading “Who’s afraid of leadership?”

Multistakeholder Co-operatives Manchester 30th September

Stir to Action  in collaboration with The Co-operative College, is hosting a one-day workshop on multistakeholder co-ops on 30th September 2017. The workshop will be held at Holyoake House, Hanover St, Manchester M60 0AS and will be run by Kate Whittle of Co-operantics. If you cannot get to Manchester, you can follow the workshop via a webinar.

Kate is a founder member of GO-OP, a multistakeholder co-operative whose constitution is based on the Somerset Rules model, which was developed by Alex Lawrie at Somerset Co-op Services.

Instead of single stakeholder organisations — such as worker or consumer co-ops — the multistakeholder model extends ownership to different types of stakeholder. GO-OP for example has three classes of member: Users (passengers and employees) and Non-users (investors). Continue reading “Multistakeholder Co-operatives Manchester 30th September”

Away Days – love them or loathe them?

The Away Day – love it or loathe it, it’s an essential element of collective working, but if it’s not properly planned and well facilitated it can undermine all your efforts to work together effectively as a team.

It can be a jolly, a social get together, a chance to stand back, review progress over the last year and plan for next year, or a look at the longer term. It can be an opportunity to review organisational structure, or a space for looking at the way you work together – at processes rather than tasks. But not all at once! It can be tempting to try to cram as much as possible in to the day, but that’s a mistake. When people are taking time out from day to day operations to look at issues in more depth, it’s a frustrating waste of time if important topics can only be touched on briefly. Continue reading “Away Days – love them or loathe them?”

Chairing (or facilitating) meetings – whose turn is it to speak?

A colleague highlighted an important issue when she asked about the order in which the Chair allows people to speak. Normally when you are chairing or facilitating a discussion you note (you can write it down) the order in which people are raising their hands and invite them to speak in that order.

However, what if one person is asking for information and another person is giving that information, but the next person to raise their hand wants to speak about something else? As my colleague rightly pointed out, if the Chair sticks rigidly to the order in which people are raising their hands, the flow of the discussion can be interrupted by questions or comments relating to a totally different issue.

So what’s the answer? Continue reading “Chairing (or facilitating) meetings – whose turn is it to speak?”

the what, why and how of multistakeholder co-ops

Co-operatives are set up for the benefit of their members – be they shoppers in a consumer retail co-op, employees in a workers’ co-op, tenants in a housing co-op or savers and borrowers in a credit union.

These are single stakeholder* models, where there is just one class of member, but they do not take account of the range of different stakeholders that might be interested in the operations of the co-operative, for example in the case of a worker co-op that might mean suppliers, users of the co-operative’s services, customers, or local people who might be willing to invest or buy loan-stock.  In the case of a consumer co-operative that might mean employees, suppliers or local community groups.

*stakeholders can be described as: ‘individuals or groups that can affect or be affected by an organisation. Stakeholders can come from inside or outside the organisation. Examples include customers, employees, members, shareholders, suppliers, non-profit groups and the local community, among others’.

multi-stakeholder-graphicThe multi-stakeholder co-operative model addresses a multiplicity of stakeholder interests and turns it into a strength and greater sustainability for the co-operative.

(image courtesy of http://bcca.coop/momentum/info-centre/multi-stakeholder-co-ops) Continue reading “the what, why and how of multistakeholder co-ops”

Leadership in co-operatives

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