Why be policies? When are handbooks? How is a co-operating? Let us probe the labours of labouring together.

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A discussion at the June Gathering 2022 on how the members of the co-ops present interact with the idea of 'the work of working together'. Following on from two previous fruitful discussions on handbooks, policies, and other internal documentation: Spring Break 2021/Co-operative Company Handbooks and Shared resource for co-operative company handbooks.


  • Post-lunch faff window (10mins)
  • Opening admin (inform, 10mins)
    • Session duration
    • Consent to agenda
    • Who's in the room?
  • Introduction (inform, 10mins)
    • Hannah briefly shares context of initiating the session
    • Round of hopes/expectations for the session
  • Probing (explore, 25mins)
    • Rounds of questions and observations/practises/ideas/responses
    • Questions such as:
      • What was your journey of being onboarded into your co-op?
      • How does your co-op prioritise tasks?
      • How do your members review and feedback on each others work in general?
      • Does your co-op have written policies, and how do you review them to make sure they're relevant?
      • ...
      • ...
      • ...
      • Add something you'd like to explore above, either now or during the session.
  • Closing (5mins)


Who's in the room

  • Hannah, Animorph (notes + loose facilitation)
  • Liam,
  • Sion, Calverts
  • Sarah, Media Co-op
  • Louise, Media Co-op
  • Lucy, Outlandish
  • Finn, Agile Collective
  • Maria, Agile Collective
  • Ben, Creative Co-op
  • Leo, Autonomic
  • Szczepan, Animorph
  • Nick, Co-op Web
  • Mel, Codeoperative
  • John, Codeoperative
  • ...add yourself if I missed you!


Hannah gives brief intro of context, see above section for more. Two gatherings ago I was looking for inspiration and resources for Animorph, policies that were co-operative unlike many examples online. Asked around the network, thought it could be useful to have these accessible to others, both existing and those starting out. Very useful sessions in terms of story sharing and experiences and discussing pain points and solutions. Have been gathering some resources online in semi-private repository as some co-ops requested this. Hoping to continue today and identify what would be valuable to CoTech members, and beyond.


Started the conversation with the first question I happened to have written while forming an agenda, a jumping off point which touched on several interesting aspects of working together co-operatively. Next time maybe start with more difficult thorny issues, draw out the painful points first; so much to talk about!

What was journey of being onboarded into your co-op? Project work vs. co-op running.

Here follows some scribing, freely correct if I misrepresented your words.

  • Liam
    • There's 20 people in our co-op, and we have an onboarding pack with a Powerpoint.
    • In over 16 years we have 3 people join who already knew what co-op was beforehand, and even then every co-op is different.
    • We contracted a third party HR company to write our handbook.
  • Sion
    • We tell people in job advert that it's a co-op, and then if they're smart and nice they'll figure it out during the flow of time at work.
    • We share key info at key moments as needed. Contract is made up of their work agreement plus the handbook.
    • Have found that people who come wanting to be in a worker co-op already aren't always the best fit, sometimes their expectations aren't met.
  • Sarah
    • Our co-op has 11 people, not all full time workers.
    • When new people join they book a one-on-one meeting with each and every other member of the co-op, and during this they can ask questions and the person can share info about how they find it.
  • Louise
    • We are currently updating the handbook, contains summaries of the actual policies.
    • We have a 6-month probation period before deciding whether to offer membership to a new worked.
    • We share a leaflet about the 7 co-operative principles.
    • We would like a way to have freelancers as associate members, as we have some very longstanding relationships with freelancers e.g. since 2004, but this hasn't happened yet.
    • We don't have pay reviews per person as we are all on equal pay, but we do have a structured meeting to review and think about they are doing with their work. This came from Glasgow Council for Voluntary Sector, who knew about co-ops, and our system came out of them. Used to be quarterly, and now is twice(ish) a year. In the past these always happened with me, then over time has split down, and can be with anyone. We do each other, and have found it needs at least 2hrs per person.
    • Training and support for networking. Tips tricks, cold feet, stuck without someone.
  • Maria
    • We were given lots of our policies by Nick, Ed, and we always give it back out again. We've done lots of updating recently, and the whole hadnbook with policies is now online.
  • Finn
    • Once we know it was going to be public then people took a bit more note about the relevance and quality!
  • Louise
    • We found it's really hard to get people involved with policies, even things like health and safety which is really important in film. Something that we have found worked well, is introducing just one policy at the beginning of team meetings, reading it through completely, coming up with amendments and adjustments in the moment. People often comment that it was much more interesting than I thought it would be. A collective action of going through it together, read through, flag, conversation, update, done.
  • Lucy
    • When I started I was given LOTS of information, and a wiki, where maybe lots of it was out of date.
    • There's also a buddy system, and I knew the people already from working together, and was able to ask things as they came up. Investing in the people side of passing on information is good, as documentation goes out of date. Having a new person makes it clear when things are out of date, and can be updated. Good to have a culture where it's ok to ask questions. Can't automate it! Buddy system is good.
  • Finn
    • What about when people say different things?
  • Lucy
    • Obviously the written down policies and procedures are important, but digesting this through people makes it more relevant and alive.
  • Finn
    • There is value in sharing this work that's already been done, especialyl for people stating new organisations. Finding stuff that already fits and going from there. Our handbook is better than our website!
  • Leo
    • We published the decision making process at our, and got good feedback.
  • Nick
    • We were looking to build out a pack for new co-ops, but didn't find big need?
  • Sion
    • No no, there is definitely a big need!
  • Ben
    • We got whole sets of model policies from the Co-operative Assistance Network. Booked an HR workshop, where they help you put together handbook and policies for your co-op, 2 days work for £1000, and customised documents.
  • Sion
    • The People Support Co-op, (Abi Kempson?), deal with non standard HR, services, pension sharing, keep credit on, three templates, needs analysis, start up, existing, conversion, self diognostics. (Sorry not sure what these notes I made mean, maybe someone has a clue...)
  • Ben
    • Wonder if there's a way to do a CoTech shared session for this workshop? Collectively benefit many worker co-ops at once, this kind of shared resource could be a reason to be a paying member of CoTech.
  • Sion
    • Yes, collectivise and dip into things.
  • Szczepan
    • Things like open source and licensing.
  • Maria
    • We don't all want to run the same way or think the same way, e.g. pay structure, some of these need engagement from the co-op members rather than copying others.
  • Someone
    • See it more as a place to start, especially when new, take and adapt, be inspired to change based on other (better?) ways of doing things.
  • ...briefly stopped taking notes, lost in conversation!
  • Sion
    • If decisions are only documented in meeting minutes, then only people who know or remember have the knowledge, and it can't be found by others.
  • Finn
    • Having a handbook as part of the contract means it is easy to update and apply to everyone.
  • Nick
    • We have 25-30 policies just from ISO compliant, so thats lots of polices, and overall have like 40. There's a fine balance between what goes in and what doesn't. When people join we suggest focus on these 4/5.
    • Member meetings happen every 2 months, these things filter into here and discuss together. Some things are 4 years old and still being discussed, some are passed straight away.
  • Leo
    • What's the difference between policy and secondary rules? We have just decision-making policy and rules.
  • Sion
    • Secondary rules let co-ops make new rules, the policies are next level down. Legal document, then policies and culture. Secondary rules cover things like voting into committees, secondary rules are how the balloting process works, exact remit of a committee. Collective type co-ops jump from legal to policy and culture.
    • (Ask after as I don't think I captued...didn't ask yet)

Closing check out

  • Hannah
    • These were very insightful chats, and I want more, to cover things we didn't get to talk about, and that got raised during discussion. Not sure how to take this forward.
  • Sion
    • Having some written document of how you run is important, imperfect is ok, but remember as they say "culture eats governance for breakfast." This work is the gold, keep going if you don't mind!
    • Also Simply Docs is a resource where you can pay £100 for any document, a starting point.
  • Lousie
    • Pitching for contracts for in public sector they want to see policies, handbook is summary of them, great if we could merge, sometimes need to append, need full policy.
  • Szczepan
    • Curious how policy can be alive, searchable, retrievable, editable, versioning to see history, see how the changes work, shared ways of working, umbrella of things we can agree on when we work together, tangible in our daily working.
  • Leo
    • Didn't know this work was happening until recently, lots of super useful tips coming up, how to professionalise stuff, a hot topic in our co-op!
  • John
    • Great session thank you for doing it, interesting points, want more fail stories though!
  • Maria
    • Great, also want to go into thorny specific topics, e.g. how do you get rid of the arseholes, performance reviews, etc. Specific things to attract people to a session.
  • Sarah
    • Enjoyed this, interested in doing more with it.
  • Mel
    • Interesting stuff, thank you! Bring back agony aunt sessions! Specific things to then tackle together.
  • Finn
    • If we can identify the common biggest needs, gaps, then we can see what's the next things we could work on together, what's priority, e.g. disciplinary processes.
  • Ben
    • Often we do this kind of work when we really need it, often is the bottom of the rung, e.g. member pack out of date being spotted by new members. CAN helping with this, the session useful to think about what we need. Would be good to do workshops or talks as a CoTech group.
  • Ben (maybe one of these was not Ben...)
    • Super helpful two thumbs up. Want to talk about client onboarding, how you all teach clients to work how you work!
  • Nick
    • Good to see other side of the coin; we have a gold standard of documentation. Shines a light on the side we're not doing! Ours are on Sharepoint, check.

A practical learning: delegate admin roles at the start so I'm not facilitating and note-taking...ended up mostly note-taking, missing raised hands, letting one thread flow for the whole time. Good flow though, and it did touch on some of the un-raised points from draft agenda.