From conflict to co-operation

I’m delighted that the From Conflict to Co-operation series has now been updated and converted to web pages, and is accessible from People Support Co-op

From Conflict to Co-operation is a primer aimed at helping co-operative members to address conflict.  It will also be useful for any group of people trying to work together collectively. It covers both how to manage and respond to the inevitable conflicts that arise but also how to avoid unnecessary conflict caused by poor communication skills, ineffective meetings, and misunderstandings arising out of growth or unclear responsibilities.

hoot if you're a cooperator

In Chapter 1 we review different conflict resolution approaches – and we find that an assertive, co-operative approach is the most satisfactory way to deal with major conflicts, since it involves people working together to find a solution everyone will commit to. 

Chapter 2  looks at the importance of good communications skills

Chapter 3  addresses the need for effective meetings and appropriate decision making techniques

Chapter 4  reviews the management of changes caused by organisational growth and development

Chapter 5  talks about the necessity of clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the board

From Conflict to Co-operation was written by Kate Whittle and illustrated by Angela Martin. It was edited, updated and converted to web pages in early 2024. This new online version would not be available without the support of the following people and organisations, for which we are truly grateful:

We hate committees!

I hear it all the time, no-one’s got a good word for committees. Committees are domineering, inflexible and take too long to make decisions.

A camel is a horse desiClose up of the face and teeth of a camelgned by a committee, they say. Jolly well designed some might say (me) given their usefulness and amazing capacity to withstand desert heat and they have three sets of eyelids and two rows of eyelashes to keep sand out of their eyes and can completely shut their nostrils during sandstorms!

But seriously maybe it’s because people don’t know how to make a committee work well, or they’re only thinking about how to get their own way?

Not all committees are like that though. I give you one of the greatest committees in UK history – the Rochdale Pioneers! From the most uncertain beginnings, this committee of 28 artisans (half of them weavers) managed to put together £28 with which they bought butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and candles, and opened their now famous store in Toad Lane Rochdale in 1844. Three months later they added tea and tobacco and by the end of their first year, they had 80 members and £182 capital. Just 56 years later there were 1439 co-ops in every area of the UK.  There are now 3 million co-ops around the world, with 1.2 billion members*. Some committee!

Here’s 13 of them, in 1865, as the Rules of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society were adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance as International Co-operative Principles.


There’s more to this story here.

Wouldn’t you think that if we bring together a group of people with a range of different opinions, experience, skills and knowledge, they would be better at problem solving than one individual working on their own?

Sadly, this is often not the case as our aversion to the word ‘committee’ demonstrates. But does it have to be like this?

My experience working with co-operatives for over 30 years leads me to believe that it doesn’t, but that we need to learn how to work together. By that I mean building trust by having respect for each other; listening to others’ opinions, expressing ourselves clearly, establishing clear goals and agreeing working methods. We need to learn how to address conflict when it arises, not to fear it but to explore it, which we can do once we have built a foundation of trust and respect.

*not all of them inspired by our Rochdale Pioneers, but many of them with constitutions based on International Co-operative Principles, which in 1865 were themselves based on the Rules of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, founded in 1844.

Changes at Cooperantics

There’ve been some changes at Co-operantics. Nathan has moved on to greater things and can now be found at our sister co-op: Culture Co-op . We hope to be able to continue our productive and supportive relationship.  Contact

And I’m delighted to share that I’m now an Associate at People Support Co-op.

People Support Co-op is a registered co-operative society. Established in 2021 as a sociocratic worker co-op by three founder member directors, all women in the North West of England and each bringing many years of experience in the worker co-op movement. Our purpose is to provide a broad range of advice and support services related to human relationships in the workplace, and to support the co-operative movement in its role as a key player in economic and social change.

We are a workers’ co-op practising collective management within a non-hierarchical, sociocratic governance structure. We make decisions using consent decision making – a participatory approach that ensures everyone’s voice is heard and enables the organisation to move forward with the consent of all. All of our workers are empowered to play a role in the development of our business while being able to draw on each other’s experience and expertise.


Collaborative Tools

A blog mainly intended for participants on the Barefoot Co-op Development programme, but may be of interest more widely.

In the first of two sessions on ‘Co-operative Ways of Working’ we looked at the typical governance problems that can arise and discussed a range of collaborative tools useful for working with co-operative clients to resolve governance issues.

Here are some of them. I have suggested how they might be used, but of course it’s up to you! I’m sure you will find ways to adapt them for different co-op clients.


3 tools for effective meetings

Different decision-making methods – pros and cons

Sociocracy tools

Seeds for Change on consensus decision-making

Seeds for Change consensus video


An exercise that can help a start up co-op decide what teams/departments it needs. However this exercise also be useful with an existing co-op where there is role confusion &/or conflict over who does what. There are five steps:

Step 1: In pairs or trios, ask them to think up a typical day (or week) in their co-op. Make a list of all the decisions that need to be taken. Share and make a list of all the decisions, there maybe duplication, discuss and reduce the list to 10 typical decisions. Number them 1 – 10.

Step 2: All together agree a list of the different locations in the co-op where decisions can be made (for example individual job description, ad hoc meeting with other member; monthly GM, AGM etc.) Identify them A, B, C etc.

Step 3: Again in pairs or trios (or larger groups, depending on the number of participants) the task is to decide WHERE each of those typical decisions currently gets taken (not where it should, but where it does).

Step 4: Share and be amazed at how different (or not) their responses are.

Step 5: Facilitate a debate about how effective their current structure and/or procedures are. What is working well? Where are the overlaps/gaps? What needs tweaking? Encourage them to delegate a person or a couple of people to make a note of the key points (perhaps under those headings)  and write up a proposal for the next GM.


Most online references are for software development firms using Agile management techniques. I learnt this technique from a colleague who had learnt it in a software environment. (Thank you @simoncopsey) One of the things I like about this approach is that it’s a way of confronting conflict in the team without calling it conflict. Here’s a blog from Toptal, that provides more detail about the process.


Rounds, consent decision making


This one is a favourite, a good warm up but with a rich vein of learning for everyone.

  • Get all the participants either in a large room or outdoors. As them to spread out and fill up the space. Then ask them to each pick two fellow members (they shouldn’t speak, or point, the people they pick should not know they’ve been chosen).
  • Explain that their job is to locate themselves physically in space equidistant from both people. Expect lots of laughter and giggling as the room moves around. Might take some time, but eventually it will settle down and everyone will stop moving.
  • This is your cue to ask them how they felt about doing that. Then ask what they thought was happening? What might we learn from this exercise? Hopefully someone will say that they didn’t know who was following them. (If no-one says that, ask if anyone suspected who was following them). This for me is the first learning point and one that we can relate to power and influence. We all have power to influence people, but we often have no idea who is being influenced by us. We influence others by our behaviour, as well as what we might say or write.
  • Now ask one person to step out of the group. And repeat your instructions of earlier. This will cause everything to change, as people need to find others to follow. Again, lots of laughter and moving around but eventually it will quieten down and everyone will stop moving.
  • Ask again, what happened when one person left the group? Everything changed. Remind them about the group dynamics model of forming, storming, norming, performing. These stages of group development (perhaps not all of them and not necessarily in that order) will happen every time people leave or new people join a group.
  • What can we learn? For me, one important lesson references co-operative culture. That if you understand the importance of a strong co-operative culture and do your best to build and maintain it, others will follow your example. You will be walking the talk.


The Mindtools explanation linked above is intended for private enterprise, but a SWOT analysis works well in co-ops too. It’s helpful to clarify that strengths and weaknesses tend to be internal to the organisation, while opportunities and threats are external. Also you will find that a weakness can become a strength, but of course you have to recognise and acknowledge it first.


Excellent warm up, especially in a big co-op where people in different teams don’t get to talk to each other much.

Get everyone in a line according to when they became a member of the co-op. Then divide them into ‘age’ groups – the old timers, maybe a couple of groups in the middle and the newbies. They can chat and reminisce or share confusion or whatever, but they need to record an overall impression, to be shared with the other groups, of what the co-op feels like for them. Then after 15 minutes (or longer if time) go round the groups getting them to share their stories. Expect revelations!


A blog by Nathan Brown, adapted for use as a tool for exploring motivation in co-ops by Bob Cannell.

Worker co-ops are set up for the benefit of members, but how do we know what members want? Herzberg says that people have different motivations for going to work, which he divides into four:

twohygiene’ factors:

    • pay & security
    • great place to work

& two ‘motivational’ factors:

    • ethics & respect
    • challenge & personal development

The exercise:

Draw up a flip chart with 4 quadrants:

    1. pay & security
    2. great place to work
    3. ethics & respect
    4. challenge & personal development

Give each person 6 sticky dots. They have to stick them on the quadrant that most closely describes what motivates them to come to work in their co-op every day. They can distribute the dots as they like.

Feedback and discussion might include:

    • different ways in which people are motivated
    • how can this information help us with strategic planning?


A positive, ‘glass half full’ approach, involving four stages:

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

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.


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.

• 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

• 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

• 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


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”

Check Your Principles!

We were really pleased to see that the Co-ops Unleashed report from the New Economics Foundation, commissioned by the Co-op Party, referenced co-operatives undertaking a co-op principles audit every 5 years.  We have long advised co-ops to take a look at how they put the principles into practice, offering DIY guidance and an audit service (which provides external validity).  We also frequently deliver training sessions which include a section on the Co-operative Principles. As recently as last month, we delivered workshops with co-ops to discuss and understand what the coop principles mean in their co-op, and how they could be better put into practice.