Rhizome’s organisation and structure

Rhizome is a co-operative which brings together the skills and experience of a network of facilitators for your benefit. We’re a co-operative consortium – that is a co-op of freelance trainers. Some of us have extensive facilitation, training and mediation practices outside of Rhizome. For others Rhizome is where we do most of our work. We have no employees – all of us are self-employed.

We use consensus decision-making. Surprisingly that’s not as common as you might think in co-operatives (though we hope to change that!). Not all of our members are experienced or fluent with consensus, so there’s a need for ongoing skillsharing until we reach a shared understanding of both the values and practice of consensus.

We endeavour to co-facilitate when possible (that is work as a pair of facilitators, occasionally more). It’s through planning and delivering work together that much of our skill sharing happens. We also find that the groups and organisations we work with enjoy it and see a real benefit in working with more than one facilitator.

In 2011 we grew from our 2 founders to a more diverse co-op of 7 facilitators. Previously we could afford to be organic and informal, now we need more agreed processes. Many of these are still in development through our face to face meetings (sadly not as often as we’d like them). In between times we improvise trying to ensure that we’re fair to everyone. These conversations include:

  • How we work together effectively even though we are distributed across the UK – we currently have facilitators in Manchester, Leicester and London

    • What role will the use of social media play?
    • How do we balance reducing travel (and carbon) with remaining a coherent and connected co-operative?
  • How do we allocate work within the co-op? This is especially relevant with paid work, of which there is never as much as we’d like to ensure we all earn a sustainable livelihood. Of course we try to balance financial concerns with other criteria – clearly there’s who would deliver the best service to our clients, who’s geographically nearer, who would most appreciate the opportunity to learn on the job, who is available, who haven’t had an opportunity to co-facilitate recently, and so on
  • How we make day-to-day decisions: What autonomy do our co-ordinator(s) have? What can be decided by a subgroup of the co-op? What needs to come to the full co-op?
  • How do we pay for co-ordination time, much of which is currently done for free? And who does it? Is it centralised into one or two people’s hands or do we all take on an aspect of it?
  • How do we share learning from the work we do?

When we’re paid for our work (as opposed to the pro bono work we do), after paying for our members time and expenses there’s a modest pot of money left over. We use this for:

  • co-op expenses (meetings, admin costs etc),
  • the development of the co-op (training, time spent getting to know each other better and sharing skills, stories and learning)
  • paying for co-ordination time
  • paying our facilitators to deliver work to groups who can’t afford a fee
  • giving away – to support events and causes we support

As always we welcome your thoughts and comments. In fact there are a few comments below which relate to an earlier version of this page, but which still have some relevance.

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11 thoughts on “Rhizome’s organisation and structure

  1. This all looks really good. I’m going to think more about it all, but here’s one thing that jumps out to me now as missing in this list.

    Amongst the responsibilities of any core working group for a venture like this I think there needs to be something about providing support, challenge, development and encouragement to each individual member of the project.

    Non-hierarchical structures and manager-free work structures have all kinds of benefits, but I often see manager-less workplaces that lack some other way of doing some of the stuff a more enlightened manager would try to do: e.g.
    – telling you when you’re working too hard and supporting you in thinking through how to cut your workload
    – spending time one on one identifying what training/development you might need
    – checking in regularly with you about your work, holding you to account if you’re not doing stuff properly and saying well done if you are.

    I think often it’s kind of assumed that if consensus is working well this stuff just kind of happens. But I see so many collectives where people are knackered and neglect thinking about their own needs to the longer term detriment of the group, or where some performance issue is left unaddressed til it creates a crisis. So I’d make sure it’s listed explicitly as a responsibility of the co-op, with structures (coaching, mentoring, peer managing, peer appraisals, whatever) in place.

  2. I agree with the above comment, and partly building on that I think there is also a need for the coop dealing with the infrastructure of working with a team of practitioners. By this I mean things like:
    – how do new people get taken on: selection and assessment procedures, creating a process for this
    – how do people progress through different potential levels of practitioner? e.g. apprentice, co-practitioner, lead practitioners? again, creating a process and set of criteria for this
    – how will the quality of the delivery be assessed and assured?

    Also a need for a clear and transparent process for how work gets allocated

    In addition I think there will be a need for a strategic thinking function and an outward-looking aspect of the coop which doesn’t seem to be so apparent above.

  3. Well a lot and not much has happened since Nick left a comment. Matthew is now a father and I’m now married. These events in no way excuse our tardiness in replying, but Nick has been talking to Matthew.

    My thinking on some of what’s raised above –
    Social media – I think one to one and group video conferencing will be useful to use. And teleconferences where we all look at the same documents on line can also be used. Of course this all means we use the same software and there will/may be issues about the ethics of using say – Skype.

    The core group idea – I’d say that at the moment this is Matthew. I’d like to see the coop bigger – if only because it’ll be interesting to see how it works – but the big question remains whether it needs to be bigger and what an optimal size is for this kind of venture?

    Connected to this is the idea of progression that Nick mentions. I’m not sure that we have or will have the capacity to be anything other than a co-op of artisans at the moment. Here’s the analogy I used with Matthew. A garage that fixes motor vehicles is going to be sold off by its parent company and the mechanics decide to set up a co-op and run it themselves. The co-op is the members who are currently working in the garage. The coop only recruits new members if one retires or they decide to grow having obtained a regular flow of additional work. The new member is a mechanic with the experience to fix vehicles. After a little while they offer work experience, but membership remains conditional on work coming in.

    Which begs the question of the difference between a coop and a partnership?

    • Thanks Jon,
      We do have twitter account but it sits dormant, as we’ve decided that for now life’s too short to tweet. But good to see your co-op links. We’ve just written a short briefing to encourage co-ops to use consensus decision-making – our contribution to Co-ops Fortnight. Feel free to tweet the world on our behalf once it’s uploaded ( very soon I hope!)

  4. Hello
    I’m Education Coordinator for Transition Network and am also a Trustee of Transition Town Totnes (plus doing a lot of community work with Community Charters and bio-regional engagement). Really interested to see what you are doing, it looks good and valuable. Maybe just a bit too cool to give only your first names in Who are We? Can you add your surnames please so I can get to appreciate more about who you are?!
    Thanks and good wishes from Isabel Carlisle

    • Thanks Isabel, we’d be very happy to post more about what you’re doing if you ever want to write a guest post. As for ‘a bit too cool’ just using our forenames – I’ll have a word with the coop and see what the feeling is. Being too cool is not something we get accused of every day….

    • Isabel – are you from the English/Scottish border? That’s about the only inference I might take from your surname. I infer a lot more from your question and observation, but it is only an inference – and the inference may well be misplaced or inaccurate. I know a little about the TT movement; and could find out more if I spoke to someone or browsed the website. But tell me, if my surname was Rust, Granger or Farah, how would that change your appreciation of what Rhizome is or does?

      • Hello people- wonderful to see people being supportive and co-facilitating and training and learning from each other. I have worked a collective and found it very interesting and challenging. I was younger than I am now and I am more patient and perhaps see the value of what you are doing.

        Good luck- what would be helpful is to have a summary of the skills and capabilities- I know this is changing all the time (if not the surname!).

        You say that paid work is hard to find- do you have person who has key responsibility for marketing even if this person is collectively assisted?

        Also what is your pricing policy- have you innovated anything that shares risk in pricing with your clients? I am thinking of going to market with buy now pay something now and the rest over the long term-if it happens! I am wondering if any one tried this and what the experience exists already?
        Best Regards
        Shamsher

      • Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. We’re planning on overhauling the website text someday soon (but don’t hold your breath) and hopefully afterwards the info you mention will be easier to see.

        All ideas on pricing policy and marketing much appreciated so feel free to keep them coming.

        What collective work were you involved in?
        Matthew

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