Learning to co-operate?

There’s loads of valuable support out there for anyone wanting to start up a co-op. It’s certainly easier than it was in 1992 when, along with 2 others, I started the process of co-founding the first co-op of my working life. But even now, 20 years later, the focus is still primarily on the ‘business’ end of that process – legal structures, administration and business advice. The ‘people’ end seems to get less emphasis. And yet any successful co-op is far more than a particular form of legally constituted organisation. It’s a group of individuals coming together and choosing to give up a part of their autonomy to work collectively because they understand that by doing so they can realise a vision that they couldn’t realise alone. The whole being more than the sum of its parts, and all that.

Don’t get me wrong, back in ’93 we needed all the support we could get on the business side of things. But it didn’t take long for us to realise that we aren’t all as adept at co-operating on that interpersonal level, day in day out, as we might at first have assumed. Many of the processes we adopted, because they spoke to our values and hopes for how we’d relate (such as consensus decision-making), were learnt through cross-pollination from the activist world rather than through co-op support channels.

Rhizome’s working with Co-operatives UK to try to redress the balance. We’ll be at the Co-operatives United event in Manchester this week helping to conduct a learning needs survey, which we hope will lead to some high quality support for co-ops in areas such as decision-making, communication, and dealing with conflict. There are many ideas under consideration – from the more obvious face-to-face training through online learning to mentoring and workplace secondments.

If you are a co-op and can’t make the event, never fear. Fill in the survey online so that your voice, and learning needs, are heard! If you are at the event and someone leaps out at you with a clipboard, be nice – it could be Rhizome’s own Carl, Gill, Jo or Maria!



co-operative mediation training

I spent two days working with people from worker coops on the theory and practice of mediation. The first day also coincided with the UN International Year of Cooperatives.

We started by looking at and discussing what mediation means

  • what mediation is and how it differs from other dispute resolution approaches
  • some understanding conflict tools – conflict mapping, PIN, impact/influence, process/content models. (PIN stands for positions, interests and needs. See the resources page for more.)
  • that it’s not just the people and their issues – there are also structural and contextual issues to consider

Then we moved on to reviewing and developing some core skills…in two parts

  1. state of mind – being neutral, impartial and non-judgemental…what this is like to experience…can we be totally non-judgemental (about what we think, but not about how we are understanding the dialogue)…the questions that might be good to ask to seek clarity
  2. active listening – how it is different from everyday conversation…feels clunky at first, but like any skills needs to be developed…enables people to own their solutions – the problem is the parties’, not the mediators

And then a fair bit of practice…1st contact meetings…face to face mediation practice…debriefing

We also had plenty of discussions to understand scenarios and possibilities. And looked at some of the complexity of applying mediation – the need to amend confidentiality (disclose stuff where you say you’ll harm yourself or others)…the difficulty of having two roles – mediator and personnel worker…the need for a referral process (Cooperatives UK to draft, group to review)…what a mediator network might look like and how to make it so…further developmental needs.

The handouts we used are available on the resources page.

People were asked to evaluate the training too. Overall it scored 8.89 out of 10. I’ve included some comments below, but it also struck me, from the evaluation, that we need to get some more info on the kinds of disputes that happen in coops (as opposed to other workplaces) to enhance the case studies/role plays.

Some comments about what was found useful

Structuring the process of mediation – making it less scary

Opening my eyes to the positive potential of mediation within my organisation

Charts, diagrams – very useful tools to explain the process quickly and simply

The ability to put what we were talking about into practice through role play

Some about what was less useful

Role plays too tame. Get people to act naughty.

Each part seemed to be useful and serve its purpose, so its hard to pick the ‘least useful’ bits.

What was missing

Nothing I can think of. More detail/practice would be useful, but I feel that as much was packed into the time available as was possible.

More information about mediation theory, but this probably wasn’t possible in the time

Rhizome’s mediation guides are available on our Resources page

New Rhizome mediation guides

A little late for Christmas, here’s a gift from us to you. We’ve been busy over December and early January working with Stig – our designer of choice – on a range of  guides to all aspects of mediation. The first few are on our Resources page already. More to follow in the next week.

We hope they provide useful additional support to the mediation training that we offer. As always your comments and feedback would be very much appreciated. Contact us, or better still leave a comment on the blog

In the range are:

  • What is mediation
  • The Stages of Mediation
  • The Principles of Mediation
  • A State of Mind for Mediation
  • Active Listening in Mediation
  • Mediation Competencies
  • Mediation Reading List

We’ll also be overhauling our facilitation materials and adding a new Guide to Consensus Decision-Making. If there are other resources you’d find useful and that you think we can provide, tell us so.


Looking forward to it….

The start of 2012 is a bit hectic here in the rhizosphere. The exciting thing for me is that almost all 7 of Rhizome’s facilitators are in action in January and February.

Perry’s facilitating a day of meeting facilitation skills with the folk at Climate Rush, looking at their own meetings as well as public meetings they hope to organise. And that theme of facilitating internal and external meetings runs through several other pieces of work we have lined up – Maria and myself will be running a day’s training for the staff of 38 Degrees, and then Jo and I will be doing something similar for staff at WDM.

Carl is leading on a 2 day mediation course happening in early January, co-incidentally starting on the first day of the International Year of Co-operatives – us, a co-op, training members of other co-ops as mediators to support co-ops, and all for Co-operatives UK.

Meanwhile Emily (with her Transition hat on) and I will be training the 3rd generation of facilitators for Transition Leicester’s Footpaths project.

Perry and I are working with Talk Action on a day long consensus decision-making workshop on January 26th – which will hopefully run a few times each year, if the pilot is a success.

And Jo’s also leading some work for Greenpeace, organising and facilitating a review day for the team of volunteer political lobbying trainers, who we trained in 2011, to happen in late February.

We’ll also be revamping some old resources and publishing some new ones to support this work – all available to download for free from our resources page. This includes guides on all aspects of mediation, an area of our resources we’ve been painfully slow to add to. I hope they are worth the wait!