20 September 2010

Implementing the formula for co-operation

I'm always like posting guest blogs, here is a short article from Britta Werner, member of Unicorn Grocery and representative on the worker co-operative council.

In June 2010, I went to Plymouth to the Co-operative Congress. This was in the middle of the first Co-operative Fortnight. Prior to that, I have already heard something about the 'formula of cooperation'. I was a bit suspicious initially, a formula? For co-operation? It sounded a bit like an oxymoron to me. Co-operation should be a spontaneous thing, a bit of give an take but not like for like.

I kept walking past the big formula in the main hall at congress

After Congress, I looked up what the abbreviations stood for:

Sc * (Ci + Mt) = Co

Sc was shared commitment, yes, I can understand that. If at the time of the event, one of the parties is busy doing other things, then that would not really be co-operation. Ci stands for common interest, of course you would need that, if you are interested in different things, you would probably not get together in the first place.  Mt is mutual trust, I definitely have a lot of examples where co-operation doesn't work because there is no trust.  

So, I started to understand why those three elements had to be part of a successful co-operation (Co).

The paper is only 16 pages long, including appendices, notes and bibliography. It is written by Ian McDermott, with Jason Miller and Ed Mayo. It is a nice easy read and very accessible. Read it here.

Around the same time, the training team at Unicorn have asked me if I could do a training session on co-operatives. I agreed but was not sure what I was going to say. I really didn't feel like talking about the Rochdale Pioneers or just randomly explain what we talk about when I attend the the worker co-operative council meetings. So I decided to tell my colleagues about the formula of co-operation. 

I started of with quickly telling them about Ed Mayo's paper Dog Helps Dog World which shows how important in all aspects of live it is to act co-operatively. Ed Mayo tells in that paper that we could reduce inequality if businesses were more co-operative and that climate change can be dealt with if we did not only care about ourselves.After giving my colleagues some food for thought, I then started to talk about the formula.

I reminded my colleagues about our principles and values and why we are all working in a workers co-operative. But how is this possible and how can we get better at what we are doing?

Sc * (Ci + Mt) = Co

You and the other party/parties involved need to know that you want to help each other but you need to trust each other initially to establish that, but to make anything happen you need commitment and it needs to be mutual. All three elements create a multiplier effect, each multiplies the effect of the other two. Co-operation will be the result. However only if all three elements are present. The result will be rewarding and satisfying.
If any of these are zero, you will get a different result but not the satisfying achievement of co-operation.

The example of tennis players are given at some point in the paper but I preferred to be a bit mean to my colleagues and torture them with a recap of the recent world cup.

The German team, most players playing in co-operatively owned clubs, were at their best. All elements were present. The way they passed the ball, the way they showed trust to their fellow players. They were a team and they co-operated; they had the same interest: they wanted to win.

The England team on the other hand, were a group of individuals, worried about their careers in their clubs, they might have wanted to win it, but there was no real trust between them. Each player played for themselves. So, no co-operation and no success in the world cup.

I used the England v Germany match to wind my colleagues up but the more I looked for examples, the more I could see it. Spain won, again, most players are playing for cooperatively owned clubs, they were not only playing for themselves, not even only playing for their team but for their whole club, which is owned by the fans.

Every good training session should have a little test to apply your just learned knowledge. I didn't have to work hard for one because the 'co-operation health check' is already included in the paper. For all three elements are two statements each which describe what co-operation means. Each statement should then be marked on a scale of 1-5 of how true they are for the business. 

Shared Commitment
  • What gets agreed gets done.
  • Result are frequently tested against the original intent.
Common Interest
  • New possibilities emerge frequently because innovation is naturally fostered.
  • New parties want to join because they are attracted by what we do and how we do it.
Mutual Trust
  • Working relationship are emerging both for those involved and those around them.
  • People readily express themselves even if it goes against the grain becuase they are empowered and able to challenge.
Our staff are split into two groups for our training, one is attending training the other one is on the shop floor and vice versa. So I had to do the training session twice. When I did the health check, the first group, quickly marked all statements and discussed the points afterwards in a large group. The other group, however, immediately split into smaller groups to discuss it. This showed that co-operation can look very differently. Both groups had very similar answers and views about our business.

The paper also includes an 'acid test'
  1. Do you care enough about this to take action with others?
  2. Are you willing to trust the people you will collaborate with?
  3. Are you prepared to do what it takes?   
Good questions people in all kind of businesses should ask each other and their teams.
I concluded with pointing out how this formula can be used to help us making our business an even better place to work in. Most businesses will have some faults and once identified, the faults could be split into the elements of the formula and see what is lacking most. It might not work for every single aspect but at least it is a start.

When I came to the staff room in the evening, one of my colleagues has made this:
I can highly recommend this paper and if you have read it, then share it with your colleagues.

Formula for co-operation


roger sawtell said...

John, thanks for 'formula for co-operation' piece. I am just back from giving a talk on small co-ops to Worldly Leadership Summit at Ross-on-Wye. I think the delegates would be interested in such a formula and they certainly need to see the 'The UK co-operative economy 2010' because there is much ignorance of the co-op sector.
Roger Sawtell 20.9.10

John Atherton said...

Thanks Roger, if you reading my blog, i'd really appreciate any input you have on the Social Co-operatives blog i did recently.

If i remeber rightly you have done some research on them in the past?

Sion Whellens said...

Great blog Britta. A Co-ops UK board member recently poured scorn on the Formula as being nothing weightier than a pseudo-scientific skincream advert. What you've shown is how useful it can be as a basis for discussion of some of the things co-operation might entail. The only thing that's missing from the Formula is the mission for wider social equality and sustainabile communities, without which it could be the formula for the smooth functioning of a racist group.
On the subject of the world cup - Britain may not have many big co-op footie clubs, but on the other hand we didn't start any C20th European land wars, or execute all our socialists! ;)

bob cannell said...

really inspiring. Especially after a hard day trying to encourage people to be more cooperative. I know that whatever the problem, the answer is collective but trying to persuade other people to go for the more difficult but more effective collective option rather than the easier individual one is difficult.

So I will try to use your example.better still you come and do it!

Jason Miller said...

Hi Britta - great to hear how you've taken the formula and applied it!

when Ed, Ian and I were creating and writing the formula, we had in mind that it was far more than an intellectual piece, and that our aim was that co-operative - and non-co-operative businesses - would take this and apply it. It seems that you have succesfully done this and I'd be keen to hear how the journey pans out and what the results are going forward.

Likewise, if you are interested in our plans to apply the formula more broadly - as well as engage businesses in the next level of performance - then happy to keep you updated.