After a turbulent year, the UK’s largest co-op, The Co-operative Group, has voted to radically change the way it is governed. It was previously criticised for being ‘ungovernable’, but the Group says its new structure will increase democracy.
But, democracy within co-ops can be a complicated issue. It is often an ongoing experiment for the individual co-op, and even a democratic structure doesn’t ensure a fair businesses for all - workplace culture also plays a big part.
So, what are successful co-ops out there doing to create genuine democracy and a good workplace culture? Are there lessons for The Co-operative Group and others?
Nathan Brown, a member of consultancy Co-operantics, works with businesses to help them become more participative, that is, to bring in the views of employees and staff to a greater degree. He stresses the importance of a co-operative culture as well as having the formal processes needed to run a business in place.
“Culture can reinforce and support the formal processes or it can usurp them,” Brown offers. “When a co-op gets it right, by being open and participatory, the culture and formal processes work in synergy. But it’s often an evolving relationship between the members,” he says.
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