Growing and Shrinking your Tech Co-op/Development shop

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  • Go around about one thing that's gone well and one thing that's gone poorly
  • Touch on differences between coops vs non-coop shops: ownership
  • Ways of growing and adding people in ways that people feel bought-in
  • Being willing to task risks, like taking on debt, is interesting. Sometimes non-coops are better able to take bigger risks, but in a coop sometimes people aren't willing to take big risks
  • Having an active democratic process that's really well established in the organization culture is essential in order to discuss big questions like whether to shrink or grow
  • Have a retrospective every two weeks (from agile methodology) as an organization. Everyone writes things that are going on for them. Everyone puts things into buckets of happy, not happy, etc. Everyone gets to have three votes about stuff to talk about. Then everyone talks about the items that have a lot of votes.
  • Some folks feeling panicky about deciding to bring someone on as a worker before being brought on as a worker-owner. They decided to bring someone in for a certain amount of time. The panic is around is it ok to bring someone in as a worker, but not an owner at first? Is it a good thing to give people the option to be a worker without being an owner? This can develop a division of worker vs owner that may not have been there otherwise.
  • Design Action has a 9 month process with 3 month evaluations with no option to stay a worker without becoming. Also have a buddy throughout the process that new folks can direct questions toward who will then bring the questions to the whole collective. Phased process for participating in collective meetings and when to start to voting in collective meetings.
  • Quilted also has a 9 month prospective membership period. It seems pretty standard for cooperatives. The opposite feels scary: getting into a complicated financial relationship with someone you don't know. Also have a buddy with three month check ins and a one month check in. One big difference is new hires come to collective meetings and do participate.
  • This process that Design Action and Quilted has does establish a culture that new hires are treated as owners, though they aren't yet. Being in the owner mindset.
  • Quilted had a founders' syndrome session: over-functioning / under-functioning, barrier to skills transfer, power imbalances, problems in group dynamic. Not pretending that there isn't a power dynamic just because everyone is an owner because there are always power dynamics, such as folks that have been around much longer.
  • Talked about finances and how to have financial reserves
    • Some folks are hand-to-mouth. Sometimes keeping an extra month of payroll in the bank. Being certain that you can pay new hires.
  • Has anyone taken any loans?
    • Design Action has in the past taken loans from Western Mass Cooperative Development Fund, specifically a resource for cooperatives.
    • Quilted has never taken a loan, but comes up very rarely. We are big believers on having reserves and different ones: fixed expenses, payroll, emergency, labor expense, stipends etc. In practice, when we need the money, we will take the money no matter what it's been earmarked for in the past.
    • But Quilted has also taken short-term loans from owners where owners don't get paid payroll for a short period of time because of cash-flow issues. In those cases, workers get paid, but owners don't.
    • One coop has $10,000 reserve: That's what we feel comfortable. We are paid $29 / hour, billable or non-billable. With an elective option in there. 13% of total time is for free choice. That's kept us being really stable. We can keep track of our billable vs non-billable. We've calculated that if we stay above 34% of hours are billable. We haven't yet distributed patronage.
  • Talked about shrinking organizations:
    • Folks chose to leave based on ideals / values: wanting to be co-located not virtual, so someone who was not co-located left for a local coop.
    • Not enough money to live on.
    • Old relationship power dynamics made it too difficult to move from boss-worker to co-owners.
  • Having a best friends culture, breaking into a gender dominated culture. Growing means changing language, changing to encompass folks' different needs.