Worker owned cooperatives: Work agreements and accountability

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Work Agreements Between Coop Members

Coops at Dev Summit:

Open Flows

FullSteam Labs

Design Action


Electric Embers


Keep each other accountable, distribute load equitably and balanced. History builds up between people over time. How do you sort out those problems.

What should be in a coop member agreement? How to address when someone isn’t, or someone feels someone isn’t, meeting their end of the agreement? How do you move on from dealing with it? To what extent can these things be mitigated by a contract or work agreement that clearly defines expectations and who’s responsible for what? Who has responsibility to push forward on a problem, how do you decide when the resolution is complete? How do we make these agreements, both the process and where do you store the agreement?

If document written correctly, it’s a mediator. It’s a pledge.

The external work agreements create safety, preventing getting into bad situations with clients. So, how do you create the same safety internally. What is the process.

People need to understand the agreements, including after those who wrote them have left the coop. Don’t wait till a problem is a crisis-level issue, address much sooner.

There is no accountability without accounting, but counting is always wrong. Question is how wrong.


Issues commonly come up around logging hours, who’s working what kind of hours. You said you would do this thing, you say it’ll be done but it doesn’t get done. Staying within or overstepping roles. Expectations when traveling for work, both with traveler and not. What do people need to be briefed on, and what not. Can some decision making be made more autonomously instead of full coop consensus. Vague thing of being equally invested and responsible, but may see certain people taking initiative all the time, process needs to be led, difficult conversation needs to be had… Are people stepping up equally, or is a subgroup carrying disproportionate weight. Some people aren’t prepared to be an owner and don’t know how to act that way and instead act as an employee and expect others to guide them.

How do we get to the agreements?

What goes in more weighty agreement as a worker-owner? What goes in a doc of general norms? How much do you codify, where do you put them, how do you treat the different things based on severity? How do you deal with the vague areas, too vague to codify? Want to feel like as one worker-owner the others are taking on the same level of mental responsibility, knowing people need to vary their level as life goes. There are some things that are worth writing, but not worth putting in agreements. Sometimes it’s the process of writing that gets you to the agreement.

What might be in these agreements?

Sharing all communications that happen with clients. Also helps with someone gets hit by a bus scenario. Expectations of communications, of a project lead, as an owner. But not every single thing will be in one. How do we support each other as humans? Be example of how we want workplaces to be. Where’s the balance between equal and equitable? These are not the same as values, but values can inform the agreements. Concrete things that frequently go wrong. Target number of hours/wk for full-time, and other-time worker-owners. Work hours—when you’re supposed to be working.