Frequently Asked Questions About Collectives:
What is a collective?
A collective is a cooperative enterprise, owned and operated by its workers.
What's the difference between a co-op and a collective?
Both are essentially enterprises or organizations operated for the benefit of those using its services. A co-op may or may not be actually operated by its members, and may not always require that members also be workers. These two elements are integral to a collective; its members own and operate it.
The decision-making process is another area in which the two may differ: co-ops often operate on the basis of majority rule, whereas collectives are characterized by consensus.
Who's the manager in a collective?
A collective doesn’t really have a ‘boss’ — it runs counter to the collective philosophy. In some collectives, there may be a member whose task it is to act as office manager, another who does bookkeeping, another who purchases inventory...each of which in a traditional business might be regarded as a managerial position but, in a collective, these tasks are usually distributed among numerous members, based on skill and inclination and in such a way as to avoid a power imbalance.
How does anything get done if there's no boss?
Don’t you find that you pretty much already know your own job? Most people, when they go to work, have a pretty good idea what needs to be done and how to proceed without being told. The day-to-day stuff is easy because we are all experienced and know our jobs. Each collective has its own approach, but when making decisions that affect the business, consensus is always key. For major decisions, like services to offer, pricing, major equipment purchases, we involve all the members. Yes, we may defer to the recommendations of individual members with special expertise, or committees tasked with researching the question, but we have equal say in determining the outcome.
How do you decide what to pay yourselves - benefits and stuff like that?
We’re the owners as well as the workers; while this presents sometimes competing instincts, our decisions are ultimately based on what we’d like, what's fair, and what's good and reasonable for the business. One of the incentives to be responsible in this area is the year-end distribution of profit shares; if spending has been high, we have little to distribute at year’s end. If investment in the business has been too low, profits will diminish over time. We have a long view.
How does the business management end of things get done? (Who pays the bills?)
Again, each collective will approach this in their own way. In our case, in addition to our usual daily work, each of us takes on administrative tasks on the basis of skill or inclination. We break down the administrative areas as follows: Accounts payable, accounts receivable, financial, sales, marketing/promotion, accounts development, payroll/vacation, new technology research.
How does hiring and firing work?
There’s no special trick to getting hired at a collective. When we hire, we naturally look for the usual qualifications (related work experience) but we’re also looking for the qualities we’ll need in an owner -- intelligence, initiative, imagination, and a good fit with the personality and culture of the collective itself. A new hire begins with a period of apprenticeship. During this time, as a non-member, s/he may not vote, but as a worker, does earn a share of the profits. After successfully completing the apprenticeship, the new hire is offered membership. Our job security is pretty high -- In keeping with our statement of purpose, firing is regulated by a system of checks and balances, formal reprimands and a probationary period -- no one member has the power to unilaterally dismiss another.
But don't you have to buy-in to get hired?
When an apprentice is offered membership, s/he is expected to buy in. The buy-in amount is deducted from their paycheck one small increment at a time (it's refunded when a member leaves the collective). This way, the collective only has to worry about hiring the best people -- not just the ‘best-people-who-happen-to-have-the-money-to-invest’ -- and no qualified applicant gets sent away because of a stupid financial barrier.
So what happens when you leave - do you get to keep your shares?
Nope. We’re worker-owned, which means only those actively working here can be owners and we all know this when we sign on. A departing member is reimbursed the buy-in amount and is paid her/his usual share of the profits for the part of the year s/he worked.