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February 16, 2011

How to Set Up a Collective Organization

Filed under: Growth Management — Mike Van Horn @ 5:41 pm

Asked by Dasha Bushmakin in LinkedIn

mvh answer. I belonged to an artists’ collective once, years ago. I was the potter. (I have a photo of myself inside a kiln with shoulder length hair.) When times were good, things worked fine. But when a crisis hit, it essentially fell apart; we had no way to make the quick decisions needed. Collective decision making didn’t work well. People argued while we went off the cliff.

The collective of artists needs to be the board of directors: create the vision and basic strategy, spell out the policies. Then turn it over to a real manager–whether one of the members or someone hired from outside–and keep hands off day-to-day decisions. The board sets goals and policy, the manager executes. This way, one competent person responds quickly to whatever arises.

The board gives guidance and feedback in pre-arranged ways, and if the manager doesn’t do the job you want, then replace ’em. This works out best for everybody. The artists get to be artists and not managers (which they probably detest having to do). And the business is run according to their broad wishes.”


  1. A collective structure is not easy work but success is very possible. Its for people who want to make systematic changes in heirarchy, not want to seem cool by saying “I’m in an Artisits Collective”. It’s real, hard work. In your example, it seems like a bunch of self absorbed bratty artists didn’t know how to cooperate. Just google “cooperatives” and learn about the myriad of successful businesses that use the collective model.

    Comment by rockie — January 25, 2012 @ 7:12 am

  2. @msrockie
    I don’t think we’re disagreeing. My main point is that it’s important to separate the strategy and policy making function from the daily execution function–even if the same people are doing both. What doesn’t work is for people to argue over policy while trying to get the job done–especially if, as often happens, this arises during a crisis.
    But I’ve seen unresolved disagreements over direction or policy poison the day-to-day operation.
    Even a collective needs leadership. And professional management.

    Comment by mvh — January 25, 2012 @ 10:00 am

  3. Mike,

    We are disagreeing. Your “main point” demonstrates that you dont have clear how a collective is
    supposed to function. A collective by definition is a horizontally organized group and therefore
    has no hierarchy (i.e. management) . A collective can be composed of all professionals. Also,
    just because everyone has equal power does not mean there is no leadership. Leaders know
    how to share power and let newer or less informed members feel like they have a voice. When
    a collective experiences a “crisis” and a decision needs to be made there are strategies and
    procedures that can be used while maintaining the collective structure. In a collective composed
    of people who know what a collective should be, “arguing” is a well structured conversation that
    allows for disagreements, discussion and analysis. If your collective is just arguing, everyone needs
    to take a step back and study collectivizing 101.

    I am a member of a collective that runs a business and we have had many problems but continue
    to grow and expand. In April of 2012, we will have been in business for 10 years. Our process allows
    the entire collective to take part and have a voice in the day-to-day routines of running our business
    while allowing everyone to also have a voice in the policy making, mission statements, and collective
    goal setting.

    My suggestion to you is to study how a collective or cooperative really works. Study the consensus
    process. Your criticisms of the collective model demonstrate that you are unfamiliar with some very
    basic collective processes.

    The collective/cooperative model is harder work than a heirarchy because it aims to undermine the status
    quo of imbalance of power. It is harder work because it is easier to tell everyone what to do instead
    of listen.


    Comment by rockie — January 26, 2012 @ 8:48 am

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