Your organisational structure

This section details who owns, who controls, who employs, by what mechanism in your co-operatively run business or organisation.

As this is still part of the feasibility stage, we do not go into the complexities of HR, or the various considerations of hierarchy here. There is more information on HR under growing your co-operative.

This short video gives you an overview of the HR basics you need to consider when starting a co-operative:


Governance and management

You will need to understand the difference between governance and management:

  • Governance is about setting policy and strategy 
  • Management is about making sure that the business is run according to policy

You will need to understand how both work and interact, specifically:

  • How will the work be organised?
  • How will day-to-day management decisions be taken?
  • How does that relate to the way big strategic decisions are made by your Members or Board?

A structure to fit your business

As a co-op is made up of at least three people, you will need some kind of organisational structure. 

There are certain functions that all businesses need to have, such as:

  • Governance and strategic planning
  • Financial management
  • Marketing
  • Human resource management
  • Operations

These will need to be carried out by individuals, teams or departments, depending on the size of your organisation. And you need to know how these individuals, teams or departments are dependent on each other, and will interact.

Organisational design

This short video gives an overview of recruiting people when starting a co-operative:


At this stage you don't need to draw up a detailed organisational chart for your business, but if you can, do. There are numerous templates available online to help you draw-up a structure.

Depending on your size and the nature of your business, you may have a hierarchical structure below or not (see some examples of organisatonal structures) – either way, you need to ensure that the key tasks above are being managed effectively.

Refer back to where you considered organisational structure in your feasibility study. If you didn’t manage to do this, you should do so now by visiting the above link.

Outline your organisational structure

Use the content from your feasibility study to populate this organisational structure template:

What you need to say about the organisational structure of your co-operative depends very much upon the business model and how it is to be governed so feel free to customise this template to suit.

Employee Buyouts

If you are considering a model that involves an Employee Buyout, read more information under Employee Buyouts.

Examples of organisational structure

There are some broad descriptions of how co-operatives might organise themselves on a day-to-day basis:

Examples of organisational structure

Traditional “hierarchy”

Some co-operatives organise like traditional businesses with a manager or managers overseeing employees or – for larger co-operatives – departments with department heads. The fundamental difference from a traditional business is that the Board to whom the manager or department heads report is elected by and from the members.  In some co-operatives the management or department head roles are filled by members who are elected to the role.

Self-managed teams

Some larger co-operatives organise the business into different departments and then manage the work within those departments democratically as a team. There will usually be a co-ordinating body made up of representatives of each team to ensure the different departments all work to a common strategy.  This co-ordinating body may be the Board or it may report to the Board.

Collective or “flat” structure

Some co-operatives organise the whole business as a flat structure.  All the members of the co-op are involved in decisions, often holding short meetings to deal with operational issues that one or two individuals haven't been given the authority to make decisions on.

The information and tools in this section have been developed by our colleagues at Co-operative Assistance Network.

Updated: 26/03/2019