by Laurene Sorensen, Co-op Board President
Your Co-op Board goes on retreat twice a year, usually for an entire weekend. Sometimes we bring our pajamas and stay at a B and B or conference facility. Other times, we stay close to home, meeting at a member’s house or a local public space. Usually, we bring in a facilitator from CBLD, a business consulting group that works primarily with consumer co-ops. The facilitator asks us to put together an agenda for the weekend’s work. In planning a retreat, we define an ambitious but doable task that will provide forward momentum for not only the Board, but also the whole Co-op. In spring 2016, for example, our agenda was to critique, refine, and approve drafts of proposed bylaws and policies.
We had the intention to hold another facilitated, out-of-town retreat and work on growth-related topics. But a board is like a river: “it” flows through the same place (our Co-op), but “it” is never the same water, because we have annual elections. This year we went from a seven-person to a nine-person board, including four new directors. After some of us attended or assisted with Board orientation, we realized that two hours was not long enough to answer everyone’s questions on key subjects such as policy governance, the competitive landscape, and Co-op history at the local and global levels. So we created a retreat agenda that expanded on all of these topics.
We also needed to find an optimal weekend for eleven adults to get together (nine directors plus the GM and Willow, our board administrative assistant). Herd cats much? Easter, WSU spring break, Mother’s Day, graduation, business trips and family obligations pushed us to compromise: instead of a weekend, we met on a Friday evening and part of a Saturday. Friday night was a teambuilding/social evening at my house. Carol McFarlane and Idgi Potter brought their babies Harper and Wade, and they assisted Colette dePhelps in presenting a leadership styles exercise. The night’s shining accomplishment? Harper took her first steps! We had home-cooked tacos, wine and beer, and lots of conversation.
Saturday we moved to the Center (the Co-op’s future campus location). Melinda and Colette were the main facilitators of the day’s activities. In the morning we lounged around on sofas watching movies, talking, and eating. Our goal was to enhance the orientation process for our new members; the movies were recorded interviews with managers of other co-ops who spoke about market trends in the co-op world, the competitive landscape, and other big-picture topics.
Only then did we move into future-based thinking. We revisited (or visited, for the new members) the concept of an expansion timeline through an interactive exercise. As a Board, we have much more information about the process than we had a year ago, and the new directors had valuable insights.