SpringCafeMontageWhen we describe what the Co-op Cafe is, sometimes we start with what it isn’t…it’s not a training or a workshop and it’s not just for boards or managers or for this or that kind of staff. It IS a daylong conversation focused on a theme that’s important to our co-ops—a conversation that can and should include all roles in the co-op—a theme that’s important at local, regional and national levels.

A general manager asked me who she should invite to the Co-op Cafe from her co-op. I suggested anyone who is involved in the co-op’s own conversations about development and who would benefit from being exposed to a range of perspectives. I think it of it as an effective and affordable way to expose directors, management and staff to important trends and issues. The Co-op Cafe can be a way of bringing third party voices into board, management team, and staff conversations. And don’t underestimate the value of a road trip for a teaming experience! Including active members is a way to tap them for input and support too.

More than 260 people from 60 food co-ops participated in four Co-op Cafes in March that focused on Embracing Change with Courageous Leadership. The Cafes took place in Sacramento, Madison, Keene, Asheville. River Valley Co-op of Northampton once again took high honors with 42 people participating in the Co-op Cafe in Keene! The co-ops in Chico, Sacramento, French Broad, Willimantic, Viroqua, Davis, Belfast, and Chatham each sent eight or more people, with lots of co-ops sending six or seven people. Overall, about 30% were directors, 10% general managers and 60% were other managers and staff plus some active members.

The structure of the day breaks the big theme into smaller parts: What change do we see in our communities, in the marketplace and in our co-ops? What does courageous leadership look like? What’s our leadership position? What outcomes are we working to achieve? How do we build alignment and commitment toward the successful accomplishment of our goals? And, finally, what are the key takeaways and commitments we’re going home with?

Short presentations were sprinkled throughout the day to stimulate the thinking in the room and inspire the conversations. These included examples of courageous leadership, descriptions of key issues and trends, and insights on alignment and commitment by Brett Fairbairn, Michelle Oliver, Alex Stone, Dan Arnett (courage, merger), Nicole Klimek, Steve Maviglio, Ann Hoyt, Lizzy Haywood, Holly Fearing, John Tashiro, Kyle Larson, Rochelle Prunty, Jon McDonald, Delene Porter, Jacki Arthur, Steve Breckheimer, Ruffin Slater and me (Mark Goehring). These short presentations are now available in the CDS CC Library. Dave Olson, NCG National Co+op Development Manager, shared recent trends and suggested focusing on Product, Pricing and Productivity as three key courageous leadership opportunities.

dave-olson-apr2016-pullout-tallYou can get a sense of the groups’ thinking by looking at the Co-op Cafe Quilts. Participants illustrated their key ideas on paper quilt squares and we put those together as quilts—one for each event. Co-op Cafe Quilts were on display at each event and are available in the CDS CC Library for your viewing pleasure and for download. Quilts and photo galleries are available using the following links: Sacramento, Madison, Keene, Asheville. Feel free to download and use the photos in your newsletter.

Keep the conversation going by checking out some of the recorded presentations in board, management, staff or member meetings. More Co-op Cafes are on the horizon in the Southwest, Northwest, Mid-Atlantic and Michigan regions. Take advantage, rent a bus and bring a bunch people from your co-op to join the conversation.

My own takeaways from the Cafes are to focus on clarity of purpose and compelling goals for co-ops; that “good” produced by co-ops is great, that it’s worth the effort and that the goodness scales up; that stewardship is a way to describe leadership; that participation should be easy and fun; and, finally, to demonstrate and reward accomplishment…we win!

Special thanks to National Co+op Grocers (NCG) for sponsoring the Co-op Cafes and to National Cooperative Bank (NCB) for additional support.

Stay tuned to the evolving theme for future Co-op Cafes. Currently we’re leaning toward diving into the Power of Participation.


leadership-green90Strategic Leadership: successfully articulating the cooperative’s direction/purpose and setting up the organization for movement in this direction

Each issue of Connections will focus on one pillar of the Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance. For more information about 4PCG, read the articles in the January/February 2014 and March/April 2014 issues of Cooperative Grocer.  
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