People’s Food Co-op, Ann Arbor, Mich.
When it comes to working together, people often think that it’s a matter of the softer skills—being able to ask questions, listening—that makes teamwork happen. It’s certainly one of the elements, but co-op board leaders also find that good systems, training, and taking the time to get to know each other also contribute to good working relationships.
Teamwork, or teaming, is also one of the 4 Pillars of Cooperative Governance (see the introduction to this model here). By focusing on how the board can work together more effectively, not only will the board accomplish more, but when one pillar is strengthened it increases the opportunity for other pillars to benefit.
At the People’s Food Co-op in Ann Arbor, Mich., they’ve been particularly focused on teamwork since hiring their new general manager. In addition to working well with her, they also wanted to work on their board’s process. For Gaia Kile, the board’s president, this has meant more attention to the concept of servant leadership, or using one’s position as a leader to serve others in order to promote teamwork. “People work together best when they listen to each other,” Kile said. “When conflict comes up it can be harder to listen; people get really challenged.” The board tries to work with a high degree of consensus, but it’s inevitable that people may disagree.
Kile said it’s important not to panic. “Automatically agreeing is not necessarily a good thing. Dissenting views are often an important contribution,” he said. “It’s a skill all of us on the planet could be better at—listening to differences.” He believes it’s at the core of what they do to cooperate.
When Kile became president of the board a year ago, he met with every single member of the board to get to know them better, which he thinks contributes to greater teamwork as well. Taking the time to understand each other as individuals and as a board, formally and informally can really pay off in stronger relationships. Former board president, and current vice president Rebecca Kanner concurs. During road trips to CBLDworkshops, they found that the drive offered good opportunities to share insights and thoughts. “On the way back we reflected on things that we learned,” Kanner said.
Additionally, both Kile and Kanner said the CBLD trainings have helped new board members learn their role quicker, leading to stronger teamwork right away. The process of hiring a new general manager was also an exercise in team building that Kanner said led to more open communication with the GM and amongst the board.
The focus on teaming has also freed up the board to spend more time on the co-op’s Ends, and part of that may include a review of the co-op’s policies and discussion of the future. “We’ve had extra time to put in discussion of the Ends on the agenda,” Kile said. They’ve also been considering expansion and what that might mean regarding what the ownership wants. “We are working on listening to our stakeholders and building consensus,” Kile said.
4PCG Focus—Teaming: Successfully working together to achieve common purpose. Each issue of Connections will focus on one pillar of the Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance. For more information about 4PCG, read the article in the January/February 2014 issue of_ Cooperative Grocer.