Two years ago, the Food Conspiracy board in Tucson, Ariz., was faced with a unique leadership quandary. Due to extenuating circumstances, the board lost eight of its members over the course a year. “There were various reasons,” said Rob McLane, the board’s current president. Someone had a baby, another moved away for a career change, for some their terms were up, and a couple of them graduated from college.
McLane was on the board for six months when the board had shrunk to two people, including him. The situation held the potential for upheaval but the two of them didn’t panic. McLane agreed with the other remaining board member to take on the role of president. The two of them set out to revitalize the board and over the course of a few months appointed new members to fill in until the next election. They also knew that finding people who could commit to three-year board terms would be one of their biggest challenges.
Life in Tucson can be peripatetic. A lot of people only live there part of the year, including students and seniors, and it can be a challenge for any board there to maintain consistency over the long term. It’s one of the things that McLane and the Food Conspiracy co-op has set out to change—to gain the board recruitment and stability they need for effective governance. Now that they have a full board and everyone’s been officially elected, McLane said that they are now at a point where their process is focused on leading.
Since McLane and others on the board had never been board members before, they felt they had a lot to learn. Plus, they were lacking strong institutional memory because so many people had left the board at once. Additionally “We were helped tremendously by Todd Wallace and CBLD as a resource,” McLane said, and took advantage of the training available. “We’ve really been working on process and focusing our work.”
“It took a lot of patience on everyone’s part. We sometimes felt embarrassed and inexperienced, but Todd helped us learn and relearn how things function on a board,” he said. Concurrent with the board setting the foundation for governance, their general manager of eight years left and an opportunity to expand the co-op came up. McLane believes that the board’s ability to better utilize Policy Governance and the preparation they put into understanding their roles served them well during the operational transition. “The whole purpose is to have a stronger relationship to work together,” he said. “Last year we were searching for a foothold. Now everyone’s taken on a role and the board feels ownership of the Ends.”
As a stronger board, they are ready for their next challenge. “Part of our long term plan is strengthening owner linkage,” McLane said. This too comes with a unique set of challenges. Members at the co-op can also be hard to pin down because of the seasonal turnover in Tucson, but it doesn’t seem insurmountable anymore. “It’s also good to remember that there’s a movement behind what we’re all working toward. Whatever the hardships there are, everything we’re doing will further the cause of a better economic system.”