2015 Board of Director’s Retreat Recap

On January 25, our Board of Directors met at McKinney Falls State Park for a day of training, brainstorming, and team-building.  Nicole Renaux attended in her role as Board-Staff Liaison and Dana Curtis, Black Star Co-op’s Business Team Leader, facilitated the discussion.  All nine of the directors were present: Steve Basile, Michael Handy, Scott Kelley, Annelies Lottmann, Board President Kenley Maddux, Cole Noppenberg, Joe Silva, John Vinson, and myself, the Board Secretary.

After satisfying our coffee and breakfast urges, we began the discussion with a round of introductions and icebreakers to learn more about each other.  This was important because Michael and Cole have never served on the board and I was appointed to fill a term only a few months before.  I am happy to announce: this is a board of directors that quickly established a friendly rapport and openness.

Dana then guided us along a discussion of a Board Points of Agreement.  We talked about what we expected a high-functioning board would do to ensure respect for a diversity of viewpoints, a healthy balance of work and life, shared responsibilities, and the goal of the board speaking with a unified voice once policy consensus is achieved.  It can be hard to foster and protect that communication space with you and three friends at the pub; now imagine doing that with eight others over matters that directly affect the lives of 27 employees and over 3,200 member-owners.  This was one of the most important discussions we had, and we concluded it knowing we were in closer agreement on our job than ever before.

We then shifted to the subject of Policy Governance, with John and Steve moderating the discussion.  One of the most common things we do as a board every meeting is monitor and discuss the progress of the Co-op, the Workers’ Assembly, and ourselves towards meeting this cooperative’s policies.  It is not glamorous work, but it keeps the board informed about all aspects of Black Star’s operation and momentum forward. A key aspect of this discussion: the emphasis on the understanding that the board does not “run” things.  We have an amazing Workers’ Assembly that takes care of the day-to-day operations.  Rather, our focus should be on the future shaped by an understanding of how the operations are in the present.  Policy Governance gives us a consistent and useful tool to monitor all aspects of Black Star’s performance so we can decide if current policies meet the values and expectations of member-owners.

Next, Annelies took over to connect the broader discussion about monitoring to the practical matter of making decisions based on the monthly monitoring reports.  Most of the time the reports shows no concerns to address or areas worth digging into deeper.  In these cases, we accept the report and move forward with the monthly meeting agenda. However, there are times when the results of the report spur directors into thinking more needs to be known.  The great deal of the trust you place in the Board is demonstrated as we discuss the merits of the policy under inspection, whether the degree of missing the target is sufficiently problematic to warrant a rejection of the report, and what exactly we would seek in a revised follow-up if that were to be necessary.

We broke for a lunch of Black Star burgers grilled on the spot and enjoyed the chance to get outside to see more of McKinney Falls State Park.  The weather was perfect for a walk and we needed to move around.

When we returned, Dana got us back on track with a roundtable discussion of the four pillars of cooperative governance: democracy, teaming, strategic leadership, and accountable empowerment.  These high-level concepts were then grounded in the idea of member engagement.  We want you, the member-owners, to be engaged with the co-op.

However, Black Star member-owners are as diverse as the beers we have on tap.  Some love co-ops and want to see them succeed.  Some joined because they love the mission and values of our organization.  Others value world-class craft beer and cuisine done right and done local.  The board cannot forget that we need to appeal to all member-owners and to contribute in the ways that matter the most to them.

By the late afternoon, it was time for a beer tasting lead by Nicole.  What good is being the director of the best cooperatively-owned brewpub in the world without knowing our beer in depth?

We wrapped up the day’s schedule with a vision discussion.  Here, any idea was valid.  What would things look like for Black Star in 5 years?  Where would we be and what would we have experienced in 10 years?  In many ways, the role of prognosticator is a director’s most challenging.  Industry trends, macroeconomic conditions, the legal and regulatory landscape; these are things that constantly change.  We need to be able to anticipate some of this change so the co-op is not caught flat-footed and can continue to provide stellar experiences in the heart of Austin, Texas.