Spending Saturday With The 5th Cooperative Principle: Co-op Board Leadership Training

As members of your Board of Directors, we’re always looking for ways to deepen our understanding and skills related to business and cooperatives.   We want to be the best stewards possible of this amazing, unique, groundbreaking brew pub that we all own together!  As part of this continuing mission, earlier this month we joined the WA’s Board-Staff Liaison Team and representatives of 5 other cooperative boards from across Austin at Cooperative Board Leadership 101.  We’ve worked with CDS Consulting Co-op, the trainers, for several years, but this is the first time they’ve done a multi-co-op training like this in Austin—a huge testament to the strong and growing community of cooperatives in our region.   In addition to Black Star Co-op’s presence, housing, producer, grocery and home health care co-ops were all represented as well.  It was a remarkable gathering and we hope it will be a foundation for future trainings and collaboration to make each of us stronger!

But enough hand holding and guitar playing- what did we learn, you ask?  Well here’s a summary:

Co-op History
People have probably always cooperated to achieve more together, but the modern co-op business model from which we derive the 7 Cooperative Principles seems to have emerged in the town or Rochdale, Lancashire, England in the mid-1800s.  Rochdale was dominated by a newly industrialized weaving factory.  Residents worked for the company, were housed by the company, and had to look to the company to supply all their needs.  Some folks wanted different goods and better pricing, so they cooperated to form their own buying club.  

We also discussed the fascinating history of cooperatives in Austin.  Look for future newsletter articles on the emergence of University housing co-ops during the Great Depression and the cooperative renaissance of the 1970s that gave birth to Wheatsville Co-op.

The relationship between the Board and the Workers Assembly (at Black Star) or General Manager (at many other co-ops) is unique and complex.  The Board’s job is to oversee the business on behalf of the Member-Owners, to “steer the slow-moving ship” as one other workshop participant poetically put it, without impeding the business of making and selling great beer and food.  We spent time practicing the kind of evaluation and decision-making that will help make us good captains as our “ship” grows and changes.

Financial Literacy
This is a huge one, since Board members of co-ops may not have a financial background.  We broke down a balance sheet into its essential parts, and then translated those concepts into physical world.  In other words, we played with Legos to build a model of Black Star Co-op’s annual closing balance sheets for the last 5 years and then discussed the trends we saw over time.  

What’s Next?
The lessons we learned and connections we made with other co-ops will help your Board do our job better on your behalf, and has laid the groundwork for us to offer more robust training to new Black Star Co-op Directors who join the Board in the future.  Want to learn more and engage with your Board?  Visit a Board Meeting, a Member-owner Extravaganza, or the Cooperate section of our website. 

We hope they’ll come back!

Do you want to know more?  Attend a board meeting!