The Board’s Annual Retreat: Fun, Work, and Teaming!

By Beth Beutel, Board President


On Sunday August 19th, your Black Star Board of Directors took our annual pause from the monthly routine of Board work to focus on projects that require larger spans of time. This year, the Board has had a number of objectives: to ensure that every director was well trained for their role, to build alignment with the WA around our values and our processes, and to build a better team within the board itself. In case you haven’t been to a board meeting or checked out the meeting minutes, you should know that most Board meetings are primarily taken up with routine business, leaving previous little time for working towards these large goals. So our twice annual retreats in January and August are where most of the learning and teaming take place.


Throughout the year, the Team Leader Council (TLC) has asked the Board for better and more timely feedback about the direction the business is headed. As lay-people, not professional restaraunteurs or brewers, we were unsure what type of feedback would be best, and our bylaws and policies indicate clear delinations between board and staff work.. But at the TLC’s request, and after learning of a collaborative board and management planning process at the consumer co-op conference this year, I worked in collaboration with Kyle, a director on the Leadership Development Committee, and Chris Byram, our Board-Staff Liason, to develop a retreat plan that would provide timely and appropriate director input prior to the begining of the budget and planning process. And, we wanted it to be fun.


We organized the Retreat agenda to ensure we had a clear understanding of some key components of our business before we launched into planning activities. First, Greg Cumpton, Leadership Development Committee Chair, reviewed our Memeber-Investor Share Offering. Then Chris B, Andy, Jodi, Will, and Brian from the WA arrived as scheduled to see competitive reconnaissance reports from the Board. Our directors, and volunteer facilitator Kenley Maddux, presented on our homework assignment of going to one of six breweries around town to take photos, order food, note menu pricing, sample the beers, etc, and report back to the Board. We probably could have just looked at yelp reviews, but that wouldn’t have been as fun.


Then, Chris Byram educated us all about living wage. He covered everything from several available models, the basis of their calculations, cost of living estimate sources, and the specific calculations for the Austin area. The Board and WA then discussed Black Star’s history with the living wage model and the values that guided us to chose the Universal Living Wage to list in our bylaws and the values that are now compelling us to examine possibilities for change.


Dacia gave the Board a primer on how to have an excellent brainstorming session where we support each other and stoke each others creativity. Kyle then led us through a SWOT analysis of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunites, and threats, with workers participating. The workers then left, as some agenda items had run over time and several of the workers had other commitments. Directors soldiered on to grouping the post-it notes covering the walls; we recorded them and began noting affinities – areas where one point matched with another and made a clear inclination of a plan, and assigned Kyle to continue to find more.


Later in the month, Dacia sent a survey where directors and workers were to rank “affinities” or general courses of action from 1-5; 1 meant not very interested in seeing that action taken, and 5 meant very interested that action. Results were submitted to the September meeting and discussed by the Board. We intended to chose three courses of action, but two of them had exactly even scores, and we agreed four was also a reasonable number. The board concurred that Chris Byram, as our Board-Staff Liaison should take the top four items to present to the Workers Assembly for consideration as they make their business plan, which will be submitted to the Board at our next meeting.


We hope you’ll join us at our bi-annual Members Assembly meeting on October 21st from noon-2pm at Black Star to hear a little more about what the board is working on and participate in a fun activity to give your feedback about the future direction of the co-op!


If this process sounds interesting to you, we’d like for you to know that there are open seats on the Board of Directors, and you are more than welcome to attend our next meeting on Sunday October 28th from 10am-1pm, and/or email the Leadership Development Committee at for more information about being appointed to fill a vacancy on the Board.