‘Thinking with Two Minds’: Reflections of a Staff Board Director
Before I dive too far into my own reflections, I want to clarify what I mean by ‘Staff Board Director,’ and in so doing start to illustrate what I mean by ‘thinking with two minds.’ You see, I’m not really a Staff Board Director, as my role on the Board isn’t directly connected to my role as a worker at Common Ground. Instead, I am a Board Director with respect to my ownership in the co-op as a customer. But, yet, the fact that I am a paid employee of the very same cooperative is, in many ways, inseparable from my circumstances as a consumer-owner. When I say that I am a staff board director, what I really mean is that I am a Board Director who happens to also be a staff member.
So, what exactly is the Board of Directors, and what do we do? There are a few answers to this question, but the simplest way to put it is that the Board of Directors is the standing governing body of the co-op. Ultimately, the Board of Directors maintains the legal structure that the Co-op operates within, and the Board of Directors bears ultimate legal responsibility for the Co-op in the eyes of the state and federal government. In order for the board to manage regulatory and liability constraints that affect our Co-op, the board needs a structure or a system to govern the Co-op within these restrictions.
As you might imagine, managing these requirements can be a pretty extensive job, even before considering the logistics of actually running a retail store. For this reason, the Board hires, monitors, and supervises a General Manager (GM) to handle the complex intricacies of operating the store.
Both are big, complicated jobs, and based on the wisdom of countless other cooperative organizations over many decades, our cooperative has determined that we should keep these two jobs generally separate. In order to accomplish this task, our co-op has adopted a governance structure called Policy Governance.
With such a division between operations and governance, any connection between the two needs to be clearly defined and expectations must be set. With the change in our Bylaws in 2018, co-op employees are now allowed to serve on the Board of Directors, and the board has had to consider the extensive ramifications of this change. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in the process as that very type of Board Director.
In this process, I’ve noticed something interesting. Now that I’ve been serving as a Board Director for about 5 months (2 months appointed, 3 as elected), I’ve realized that the way that I think about the Co-op has not only changed, but almost literally split in two. Now that I am both an employee supervised by the GM and part of the Board which supervises the GM, I have had to learn how to separate my thinking-as-an-employee from my thinking-as-a-director. But really, it’s not even about my two roles as an employee or a director, but instead about the distinction between my own personal thinking, and my thinking as an extension of the board acting as a collective body.
In this way, even if my sense of ‘two minds’ is heightened due to my employment, it isn’t unique to myself or even to staff directors in general. In fact, I believe almost every board director experiences this feeling. As part of Policy Governance, the Board exercises Board Holism. Basically, the board makes decisions collectively, and should only act as-a-whole. This doesn’t mean that the individual directors disappear in the process, or that their thoughts, feelings, and experiences are ignored or lost along the way. Nor does it mean that all directors have to agree on everything. Instead, in my view, it means that all directors need to think with two minds--maintaining their own individual, personal thoughts and feelings while also respecting and carrying out the will of the collective board, and ultimately the collective will of all of our owners.
So, with all of this responsibility, why do we volunteer to run for the board? Why are we willing to put aside our own preferences for the interests of Common Ground as an organization and spend 5-10 hours a month reading reports, drafting policies, and discussing owner concerns? And why do I volunteer that extra time in addition to my regular work schedule? I can’t know each director’s answer for sure, but I’d guess it would be the same as mine. Hope and Love. We deeply care about our co-op and our fellow owners, and we are here to build the future that we all want.
If you’d like to see your Board in action, our next meeting will be Monday, February 10th, 6:15 PM in the Flatlander Classroom. Our meetings are held on the Second Monday of every month, and will be held in the classroom for the forseeable future.
Have a happy and love-filled February, friends and owners!
Solidarity and Cooperation,