Case Study: Board Continuity: Getting It

Case Study: Board Continuity: Getting It

Columinate | 01-10-2005

realfoodSyracuse Real Food Co-op: Syracuse, New York

Thane Joyal is a working mother and the council president of Syracuse Real Food Co-op in Syracuse, New York. She cares deeply about her co-op and her community, and is more than willing to give her time and talents to it. But there are only so many hours in the day. It’s pretty easy to get tapped out.

The last thing someone wants to do after a long day is waste time in a meeting having the same conversations year after year with a different set of people.

When Joyal joined the Syracuse council six years ago, she was determined not to let this happen. The Syracuse board had been particularly plagued by turnover problems. A lot of university students were cycling through the board, and it was nearly impossible for them to move forward on anything because of the constant introduction of new board members. Other people burned out on the board’s dysfunction. Joyal believed that what they needed was a stable board of committed professionals. They also needed a lot of help rebuilding their board

“ It’s been a resource-intensive process,” Joyal said, “but certainly worth the investment in terms of board continuity. ”

She also noted that “it should be a lot of work” to be on the board because it’s an important job, but that having the support of CBLDthis past year was not only useful, but also a morale booster. “The little things really do help. This kind of support is critical to professional performance.”

This year she will be stepping back as council president and handing on board leadership. She said her co-op’s ongoing participation in CBLD has given her confidence that her succession plans will also be a success, not only because the next person has learned the skills to do the job, but also because there is a resource to tap into for additional help.

New Leaf Market: Tallahassee, Florida

Board president Chuck Hungerford described New Leaf Market’s past as “high touch and low tech.” Although the co-op had grown significantly since its beginning as a volunteer-run entity, in some ways the board was still operating as if it were. “People had a tendency to want to focus on the details of the operation,” he said.

Although he’s been president a short time beginning this year, Hungerford wanted to come up with do-able strategies that would “create a sense of satisfaction and mentorship for the next set of board members coming on.” He said he doesn’t want people to feel like serving on the board is an annoying obligation.

Hungerford has found systems for determining the agenda and producing minutes have made board work more efficient and effective. “When you have strategic plans or a process to work on, it’s much easier to report on activities you want the board to take action on. It makes the discipline of the board better.

“Now we’re looking at ways to use the agenda to save time and promote decision making in the time the board has together.” New Leaf’s new board members are also scheduled to attend a “Cooperative Board Leadership (CBL) 101” training in Atlanta as part of the co-op’s participation in CBLD, and they’ve already scheduled a board retreat to work more intensively with board consultant Marilyn Scholl.

“ We realized the co-op is greater than our store,” said Hungerford. “An important role of the board is to continue to broaden our vision beyond the store. At the same time we do have a fiduciary responsibility. As volunteers we need experts to guide and help us. At this juncture I’m pleased with the assistance.

Like Hungerford, Joyal believes that there are rewards to board service and those can be enhanced through support and collaboration. “It get’s overlooked, but this can be very personally and professionally rewarding. It makes the hard work worth it,” said Joyal.

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