As you hopefully know by now, we’re in our recruitment phase for the 2013 Board of Directors. We currently have several seats to fill, having recently expanded our board. When I think about new board members coming in, I wonder what they’ll see when they attend their first board meeting, prospecting whether our board is something to which they want to devote their time. Will they see a functioning, high energy, committed set of individuals? Are they used to boards being a certain way, will they understand our methods and process? Most of all, will our board members feel that they have access to the power and information they need in order to give their best work to the co-op?

For me, as a board member and as President, each board meeting is an intense emotional experience, and intellectual exercise. We use Values-Based Consensus (formerly Formal Consensus) as our method of decision making which has always proven to be very challenging, and I daresay, equally (if not more) rewarding.  This process creates the container where open discussion, conflict, disagreement, deep exploration of values, brainstorming, dissent… all of these things are possible in our board meetings. Rather than finding a majority of people who agree, we find the people who disagree. This enhances our decision making because the person who disagrees must have reasons based on our shared values, not just a personal withholding of consent. We can’t disagree because we don’t like the person executing an idea, we can only disagree because an idea goes against our values, our commitment to the member-owners, or would harm the co-op in some way.

Any board member can bring a proposal to the board meeting for anything they want to do. We discuss the values behind the decision, acknowledging values that are lacking. We take some time to talk in a general way about the proposal and explore it as a group. Then we list any concerns we have with the proposal as it is written. If there are none, the proposal is passed. If there are concerns, we list them all, and discuss solutions. From there, we call for consensus again, and if there are no unresolved concerns, the proposal passes. If not, there are several options that either block the proposal all together (very, very rare), or offer the proposal to go through with a ‘stand aside’ of the person with unresolved concerns. Also very, very rare. An idea might also be sent to a small group to resubmit later with more information or some fine tuning of the proposal.

That’s a very condensed version of what can be a complex process, but it moves very quickly in board meetings. It allows us to thoroughly think through our decisions, how it will be executed, who will be responsible, where the funds will come from, whether it’s something the member-owners would feel comfortable with us commiting resources to, etc. We must think through all of these things before we can agree, but once we do, the proposal is immediately set in motion with a plan that’s already developed! 

Think about voting: When you vote, you are given a concept of something to decide yes, or no. There is no discussion, no exploration and resolution to holes in the concept. You either accept it as written, or you don’t. You may not know how the idea will be executed, or who will be responsible, or what checks are in place to assure quality. Those things must be decided after the decision is already made to execute the idea.

Decision making takes time, and this method works well for our board. The committees use their own method of decision making and we changed our election process last year to allow members to vote on candidates, rather than using a model they weren’t familiar with, and did not leave them feeling empowered in the way we initially thought it would. There are times and places for different methods of decision making and I feel that we’ve found a good way to balance those options depending on what each group is doing.

Incoming board members are required to read On Conflict & Consensus by CT Butler, and the board does continuing education on this model throughout the year. 

Want to see it in action? Come to a board meeting! Keep an open mind – this looks nothing like Robert’s Rules, which you may be more familiar (and comfortable) with. We’d love to have our member-owners come and participate in the board meetings in decisions we’re making, to hear your thoughts, ideas and concerns enriches our meetings and our resulting decisions, and makes you a direct part of where our co-op is headed. See you at the next meeting! 

January 7th, 2013, 5:30-8:30pm. Feel free to stay as long as you like, leave when you need to. Email Jess (jess@kitsapfood.coop)  for an agenda and an RSVP so we can make sure you can get into the building after hours. See you there!

Consensus — My perspective

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