The board of directors is central to the operations of a co-operative business. Boards should always be evaluating their progress to improve operations and enhance their ability to make decisions. Using evaluation, planning, and decision-making exercises are great ways to make the board stronger and encourage new discussions.
This decision-making exercise is designed to help boards better understand that stakeholders bring different viewpoints to the table and the critical role of discussion in making good decisions.
For this role-playing exercise, your board will put themselves in the shoes of a fictitious board that has a problem to work through. You’ll read through the case study below, divide your group into teams, and debate what you would do in this situation.
A multi-stakeholder co-op has two kinds of members: producer, and worker. The co-op’s membership consists of around 300 ranchers (producer members) and 75 employees (worker members).
The ranchers raise cattle and sell them to the co-op. The workers are meat cutters, administration staff, packers, and a marketing and logistics team. The co-operative was created to get ranchers a good, consistent price for their products and add value to their meat. The workers aren’t unionized, but are paid a wage slightly above average for similar positions. The ranchers also receive slightly better prices than the market average for cattle. Any profits the co-op makes are typically split this way: 40% is re-invested into the co-op, 30% is distributed among the rancher members, and 30% is distributed among the worker members.
The co-operative’s board has a policy where half of its directors are elected from the producer (rancher) class and half are elected from the worker (staff) class. Debates often emerge between these groups as the needs and concerns of each type of member is very different.
There is a small room in the processing plant that has recently been cleaned out and is not being used. The workers have suggested that this be used as a new staff break room as staff do not have a good place to store food or eat lunch; many eat lunch in the offices, outside, or in the locker rooms. The ranchers think that the co-operative should use the room to expand its services and invest in some new equipment and turn some of the ground beef the facility produces into sausages, a new value-added product. The members have requested that the board decide on the use of the room.
As a board, weigh the pros and cons of each stakeholders’ arguments and decide how the room should be used. Half of your group should represent the workers, and the other half should represent the ranchers; select one person to chair the meeting and act as a facilitator. Have your board members put forward arguments from the perspective of the stakeholder class they represent by drawing on the information provided.
This is good practice for your board to see how they tend to make decisions, encourage everyone to take turns speaking up and voicing their opinions. Once you’re done, discuss questions like: Were you able to come to an agreement? How did you find a compromise? What did each group have to give up?
This process should give your group some insights into the dynamics in the room, and help you work together on real debates in the future.
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