Cooperative Governance


4 Pillars Cooperative Governance

Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance

What sets co-ops apart from other companies is their ownership structure, cooperative values and democratic governance.

That’s why co-op leadership that is focused specifically on those things that define cooperation is so critical. It’s the reason why food co-op leaders have continually been asking the question: How can co-op governance ensure the success of the cooperative as an association and a business?

CDS Consulting Co-op has created a model of cooperative governance recognizing the unique needs of the co-op world. Based on the results of the CDS Consulting Co-op’s board leadership team’s research and deep experience with food co-op boards, the Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance model (4PCG) offers directors and managers a framework for approaching their work grounded in cooperative values. Mark Goehring, board leadership development consultant with the CDS CC said, “It’s a capstone to decades of work.”

The 4 Pillars is a model that clarifies different components of cooperative-specific governance by defining four distinct roles and responsibilities. The Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance are teaming, accountable empowerment, democracy and strategic leadership.

Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance

A model is a way of framing so that the parts and processes make sense. The 4PCG is not about changing systems but is a new way of making sense of cooperative governance. The CDS CC Governance and Ownership Team (GO Team) thinks it addresses current gaps in strengthening owner relationships and democratic practices that are not clearly part of other business or governance models.

Cooperative governance is the act of steering cooperatively-owned enterprises toward economic, social and cultural success. It consists of answering key questions, defining roles and responsibilities, and establishing processes for setting expectations and ensuring accountability.

The Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance are:

  • Teaming. Successfully working together to achieve common purpose.
  • Accountable Empowerment. Successfully empowering people while at the same time holding them accountable for the power granted.
  • Strategic Leadership. Successfully articulating the cooperative’s direction/purpose and setting the organization up for movement in this direction.
  • Democracy. Successfully sustaining a culture in which people choose meaningful ways to participate for both individual and common good.

Within a co-op, no matter what the role, the expectation is that everyone is responsible for working together effectively, to be accountable and able to empower others, be focused on purpose, and participate in ensuring a healthy democracy. It is what co-ops are working to achieve, not only in the board room, but in the workplace, and with members in the co-op. Governance—steering, making key decisions, working together for common goals—happens throughout the co-op at every level.

Therefore 4PCG is a framework for connecting the co-op’s values to governance activities at all levels—staff, management, board and owners. Each of the Four Pillars—Teaming, Accountable Empowerment, Strategic Leadership and Democracy—are all relevant to each constituency in a co-op. For additional information about how our consultants can integrate the Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance into your co-op, please contact Thane Joyal.

Associated Consultants

Art Sherwood

Board Leadership Development, Strategy and GM/CEO Coaching

Ben Sandel

Leadership Development, Startup Co-ops, Capitalization

Joel Kopischke

Board Leadership Development, MBTI® Personality Type Assessments, Leadership Coaching, Cooperative Governance

Leslie Watson

Board Leadership Development

Marilyn Scholl

Cooperative Governance, Board Training, Facilitation, and Assessment, Cooperative Development

Mark Goehring

Leadership Development, Cooperative Governance, Facilitation, Member Linkage

Martha Whitman

Board Leadership Development

Michael Healy

Cooperative Governance, Team Building, Communication

Rose Marie Klee

Board Leadership Development

Thane Joyal

Board Leadership Development, Cooperative Governance, Bylaw Support

Todd Wallace

Board Leadership Development

“ I cannot imagine where the food co-op sector would be today without the trail-blazing CDS Consulting Co-op has done in cooperative governance. They have created a truly cooperative way forward for boards to lead in a transparent, dynamic way that both protects the health of the business and encourages community democracy. ”

Jacqueline Hannah, General Manager, Common Ground Food Co-op, Urbana, Ill.

“ I think the Four Pillars articulate what we're already trying to do. By laying it out thoughtfully as a process, it can strengthen things we're already doing and keep us on track. ”

Jan Rasikas, General Manager, Viroqua Food Co-op, Viroqua, Wisc.

“ One of the key areas of support is the development of a Policy Governance workshop that is facilitated for our board candidates each year. This is vitally important in preparing future board members to be successful in our governing environment. ”

Janice Parker, former Board Administrator, PCC Natural Markets

“ I think...the challenge is to strengthen the co-op business system, to break it out of the corners of the business world to have a bigger impact. the 4PCG sets up a way to look at it and dissect different parts of the organization. ”

Rochelle Prunty, General Manager, River Valley Market, Northampton, Mass.

Associated Case Studies

Upcoming Events


Check out our open-access library!

It is a great resource for understanding all of the particulars of good governance - from agenda planning to policy templates, you can find it all in our Library.

VISIT THE LIBRARY