Board News

Last Updated: April 25th, 2024 by Three Rivers Market Communications.

What does community mean to you? What does your answer say about your values? Who is Three Rivers Market here for? And how do we create a common vision for the future of our co-op from the many diverse opinions of our members?

These are just a few of the questions Three Rivers Market community members tackled during our recent event with Jon Steinman, author of Grocery Store: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants. During the two-night event, Jon shared a compelling overview of the economy of grocery stores, and the many challenges co-ops must overcome to provide an economic alternative to big grocery chains.

But the most engaging part of Jon’s visit was his introduction of an intentional form of group communication he calls “cooperative dialogue.” He differentiates dialogue from discussion in that it involves thinking together, doesn’t require closure, creates an environment where no one is trying to win, and there is no pressure to agree or disagree.

Some of his guidelines for cooperative dialogue are: leave roles at the door, there is no right or wrong, don’t try to figure anything out, allow discomfort, avoid assumptions, don’t try to influence anyone, take time to understand, call a pause when needed, limit comments to two minutes, welcome silence, avoid person-to-person comments, and the conversation must be confidential.

Participants got an introduction to this concept on Monday night and expanded on that understanding during Tuesday’s session. The result of this exercise was magical.

The setting became a safe space to learn about each other, about each person’s view of and experience with the co-op, individual priorities and how those priorities overlap with others. We laughed, cried, and thoroughly enjoyed the strong bond of community that was created in the space of a 90-minute dialogue.

Organizations evolve in the direction of the questions they most persistently and passionately ask.

What does community mean to you? Who are we here for? How do we craft a shared vision of the future for our co-op?

Members at Tuesday’s session shared many thoughts on these questions, but there was a clear takeaway as the evening closed: building community takes hard work, hard conversations, and a willingness to participate in the process.