Katarina Harju 2015 Q&A: Retreat

In 2013 and 2014, the Board had in-person meetings in North America, and there will be another this October. What is your opinion on Board retreats and their outcomes so far?

There’s no denying the fact that there are some benefits to meeting in person. It is true that some work is done more efficiently in person, and that it’s not a bad idea to just connect with the people you’re working with, which does often happen easier in person. If there were sufficient concrete results to show from these meetings, then I might consider them reasonable and even healthy for the organization, a possible way to improve our efficiency and collaboration. The fact is however, that so far none of these annual meetings have achieved any actionable results and, as such, I can not in good conscience try to defend them.

How would you as a Board member, go about choosing who and what committees are invited to the annual retreat?

The meetings should have at least a tentative agenda before any such decisions are made, and that information should be available at the very least for people volunteering in the organization. Any decisions of who should participate in the meetings should be based on plans for what will be handled in the meetings, taking into consideration the costs and the potential contributions that each part of the organization can bring to each debate. These plans and decisions should be made visible, they should be discussed in open meetings of the Board, or when this isn’t possible then the pertinent information should be made available on the internal wiki.

Having these discussions and plans take place exclusively in closed sessions of the Board, where the only thing anyone can find out is through short items in the Board’s meeting minutes saying that discussion happened, weeks after the fact, is a sure way of breeding resentment and suspicion about the retreat as a whole.

Last year the board’s in person meeting cost $18,355.21, 17% amount of the OTW’s total expenses. Do you have any ideas how to do this meeting a more cost effective way going forward?

I strongly believe that we should look further into alternatives to in-person meetings, such as video conferencing, of which I personally have had positive experiences, and which sounds like a communication boost that an all-online organization should definitely at least attempt. I also don’t see why the in-person meeting should be annual at this point, especially since the results so far have been debatable. Perhaps an in person meeting every second or third year would be more than sufficient.