Aline Carrão 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?

Even though I believe the initial idea had its merits, the in-person meetings have serious implementation issues and have achieved very few concrete results so far.

The retreats are always scheduled for the end of the year, meaning some of the directors present won’t be involved in the implementation of any plans or decisions made there. The retreat (and all decisions that take place there) happens without input from staff and chairs who were not invited, leading to inevitable miscommunication between parts of the Org and siloing of specific groups, furthering a division of “them against us” between staff and board that is already a big problem inside the organization.

The retreats so far also failed to accomplish any of their stated goals. The 2013 retreat led to no Board documentation. The 2014 retreat established tentative strategic planning goals that later, after committees saw them, had to be so revised that the OTW hasn’t even started implementation yet. This seems to suggest that the retreats are not as productive and important to the running of OTW as might be expected based on the resources spent on them.

In short, I don’t think the cost/benefit of them is worth it for the OTW.

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

I’m not convinced that an in-person meeting that will, by its nature, exclude the vast majority of committees and people, is the best solution for an annual OTW meeting.

That said, if this format is kept long-term, I believe it’s essential to have a wide range of representatives present from diverse committees and in contact with the day-to-day work of the projects, to ensure the feasibility of any plan established. So I would make sure that besides admin-focused committees like VolCom and Strategic Planning, we also have chairs and representatives from the project committees.

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?

With the growth of the OTW and the diverse background of its staff and directors (which means transcontinental flights are required, no matter where the retreat is), the cost of the annual retreat will tend to increases each year.

I believe the best alternative is to shift the concept of a weekend-long focused work session to a more frequent, perhaps, online meeting using teleconferencing technology, like Skype. This would allow us to have more representatives present, while keeping both time requirements and costs lower and more manageable, as well as reducing the hassle for all involved allowing, for example, people to work without the drawbacks of jet-lag. Another advantage is that it allows people to join in without having to leave work for a few days, which might prevent some from being able to participate otherwise.