Aline Carrão 2015 Q&A: OTW Culture and Communication, Group 2

What in your opinion are three key aspects in which the Board needs to improve with regards to its interactions with OTW volunteers? What would you personally do to improve them?

Our volunteer base is the OTW’s most valuable asset. We literally wouldn’t be here without their work. It’s of the utmost importance to keep this mind at all times while one is on board.
As board members, we should listen to what volunteers are saying or asking, and answer them with due consideration, without making assumptions or being dismissive. We owe volunteers direct, fact-based answers within a reasonable timeframe. We should respect the work that is done by everyone, even if it’s a small collaboration or one that is not critical to the organization at the moment. The OTW is the sum of all those working here, and we should treat all volunteers with the same amount of cordiality, attention, and goodwill we desire to receive. Professionalism and respect have to be the building blocks of any interaction.

I would keep this in mind at all times when talking to my fellow volunteers, without forgetting that we’re all on the same boat. I would remember that volunteers are not a monolith that should be expected to have the same cohesive opinion; they are each their own person, with sometimes conflicting thoughts, needs and wishes. I would reach out to volunteers at all levels and try to understand different perspectives when controversial subjects were being discussed, including perspectives I disagreed with entirely—especially those. The board is a very small group that can very easily become an echo chamber, and the OTW is huge and diverse. Board members should try to reach out as often as they can, and I would certainly do my best.

For the past several years, candidates who were later elected (or allowed due to uncontested election) have outlined several goals to improve the environment of the Board, the dynamic between the Board and staff, and other aspects of the OTW environment. But reports are that, despite this, things are not improving. Why do you think this is, and what steps will you take to stick to the goals you’ve outlined in this area if elected to the Board?

It’s important to remember that any change in an organization like the OTW will take time, and will inevitably require commitment from not only the new directors elected in this term but from everyone else who is currently in the board.
That said, people carry their own grudges, history and perceptions to their role on the board; that is a natural, human thing and it will keep happening. But, as long as we are aware of it, I believe we can counterbalance this by creating a professional environment and approaching new situations with a open mind. That is what I intend to do. Having a variety of opinions and perspectives in a governance body is a good thing, as long as we can keep a respectful and positive approach to everyone else’s positions; this can certainly help us make progress.

There have been reports from past directors and from both current and past volunteers and staff that the Board spends more time on petty disputes with each other and on targeting staff and volunteers who question their decisions than actually caring about the welfare of the organization. Whether it is true or not, the perception is there and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the organization or the Board. How might you work to change this perception (or reality) and begin rebuilding trust between the Board and relevant constituencies?

This question makes a very valid point: even if this is an entirely wrong perception, it hurts the OTW and we should work on improving it regardless. In my opinion, the best way to do this is to build trust through open communication. Board needs to go out of its way to share information, discussion updates, decisions and plans through news posts and also internally, in various formats. This prevents rumors from spreading unnecessarily, gets everyone’s buy-in for the OTW’s ongoing bigger steps, and builds a partnership among everyone involved, showing there is work getting done, since everyone can follow it step by step. This would make each success matter to everyone who is following along, and help create a feeling of community and of shared goals.