Andrea Horbinski 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?

It’s an unfortunate truth of the Board’s current structure and workload that communicating directly with OTW personnel in general, rather than committee chairs and other key personnel specifically, is something we do only rarely. We’re also volunteers, and there’s not necessarily much time left over after we’ve done what we need to do to undertake all the projects that would be ideal but aren’t absolutely urgent or necessary. Although we do make an effort to regularly post newsletter updates and usually post our minutes publicly, I know that many people believe we should talk more about what we’re doing. To the extent that it’s advisable and responsible given the constraints on us as the people legally responsible for the OTW’s welfare, it does seem that communicating with OTW personnel more regularly about the Board’s work is something that people want, and that could use improvement from our end. Hopefully as we implement the strategic plan and divest responsibility for day-to-day operations, either the Board or the person(s) responsible for operations will be able to communicate more regularly and directly with personnel farther down the OTW hierarchy. Finding a way to involve personnel in the operations of the OTW as a whole is also provided for in the strategic plan, and I’m looking forward to accomplishing that. We’ve also been discussing possible ways in which to foster personal interaction between individual directors and OTW personnel, potentially as part of directors’ travel to support the organization. We haven’t reached any conclusions about that yet, but all my experience indicates that this is a proven way to foster relationships and that it’s well worth making an explicit goal for improvement.

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?

The arc of my time as a director has consisted of the Board reaching clarity about the nature of its role in the organization and what our responsibilities consist of as well as actually doing the work that we need to do to keep the OTW functioning and, indeed, growing: while we owe our continued success to the hard work of the hundreds of OTW personnel, past and present, to say nothing of our supporters, the Board has also consistently acted to support that success as needed and has done its best to support the OTW’s long-term sustainable growth, particularly through the Strategic Planning process. All of which is a long way of saying that from my perspective the relationship between the Board and staff has demonstrably improved over the past three years, and I look forward to it continuing to do so over the next three years as the current strategic plan is implemented. It’s clear that the improvements in these relationships thus far have been unevenly distributed, but I’m confident that as the Board works with all committees to accomplish their work under the strategic plan, that communication and these relationships will improve accordingly across the board.

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?

I’m happy to report that this is not an accurate statement about the 2015 Board of Directors: it has been my privilege to work with this group of people, and this year on the Board has been a real pleasure because of my fellow directors’ professionalism and unstinting commitment to the OTW. It’s unfortunate that what is essentially old news is still lingering and adversely impacting the image of the Board, but the current Board definitely recognizes that it’s much easier to create a bad impression than to fix it, and that it will probably take several years for the new norm to displace the old bad reports. It’s also an unfortunate truth of the situation that there’s not much more we can do to rebuild trust than to continue doing what we have been doing, which is to carry out our responsibilities to the OTW and its mission to the best of our abilities. That said, one of the things the current Board is looking forward to about the strategic plan, which is scheduled to begin implementation in January 2016, is the fact that undertaking the work it stipulates for Board should, by the end of the process, demystify our work both by documenting what we do in a clearer fashion and also preparing prospective candidates for service as a director in a way that will make the requirements and expectations of the role clearer for everyone. Additionally, the bylaws revision passed this year to provide for Board removal of directors will allow the Board to, in the worst-case scenario and if all else fails, preserve the new norms of professional behavior by removing a toxic individual who refuses to conform to them. The revision also makes directors subject to CCAP, which should have the same effect.