Atiya Hakeem 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?

  1. Board should treat staffers and volunteers professionally and with respect at all times. There is no excuse for this not happening; I discuss measures for ensuring that it does in answer to the question below.
  2. Board decisions should be made transparently, and with input from staffers and volunteers. I would discuss major Board decisions in open meetings whenever possible, and in a case where a decision would impact specific committees, would be careful to communicate with those committees before coming to a decision. Board meeting minutes should contain a detailed account of Board proceedings and be posted in a timely fashion.
  3. Board should be knowledgeable about and responsive to the OTW’s committees. Recently, Board has demanded regular reports from committees, frequently giving no acknowledgement as to whether those reports have even been read or received. I would suggest that instead, Board members keep up with meeting minutes and speak to committee chairs. It’s also important that any inquiries or input from committees not be ignored. Adopting something like Translation’s “on call” system to ensure that someone is always responsible for responding is one potential solution. While I don’t believe Board should be in the business of micromanaging, understanding what the Org’s projects are doing seems fundamental to being able to provide the Org with effective leadership. If once again increasing the number of directors, and/or removing inactive directors, is necessary to ensure basic competence in this regard, I feel it should be done.

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 current situation in which staffers and volunteers are accountable to Board, but not vice versa, creates an atmosphere in which directors can behave badly with no repercussions. Electing individuals who have not just goals, but a track record of successfully working with others in the Org, should help turn things around in the immediate sense. However, I also think it’s vitally important to have policies governing Board behavior and a procedure by which chairs and staffers can hold Board to those policies.

Recently Board introduced a bylaw change that allowed the directors to remove one of their number by a ⅔ vote, with or without cause. Unfortunately, I suspect that the “with or without cause” portion means that rather than improve interaction between Board members, this will further strain things by encouraging the formation of cliques and the removal of directors as a means of stifling dissent. If I am elected, I intend to propose changing the bylaws to require that directors only be removed with cause, with the valid causes spelled out and the determination made by a non-Board party such as Volunteers & Recruiting or a quorum of committee chairs.

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 have certainly personally witnessed some of the behavior described in the question. First, it’s important to prevent this kind of thing from happening, and I think the accountability measures I discuss in answer to the question above will help with that task.

I don’t believe that the perception can be fixed with lip service; the only solution is to go forward from here with professional behavior from directors in both public and private spaces. Increasing the amount of public, transparent interaction between directors and volunteers, and engaging productively with the OTW’s committees, will allow the relationship between Board and the rest of the Org to improve over time. Additionally, the fact that several of the candidates running in the current election have been directly involved in committee work with a variety of committees over the years means that we are known to many staffers and volunteers, who can still feel comfortable in approaching us, even in a new role.