Atiya Hakeem 2015 Q&A: Other Questions, Group 1

What kind of training would you like to receive for the position of Board member, if you could get any?

I get the impression, from past director comments, and a lack of information to the contrary in the Board section of the Internal Wiki, that new directors do not receive much in terms of training. If that’s actually the case, it’s something that should urgently be changed. We require the OTW committees to have training plans, and in my experience the productivity and morale of incoming volunteers is strongly affected by the effectiveness of the available training.

I think new Board members should get, at minimum:

  • Training as to the duties of the Board and the tasks for which directors are responsible, as well as the procedures used in making decisions on different types of issue (for example, committee proposals, budgets, personnel issues).
  • An explanation of the tools currently being used by the Board.
  • An overview of our current financial situation and accounts, and a basic understanding of how we keep the books.
  • An overview of approved and pending proposals from the OTW’s committees for the past year.
  • A briefing from Legal on the legal responsibilities of directors and any Org-specific legal issues that should be kept in mind.

The Board originally had 7 members. This number was raised to 9 when we realized 7 members weren’t enough to manage the OTW efficiently, then lowered again to 7 due to low participation. As it stands, this election would bring the Board to a total of 5 members. Considering the number of candidates in these elections and the growth of the org so far, what are your thoughts on the number of Board seats?

I think 7 is a reasonable number. 9 seemed difficult to fill, and is a more cumbersome size for a meeting. However, I think 5 is clearly too few. Having so few directors means that the temporary absence of even one is a major workload shift, and five is a very limited number of points of view. I also think restricting the number of directors to five for another year as part of the change from 9 to 7 is short-sighted, particularly given the abundance of candidates available.

One other issue I think needs to be clarified is how many directors constitute “⅓” or “⅔” of 5 or 7. These fractions are important, since they appear several times in the bylaws (for example, in Article V, which determines the minimum number of seats up for election each year), and are open to interpretation depending on whether one rounds the number up or down depending on the fraction, or simply truncates it.

What do you feel is your responsibility if the Board you are serving on is poised to make a decision that you believe to be ethically or legally questionable? Conversely, how would you respond if one of your fellow Directors raised similar concerns about a decision you supported?

If I thought a decision was legally questionable, I would consult with the OTW Legal committee; I would certainly hope that Board would be guided by their opinion on the matter.

If I felt something was ethically questionable, it would be my responsibility to argue strenuously against it to the best of my ability. I think one important change to help reduce the likelihood that directors will engage in unethical behavior is to increase the openness of Board deliberations. Not only may concerned individuals outside Board have useful perspectives on the ethics of a decision, having to publicly own their positions should put pressure on directors to consider those positions more carefully.

As a director, I hope I will be able to benefit by receiving input not only from my fellow directors, but also from the rest of the Org’s volunteers and from OTW members. If concerns were raised as to the ethics of a decision I supported, I would of course consider them in depth to see if they had merit. Hopefully such concerns could be received before the decision was finalized; if not, it might be necessary to work to reverse it.