Atiya Hakeem 2015 Q&A: Conflict Resolution, Group 1

Please describe your approach to conflict resolution.

I try to approach conflict analytically. This means taking a step back and objectively considering what end result would make each party happiest, finding the best compromise result between them, and, most importantly, working out how to get everyone to that point based on their particular motivations and needs. I think it’s important not to try to remove emotion and personality from the equation, but to consider them as factors that must be taken into account to have a successful resolution. The more knowledge of the situation and the individuals involved, the easier it is to implement such a strategy, which is one reason why I feel encouraging communication, particularly “casual” communication, between all members of the Org is important.

What do you feel the Board’s role should be in staff and volunteer performance issues and/or disputes, if any? What guides your opinion on this topic?

I feel that most volunteer performance issues should be handled by the chair and staff of the committee involved and/or the Volunteers and Recruiting committee. Those are the people who will best understand the situation and who have the greatest chance of resolving it productively.

Board may need to step in if a serious situation arises that imperils the continued functioning of a committee. If a chair, or indeed an entire committee, disappears, Board’s authority is required to take action to find a replacement chair. This may also be required in cases of serious misconduct on the part of a chair.

Inter-committee disputes should only come to Board if they are extreme enough that they are immediately endangering an OTW project or the OTW as a whole.

In the time I have been with the Org, I have seen far too much micromanagement of committees by the Board. Stepping in when a committee does have a functioning chair harms chair morale, leads to issues with chair retention, and takes up time the Board should be using for higher-level issues. Unnecessary intervention in cross-committee interactions by individuals not involved in those committees is more likely to create or worsen conflict than to resolve it.

Throughout the years, the Board as a whole has had a reputation for personal conflicts with some OTW chairs, staffers and volunteers, as well as among themselves. Have you ever witnessed this during your years in the OTW? What do you think might fix this?

I have frequently been appalled at the level of unpleasantness in communication between Board members in public settings, as well as in the way some members have treated chairs, staffers, and volunteers. Some of it seemed to be issues with specific individuals, while in other cases grudges against former staffers and their committees were being taken out on current committee members.

The cause of this seems to me not to be intrinsic to the institution of the Board, but to the way in which people have historically ended up on the Board. Productive members of functioning committees tend to want (or have) to stay doing what they are doing, so Board gets individuals who either never were able to work productively, or who have become burned out and disillusioned. There have definitely been Board members who didn’t fit this mold, but they rarely lasted long in such an environment.

The only solution is to vote in Board members who have shown they can interact with each other and with other Org members in a productive and professional manner. I feel this election offers a good selection of candidates that fit that description, and with the election of two such candidates together we can turn things around.

In a hypothetical situation where you believed your fellow directors were behaving with hostility towards an OTW staffer’s request due to a personal grudge, how would you react? / How would you address a fellow Director who has been disrespectful or abusive to someone else in the organization? What if they refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for their behavior?

In the case of a request, I would begin by speaking to each director involved to try to clarify, for themselves and for me, what their objection to the request was. If that objection seemed to be entirely due to a grudge, I would attempt to focus attention instead on whether fulfilling the request would be in the best interests of getting the committee’s work done, or if there would be a way to reach the end goal that the director would find more acceptable. If it proved impossible to persuade the director to work around their grudge, I would point out the personal conflict to the remaining directors, and with them attempt to come to a decision about the request based on its own merits.

Board members are in a position of power over the Org’s volunteers. Because of this, I think there should be zero tolerance for abuse or bullying from a director to a chair, staffer, or volunteer. If I witnessed it, I would immediately address the matter privately with the director in question. If they refused to acknowledge and attempt to redress the behavior, I would bring it up with the rest of the Board. While I feel the current policy that Board can vote out a director for no cause is an extremely bad idea due to the potential for abuse, I am very much in favor of having a mechanism to remove a director for cause, and of making accountability between Org personnel and the Board a two-way street.