Andrea Horbinski 2015 Q&A: General Management

How would you describe your management style? Your communication style?

In managing people I strive to provide a supportive oversight structure that enables them to work independently but also allows them to seek help and/or support as needed. In terms of communication style, my goal is to interact with people in a professional manner that takes into account the fact that the OTW’s primarily-digital methods of interaction by definition have a very narrow bandwidth compared to face-to-face interaction. In the MBTI rubric, I’m just about the most INTJ to ever INTJ (or if you prefer, in the terminology of Laurie J. Marks’ elemental logic series, I’m exactly half air logic and half fire logic; or in terms of Hogwarts Houses, half Gryffindor and half Ravenclaw, and I choose Gryffindor), and I excel at thinking strategically and logistically, in terms of systems but also in terms of ideas and principles.

You all described your thoughts on “the key responsibilities of a/the Board” in your manifestos. However, with the exception of the bylaws, which are legally rather than functionally focused, there isn’t a clear publicly available list of the duties and responsibilities of the board. Would you be interested in changing that?

Position descriptions are part of the tasks for the Board that are identified in the strategic plan, and documenting the Board’s responsibilities and purview is also an important part of clarifying the Board’s role with respect to the organization. Carrying out this part of our work under the strategic plan will definitely help OTW personnel better understand what the Board of Directors does and why we operate the way we do, and it’s just one of the similar tasks laid out for us in the strategic plan that will, by the end of its implementation, put the OTW and the Board in a much stronger position in terms of internal structures. That said, in the meantime and in general, those curious about the duties of this or any Board should emphatically look to organizations like the National Council of Non-Profits, which maintains some very good resources on these topics.

There has been a lot of mention of Board micromanagement and workload. What are two things that you would like to see immediately shifted off of the Board agendas to both decrease micromanagement of the organization and free up Board time for focusing on more strategic issues?

I have to disagree with the notion that the Board micromanages anything. From my perspective as a member of the Board for the past three years, it’s only too clear that our workload is too much for us to do any kind of day-to-day management: we’re constantly sprinting to accomplish the things that we absolutely have to do (a mixture of management and governance, with both being shortchanged in favor of the other as required by events), while strategic issues get deferred or outsourced (to wonderful committees like Strategic Planning and Development & Membership, to be sure) and committees have mostly been left to work independently–with many wonderful results, but also with some definite problems that have required the Board to intervene directly at times. As it exists now, the Board is primarily reactive rather than proactive, and the slow pace of our work is definitely holding the organization back. That said, the answer to the fact that the Board’s workload is too much is not more directors (since we work collaboratively, adding more people would make the Board’s work more inefficient, not less); instead, we need to focus on identifying the best way to divest the responsibility for management of day-to-day operations onto a designated individual, most likely an executive director, which will allow the Board to focus on its primary responsibility of governance and alleviate some of the concerns about directors lacking management experience.

The OTW has now spent over 3 years developing a 3-year strategic plan. This seems extremely long based on practices in other organizations and raises concerns both about the relevance of such a plan due to organizational shifts and, from the outside, raises questions about the ability to find consensus in the organization. What are your thoughts on how long it has taken to develop the strategic plan, and what steps would you take as a Board member to improve or streamline the process of both finishing up the current plan and setting up the development of the next iteration of the strategic plan?

The Strategic Planning committee, past and present, has done an amazing job in terms of starting from zero in between an extremely hostile Board and organization and producing a strategic plan that fits the OTW and that will actually address the glaring internal issues that the strategic planning process identified. Three years to create a plan emphatically was a long time, but it was more than worth it in terms of the quality of the plan produced. Moreover, a three-year timespan for the plan itself is a good balance between the complexity of the goals, the need for realistic deadlines that build on each other in terms of impact and achievement, and the fact that the OTW exists in a fairly fast-paced sphere (fandom) in which a three-year timespan is about the upper limit at which future predictions are both reliable and worthwhile. I have the utmost confidence that the Strategic Planning committee will be able to produce the next strategic plan in a more compressed timeframe, given that they’ve learned as they’ve gone along through this one, and that the next strategic plan will put the OTW in an even stronger position once it has been reviewed, approved, and implemented.

Andrea Horbinski 2015 Q&A: Retreat

In 2013 and 2014, the Board had in-person meetings in North America, and there will be another this October. What is your opinion on Board retreats and their outcomes so far?

As a participant in the previous two annual meetings, in my opinion they were eminently worthwhile. Board retreats/annual meetings are a recognized best practice of non-profit organizations in general for the same reason that they have been very valuable for the OTW, and will continue to be: they allow directors and other key personnel the chance to work together in one location on specific issues facing the organization for a concentrated chunk of time and are an invaluable chance to build interpersonal relationships. That last aspect is particularly relevant to the OTW, which conducts most of its business digitally. For example, I would estimate conservatively that the 2014 retreat condensed at least three months of work at the regular organizational pace into just three days, on top of the opportunity for directors and staffers to connect with each other face-to-face. It was intense, but it was well worth it, and I think the outcomes of both the meetings were very positive for the OTW as a whole.

How would you as a Board member, go about choosing who and what committees are invited to the annual retreat?

We have chosen which committees to invite based on the topic of the annual meeting itself and have given committees discretion about which staff members to send based on their inclination/availability, although we have generally requested that they send at least one chair or co-chair due to their experience. This general method has worked well so far, and I would predict that we’ll continue to use it.

Last year the board’s in person meeting cost $18,355.21, 17% amount of the OTW’s total expenses. Do you have any ideas how to do this meeting a more cost effective way going forward?

The 2014 retreat was extremely cost-effective, particularly given the fact that 17 people attended it. 17% of the annual budget sounds like a lot, but particularly given the topic of the 2014 retreat (strategic planning for the entire organization) and the fact that the retreat brought the relevant stakeholders together in one room at one time in a way that would have been impossible over the internet, it was well worth it. Since the OTW at the time had (and still has) significant cash reserves, the cost of the 2014 retreat was not any kind of financial risk to the organization. (It’s also a reasonable assumption that the share of the budget devoted to the retreat will decrease over time as our overall operating budget grows.) That said, I sympathize with and share the desire to keep costs down, which is only responsible. That’s why the Board reviews potential locations and the budget, proposed venues, and logistical arrangements for each of the retreats in order to make sure that the costs for each item are reasonable, and we will continue to do so. (One of the reasons we chose to hold the 2015 retreat in Vancouver, Canada was the current favorable exchange rate with the U.S. dollar, which is the OTW’s operating currency; we effectively received a significant discount on all our at-retreat costs.) Do we as directors have a responsibility not to spend the organization’s money frivolously? Yes, absolutely. Is the annual retreat a frivolous expense? No, absolutely not.

Andrea Horbinski 2015 Q&A: Conflict of Interest

How would you define the term “conflict of interest” and how might it apply to you while serving on the Board?

Generally speaking, a conflict of interest arises when a Board member has a significant interest or potential significant interest (which is to say, potential benefit) in a decision that the Board is making: this could either be short or long-term, and is usually defined as financial interest. Currently, Board members are required to disclose any current or potential conflicts of interest when they join the Board and update their disclosures annually, and they are required to disclose when they have such a conflict of interest and to abstain from voting on such matters. The OTW’s conflict of interest policy is publicly available (skip to “Part V, Line 5a”); I have abided by it during my term on the Board and will continue to do so.

Given that some of you intend to keep your other Org positions, how do you intend to deal with conflicts of interest when matters arise which impact your committee?

a. For example, if your committee wants to implement a change which requires Board approval, but is not necessarily in the OTW’s best interests, or would have an impact on another committee, how would you ensure that your contribution to the Board’s decision reflected your position as a Board member and not your personal opinion as a member of the committee?

b. Conversely, if another committee sought Board approval for something that would impact your own committee, how would you ensure that you were giving their arguments a fair hearing?

I’m not presently serving on any other OTW committees, and don’t intend to do so; I’ve found the workload to be just too much to make that feasible while fulfilling my responsibilities as a director, which legally have to come first. By the same token, I do want to note that a director consciously failing to act in accordance with their judgement of the best interests of the OTW as a whole would be violating their responsibilities to the organization.