Aline Carrão 2015 Q&A: Conflict Resolution, Group 2

According to the 2014 Strategic Planning retreat summary, Board has difficulty “recognizing the positive aspects of people they have had complex relationships with”. Do you believe this is a current problem in the OTW? What do you think can be done to create a more professional environment?

This is definitely a current problem in the OTW, and I believe the best way to deal with it is to create an environment where everyone is held accountable for their decisions and actions as part of a system that has inherent checks and balances in its processes. Once you have to publicly explain why you are in favour of or against a request or decision, and people can challenge this without fear of punishment, it becomes much harder to dismiss good ideas because of personal grudges.

Several of the Board’s minutes for their closed sessions this year had items like this: “Discussion of how to proceed in a complaint against a staffer.” Under what circumstances do you think it appropriate for the Board to file complaints against individual staffers? Do you foresee any potential problems or conflicts of interest with regards to something like this?

Board is in a position of power over staff and volunteers, and is the one ultimately in charge of investigating and judging CCAP, as far as I’m aware. Due to these circumstances I don’t believe there is any situation where it would be acceptable that board (as an entity) file a complaint against staffers. It’s a blatant conflict of interest: board can’t be complainant, judge, jury and executioner against people they’re displeased with. That can very easily be an abuse of power, and help board get rid of people voicing opinions they disagree with.

The Board has retained an outside lawyer on a pro bono basis to advise them on various issues, including the involuntary removal of volunteers from the Org. What impact do you think this decision has had on the Org’s culture? Do you believe this is a useful tool for conflict management? Under what circumstances do you think external legal counsel specifically retained by and for the Board alone, in opposition to other volunteers in the Org, might be an appropriate step to take?

I had no knowledge this lawyer had been on retainer for the org until the events with Sanders were disclosed last week. I don’t know what role this lawyer has had so far with regards to other board decisions and what kind of specialization they have. I can see why we might need someone external to the organization to complement a knowledge gap in our legal team; but if this is the case, I don’t think they should have dealings with board exclusively, but also with the Legal committee and other interested parties in the org, as the case may be.

Apart from that, an outside lawyer is not a useful tool for conflict management because this lawyer will answer primarily to board and serve the board’s interests, making them not-impartial by default. They shouldn’t be considered a neutral party in any kind of conflict resolution or volunteer removal process.

There have been repeated complaints about the behavior of Directors toward staff and volunteers who have expressed that they have no avenue for addressing this sort of behavior. While Directors may now remove each other, most of these reports indicate that the rest of the Board was either dismissive of the concerns or actually supported the abusive actions of their colleagues. What are your feelings about exploring and instituting a process by which a requisite number of chairs, staff, and/or volunteers can call for a vote of the membership to consider the removal of a Director who has engaged in unprofessional conduct, abusive behavior, or otherwise violated the organization’s Code of Conduct?

I support any measure that will add an extra layer of independent control and checks to board directors behaviour. That said, with the current number of OTW members, this process would be drawn-out and draining, because getting the word out to the several thousand members about internal matters so that they can make an informed decision is nearly impossible. I believe we need a simpler and more straightforward process to deal with clear cases of bullying or Code of Conduct violations coming from board members, similar to what we have for all other volunteers right now.

Alex Tischer 2015 Q&A: Conflict Resolution, Group 2

According to the 2014 Strategic Planning retreat summary, Board has difficulty “recognizing the positive aspects of people they have had complex relationships with”. Do you believe this is a current problem in the OTW? What do you think can be done to create a more professional environment?

Considering the 2014 SP retreat summary made this point in particular about one of the committees I work with, I would say that yes, this is a current problem in the OTW, whose consequences I have witnessed closely. To create a more professional environment, the first step should be to ask people to behave professionally: this is a work environment, after all.

The bare minimum of professionalism to me includes: answer emails in a timely manner, attend the meetings regularly and on time and have discussions in the open where people have the chance to call you out on any inappropriate behaviour. It’s important to be able to take criticism of your work, conduct and ideas without taking it personally. In my work in the OTW so far, I’ve had countless disagreements with people in my committees, and everyone involved moved on after the discussion ended. That is how a professional discussion should go, in my opinion, but that hasn’t been the case with regards to the Board.

Several of the Board’s minutes for their closed sessions this year had items like this: “Discussion of how to proceed in a complaint against a staffer.” Under what circumstances do you think it appropriate for the Board to file complaints against individual staffers? Do you foresee any potential problems or conflicts of interest with regards to something like this?

I don’t think there are circumstances where it is appropriate for Board to file complaints against individual staffers. Due to the inherent power imbalance, it is next to impossible for a staffer to break the Code of Conduct against Board collectively as the injured party, and Board should acknowledge that power imbalance by following the simple principle of not punching down, ever. The fact that volunteers have no recourse themselves and are powerless against Board makes matters even worse. They may be able to file official complaints (harassment, bullying, anything) but there are no consequences. Board members are immune. It’s an extremely unequal atmosphere, so I can’t imagine any fair situation in which it might be acceptable for Board to complain collectively against one person.

The Board has retained an outside lawyer on a pro bono basis to advise them on various issues, including the involuntary removal of volunteers from the Org. What impact do you think this decision has had on the Org’s culture? Do you believe this is a useful tool for conflict management? Under what circumstances do you think external legal counsel specifically retained by and for the Board alone, in opposition to other volunteers in the Org, might be an appropriate step to take?
I think the general idea of having outside legal counsel is not a bad one; our Legal department is by definition mostly focused on copyright law. I do question the fact that the existence of this outside legal counsel was never mentioned until the run up to these elections. Having an outside lawyer available to advise the Board and any committee that might need it (Elections and Communications come to mind first, but Legal themselves probably could benefit from it) sounds reasonable. Having external legal counsel specifically retained by and for the Board alone, sounds unnecessary and underhanded.

I certainly don’t believe that outside legal counsel is in any way a useful tool to internal conflict management. If internal conflicts have escalated to a point where legal expertise is required (for example, to have a volunteer removed against their will, as was the case last month), we have to take a hard look at what exactly we are doing and how far this is from the ideals the org was founded on. I would imagine outside counsel working for the Board would only intervene to terminate the conflict, and I’m not sure I would trust them to act as a neutral third party.

There have been repeated complaints about the behavior of Directors toward staff and volunteers who have expressed that they have no avenue for addressing this sort of behavior. While Directors may now remove each other, most of these reports indicate that the rest of the Board was either dismissive of the concerns or actually supported the abusive actions of their colleagues. What are your feelings about exploring and instituting a process by which a requisite number of chairs, staff, and/or volunteers can call for a vote of the membership to consider the removal of a Director who has engaged in unprofessional conduct, abusive behavior, or otherwise violated the organization’s Code of Conduct?

I would support instituting such a process and would do my best to make sure that any group attempting to explore the possibilities with a view to suggesting it be implemented would be supported in their research and not hindered in any way by Board. We need more checks and balances in our setup, and the power imbalance between Board members and other members of the org has been a concern of mine for a while – especially given that we don’t select for qualifications at most levels of the org and thus being elected/appointed to Board in most years requires little but a pulse, stubbornness, and hanging around, nominally doing minimal work somewhere in the OTW.

Dan Lamson 2015 Q&A: Conflict Resolution, Group 1

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

Please describe your approach to conflict resolution.

This is a good question! As a huge Star Wars fan, I would say that I try to approach conflict as a Jedi. I am in my heart a peacemaker, I like to reach consensus with conflicted parties. Sometimes it is not possible though, and you need a lightsaber.

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 think most performance issues and disputes should be solved on the committee level with outside help if needed. The board is not the place to go for this. If I was on a committee and someone was being nasty to me, I wouldn’t want to have a board member swing in and fix it, I’d ask my chair to do something about it. As a chair, if a board member swooped in and got involved in a conflict on my committee, I don’t think I would appreciate it.

There is a long and detailed dispute resolution process for this, and I think it works well for the OTW. If it escalates or is between a board member and someone else, then board may want to consider taking a more proactive role.

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 think a lot of it has to do with people who turn things personal, something I will strive to avoid. Issues can be discussed calmly and rationally, and in a professional manner. While some members of board have been more bombastic than others, I would not be that kind of board member. I have seen a few examples of this behavior in my time here, and I hope that when I am on board it does not happen.

I am a relatively calm person, I will not react to something in anger or frustration. I may feel anger and frustration, but I will vent that privately and not take it out on the person or issue causing it. Basically, my philosophy is that we can all disagree without being disagreeable. I have lived that thus far in my RL and org lives, and plan to do so going forward regardless of the outcome of the election.

As to situations with board members, I will answer that in the next question.

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?

The first thing I would do is try to sort it out, maybe send a friendly email or chat explaining my concerns with them. I would also encourage them to work out the issues they may have with said person, and to perhaps apologize if it was appropriate. (Assuming it is not happening live or in a chat meeting.) Hopefully reason and logic can help diffuse the situation. If it were a ‘live’ situation I would try to defuse the situation (assuming I was chairing or it was the person chairing being the jerk.) After the meeting, (assuming they did stop with the behavior) I would go back to the first step with the letter or conversation.

If the behavior is repeated, the rest of board would need to discuss it, but board does have the power to remove a member now. So there is stick to use, if the carrot of encouraging better behaviour does not work. It may not be a popular decision, but if someone is being continually abusive or hostile without remorse or change they have no place on the board.

Matty Bowers 2015 Q&A: Conflict Resolution, Group 1

Please describe your approach to conflict resolution.

It depends on the situation. A conflict between two volunteers needs to be handled differently than a conflict between committees. In general, I find it’s best to immediately sit down with all the people involved and see if we can reach a solution. Ignoring the problem only makes the situation worse.

I believe communication is critical. Both parties need to explain their point of view and be willing to listen to the other. It’s also important to define what the problem is; often there are underlying issues that one party may not even be aware of. As a mediator, I’d ask what the goal is, then help figure out how we can get there. People do need to set aside their personal feelings and be ready to compromise – there won’t always be a win-win solution.

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 think the majority of the OTW’s personnel issues should be handled at the committee level. There is little reason for Board to step in; they have neither the training nor the time to deal with these sorts of issues.

I do believe Board should step in if a committee has essentially dissolved or is otherwise not fulfilling their documented responsibilities. Too often OTW chairs have had to sit by and watch other committees struggle and eventually fall apart. Attempts to help can, and have, been labeled as interference, which limits what committees can do on their own. Should Board be made aware that a committee is falling apart, they should contact the chair(s) and offer them the support needed.

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?

Yes, multiple times. There is no one solution, though, that will solve the problem; ultimately people need to learn how to set aside their feelings and act professionally regardless of how they feel personally. Board members in particular need to lead by example; they should always treat both volunteers and each other with respect.

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?

I would instantly call them on it. It is unacceptable for a Board member to act on any grudges or personal feelings. As a Board member one is held to higher standards; we should be setting an example for the rest of the organization.

Any Board member who allows grudges to impact their OTW decisions needs to be confronted immediately. If a solution can not be found, or if the Board member continues to allow their personal feelings to influence their decisions, they should be asked to either step down from Board or recuse themselves from any future matters involving the committee or individual.