Dan Lamson 2015 Q&A: Conflict Resolution, Group 2

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

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?

First off, I don’t necessarily believe that you need to see the positive aspects of people to be a professional and work with them. In real life, I deal with all sorts of people I may not like, but can work with them fine. I tend to try to look for the best in people, but am not always successful, it can be hard.

I think the bigger issue here is making things personal. As I said in a previous answer, making things personal is a bad idea. We can agree to disagree, and do it disagreeably. I am not in any way the kind of person who would make someone do it my way or else. I want what is best for the org, if my vision does not mesh with yours, tell me why and there’s a real chance you could win me over. I think open discussion and the free flow of ideas can accomplish a lot in a professional environment.

So to sum it up, I think we can all be patient with each other, work together and be grownups and that will really help the org be professional. This goes both ways though, org staffers have treat others as they want to be treated. Without this thought in mind, some people can be pretty mean.

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 members are elected to serve the organization here. Being elected doesn’t mean they have to take abuse from staffers or volunteers. If a staff member is behaving in a way unbecoming of them–being abusive or harassing a board member, the board member has just as much right as anyone else to do something about it, through channels. If the reasons were less than professional, then I would say they do not have a right to make or file a complaint, but if a staffer can file a just grievance for an offense against another staffer, then I think that board members should be able to do the same.

I do not foresee any situation where there will be a conflict of interest for me. I have never had any CCAP issues personally or nor to my knowledge have any members of my staff while I have been a chair or co-chair.

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 don’t see a problem with an outside lawyer. I am not sure it has had a noticeable impact on org culture. I have not seen or heard of one, at any rate. Non-profits and big companies alike do this kind of thing all the time. Outside counsel is brought in, generally at the request of the organization in questions legal team. Our Legal Committee asked for this to happen because no one on our legal team shared the outside counsel’s specific expertise with nonprofit law. Lawyers specialize in various fields and our lawyers are awesome at what they do but we don’t have one of every type. Further, bringing in outside counsel is a best practice. If you have any questions about this, I would refer you to the org’s legal team who could explain it in much better detail.

I think characterizing this use of outside counsel as being used by the board against staff is disingenuous. To my knowledge this attorney was brought in to deal with a complex tax issue that no one else in the org could answer. Also–the fact it was pro bono is really cool–it was probably going to be a big bill otherwise!

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 this proposition wholeheartedly. I am a fan of both accountability and also freedom of choice. Recall is a common form of action in many governments. It would be a complicated issue for us to tackle, but I feel it should not be limited to only chairs, staff and volunteers. I would like to see us able to give voice to the members on whole somehow, so if the members feel the organization is not treating them well or fairly, they can also take action. (Perhaps members could initiate a vote of chairs or some other mechanism to give them voice?) I foresee this as being a multi-stage discussion with a framework founded on a path for chairs, staff and volunteers first, but potentially growing if we can find a way.

I am not sure how the situation would work at all, but I think we could work something out as an organization that will give voice to those board works for. An aside: I would like to think that if there was a situation with board members(s) behaving in unprofessionalism, abusive behavior, code of conduct violating activities or some other egregious activity, that other board members would take action and remove them. The staff/member action would need to have a threshold to meet, to protect unpopular board members being removed because of personality issues.