Katarina Harju 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?

Yes, I do very much feel that it’s currently a problem. I think there should be clear guidelines so that everyone can know what the limits of acceptable behaviour are. Everyone should also learn to recognise that criticism of your work is not a personal attack, this is especially important for Board members, because they are in a position that invites criticism. If Board members are unable to make the distinction between disagreements about work matters and personal attacks they should seriously consider stepping down from their position for their own sake, and also for the good of the organization.

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 shouldn’t face abuse any more than anyone else in the organization. However Board members also need to keep in mind that they are in a position where their actions come under close scrutiny and where their decision might easily face criticism, and reasonable criticism of their actions in work-related matters does not constitute harassment or abuse. If there is reason for complaint, then like in any other such situation it should first be taken to the chair of the committee where the staffer in questions serves, and the same procedures should be followed as they would in any other similar complaint. If the matter does come in front of the Board, then the Board member who has made the complaint should of course recuse themselves.

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?

Frankly I believe it has had a very negative impact on the organization’s culture. It has heightened the fear that Board might at any time remove anyone from the organization by sidestepping accepted procedure. Personally I cannot see a situation where it would be necessary or appropriate to retain outside legal counsel for the Board alone for such a reason.

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 very much believe that there should be some process like the one mentioned in the question that would trigger a vote for removal. The problem with a vote of the membership however is that the OTW has a large number of members and it might be difficult to get the requisite number of people to vote for any action to ever be taken. In some ways, having this process call up a vote by the Board would be more useful. I understand the worry that Board members would side with one of their own, so to speak, because I share that same worry. Personally I hope that this election will start to change that, because I have served with several of my fellow candidates and I firmly believe that they would never condone abusive behaviour, no matter who was involved.