Matty Bowers 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?

It’s a problem in certain areas of the organization. For everyone else though, we came to the realization that if we wanted the OTW to succeed, we needed to get over the past and start working together, regardless of whether we liked each other or not.

Board can help solve this problem by taking the lead and setting a good example for the rest of the organization. Board should always act professionally towards volunteers and each other, in both formal and informal gatherings. Fostering teamwork is also a good idea; as people work together they often find common ground and realize we are all working towards the same goal – the success of the OTW.

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?

Unless a volunteer is actively threatening, blackmailing, or otherwise acting in an illegal manner towards a Board member, I do not think it’s appropriate for Board to file a complaint against a volunteer. Board holds a position of power over every volunteer; filing a complaint is not only an abuse of power it also creates a conflict of interest. Since Board is the ultimate authority, they can proceed to discipline anyone they’ve filed complaints against as they see fit. Volunteers have no recourse – there is no one they can present their case to, no one who can act on a complaint filed against a Board member. Board answers only to themselves, there are no checks on their power. They can simply ignore any and all complaints filed against one of them.

I would like to see this changed. Volunteers should have recourse should a specific Board member, or the Board as a whole, decides to inappropriately file a complaint against them. We either need to give a current committee or an outside group the power to advocate for the volunteer in cases which involve Board members.

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 consulting with outside sources can, at times, be useful. There is value in bringing in an outside perspective, especially with experienced professionals.

That said, I do not think we should be shopping around to find outside consultants solely to back up a specific decision, especially in regards to conflicts between volunteers and Board. Outside counsel should always be a neutral party who can analyze the issue impartially; it should not be someone chosen by Board simply because they already agree with the decision Board wants to make.

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 support such a process. This would be an important step to improving Board’s accountability for their actions, especially those towards other volunteers.