OTW Board Addresses Personnel Concerns

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Welcome to a new year! The OTW has certainly seen a lot of changes in the past year. In the case of the Board, we recently have said goodbye to veteran Directors Ira Gladkova and Kristen Murphy, and hello to new Director Anna Genoese.

In our first post of the year, we’d like to focus on the criticism the OTW has received about the abrasive nature of interpersonal relations within the org. Personnel difficulties have accounted for what we consider to be a high rate of volunteer attrition. Due to this, many of Board’s Directors have publicly indicated their interest in working to fix this problem.

We’d like to give a status update.

In the last year, one of the biggest changes the OTW has seen is the introduction of the Code of Conduct (COC) and its enforcement thanks to the Volunteers & Recruiting Committee. The COC offers specific rules and procedures for use in reporting harmful behavior, as well as conflicts between staffers and chairs.

The COC is executed through the use of the Constructive Corrective Action Procedure (CCAP), also administered through the Volunteers & Recruiting Committee. The CCAP focuses on clarity of communication, rather than punishment. It is action-oriented, and carried out in a manner that respects the nondiscrimination statement in the Code of Conduct.

The COC and CCAP do still have few rough edges, which is only to be expected. They are being addressed as they are noticed, and we definitely welcome input to help the OTW better serve its volunteers.

Despite the rough edges, we’re hopeful that OTW volunteers see the COC and CCAP as something that helps define our organizational culture–we want people to feel safe volunteering for the OTW. We want people to feel that their work is appreciated. We can do that in part by providing a safe and welcoming space for them to work in, and in part by ensuring that problematic and/or hurtful interactions can be dealt with fairly and confidentially.

Another part of our work on this is the Board’s documentation project. The main limitation of Constructive Corrective Action Procedure is that it cannot be applied to members of the Board of Directors. The Board is governed by the bylaws of the OTW, and therefore is not accountable to committees. Currently, the only way a Director can be removed is through a recall vote of the membership. Therefore, the Board is currently working on–with input from our committees–documents that deal with how to address complaints to Directors, a procedure to take action against a Director, and an outline of what reasonable expectations are for a Director.

What we as Directors hope is that people see these as the first steps we’re taking toward becoming a better organization–which is, as any organization will tell you, a process that never ends.

As always, we welcome comments, critique, and suggestions for how to help shape the OTW into an organization you want to be part of and support. We’d also love for you to come join us to help us implement these changes over the next year and beyond.

The Board of Directors

  1. Joy commented:

    It’s nice to see this question finally addressed as I know it’s been asked multiple times in recent months in various OTW and non-OTW spaces. I do have some thoughts and a couple of questions.

    Policies are great, but it seems to me what is more important is a recognition that in order for the culture of an organization to change, there often need to be shifts in attitudes and levels of personal accountability. In this post, you reference the COC and CCAP as great first steps, and they likely are. Of potential concern, though (and maybe this is explained by the fact that you indicate there is no corrective action procedure for Directors), is the fact that these documents were apparently approved in 2012 and yet 2013 seems to have been a year filled with reports from inside the OTW that multiple Directors were themselves contributing to a toxic environment in which people were finding it increasingly difficult to work. Does the Board of Directors feel they can effectively hold each other accountable going forward when it seems to have proven so challenging in the past? Also, are there any concerns about creating and implementing an effective plan to address this issue when it’s possible that some of the current Directors are among those who have been referenced in engaging in the very behaviors that have contributed to your “high rate of volunteer attrition” and potentially find said conduct acceptable? Will whatever guidelines are developed be vetted beyond the Board of Directors and what standards will be used to ensure they are reasonable and offer adequate protections for your volunteers as well as Directors?

    I certainly hope you can get things to a place where the OTW is a safe and welcoming environment for all of your volunteers. It’s what an organization like the OTW should and can be. But as long as there are questions about the conduct and accountability of your leaders, it will likely continue to be difficult to make that a reality and is also likely to keep some great people from offering their time and skills as a volunteer.

    • Claudia Rebaza commented:

      I just wanted to let you know that Board received your question and has been working on a reply.

      • Joy commented:

        Hi Claudia,

        Based on the fact that it took months for anyone to answer the questions raised about this before, I wasn’t expecting a timely response, but your comment seemed to indicate one was being worked on? This delay leads me to find the statement in the original post – “Due to this, many of Board’s Directors have publicly indicated their interest in working to fix this problem.” – to be a bit suspect and it also makes me wonder if the questions I raised are things the OTW Board of Directors has even considered in their discussions, which is even more concerning. So basically, I’m wondering, will there be an update or response or is the statement that’s been issued (which really doesn’t say much about how the Directors actually intend to address their behavior and conduct toward OTW volunteers, to be honest) is meant to be the final word on the subject? I really hope the latter isn’t the case, but at least then I know if it’s worth my time to keep checking back here if it’s just going to be ignored. For all of the talk of transparency by the OTW and the statement in the post about welcoming comments and dialogue on things like this, the actual way it’s handled makes it seem like the Board of Directors doesn’t actually want to hear the opinions of others and they certainly don’t want to engage with those that actively question the statements they make or their actions. Again, I know you’re not a Director and are just the messenger, but it’s been a recurring problem that is very frustrating to me as an OTW member when the Board of Directors says one thing and does another or doesn’t actually address concerns that are raised by others. I don’t want to speak for others, but I’d be surprised if I’m the only one who hold this sentiment.

        • Claudia Rebaza commented:

          I’m sorry there’s been such a delay in getting an answer. At the time I commented here, I had seen a reply being drafted by Board but I don’t know what happened to it. I have forwarded your message on to them and hopefully will have something to report soon.

    • sanders commented:

      While Board as a whole is working on a response to your questions, I wanted to address the one with the simplest answer. Before I get to that, I also have to apologize. I drafted my response at the start of February and the month just turned into an offline clusterfrak, so I didn’t get a chance to post. In my case, the lag is all on my side, and not any kind of reflection on the value of your questions. They’re incredibly important ones for Board to consider, and mean taking a hard look at how we’ve operated and how we want to work together as fellow Directors as well as how we want to work with our staff.

      For now, I can answer your question about how the documentation for Board is shaping up. The full Board will need to weigh in on the larger questions, as I don’t feel comfortable either trying to speak for all of us on them or giving my individual opinion, lest it be taken as the opinion of the whole body.

      The documentation and guidelines being developed for Board will be, or are, going through several stages of outside review. Since last summer, we’ve been working to address a deficit in documentation on a number of Board issues, and each draft document goes through a stage of Board review and feedback, and review and feedback from Volunteers & Recruiting and Legal. After VolCom and Legal have given their thoughts, the documents are set to be reviewed by chairs if a separate review period is necessary, or they go directly to staff and volunteers for feedback. At each stage input is being incorporated.

      When Ira and I started discussing the need for Board to shore up our documentation last year, one major factor to which we were committed was building a framework for external review, rather than having our guiding documents developed in a vaccum. It’s also been important to consider examples of similar documentation from other non profit organizations and for profit businesses, to bring our work in line with established best practices rather than reinventing the wheel, which has been a bit of a problem across the org.

      I’m looking at your second comment now, and will be nudging my fellow Directors to try to get a response to you sooner rather than later. Coordinating six opinions into something coherent, especially about questions this significant, is a challenge, and I’m sorry it’s left you hanging for so long.