In a Dec. 8, 2013 thread that is also discussed on the OTW 2013 page, an ex-OTW nonny who’d “walked away from the OTW” a number of times before finally quitting wrote two long comments, worth reading in their entirety. They said OTW board members “fuck up things because they have little technical knowledge and refuse to admit that is so, to the point of throwing outright temper tantrums if they’re called out on it.” They refuse to let technological incompetents go “[b]ecause of some mix of ‘cult of nice’ [and] the idea that if you say no to someone who is getting things done, they might get mad and quit.
“This is the way of the OTW. Much of the coding structure to the AO3 is ancient spaghetti code left from the days when the committee chairs were afraid to say no in case people would quit. [...] The OTW spends thousands of dollars on new servers,” but because they won’t change the obsolete code, that money is spent inefficiently. The Board also pays for things they could have gotten for free had they not “drive[n] off competent people,” and they often go to committee chairs and offer to throw money at them. Because “[OTW] income outpaces outgoing money,” this has not yet caught up with them in full.
Additionally, people slap Band-Aids on the crises caused by poor planning are “hailed as heroes,” but “[t]hese same heroes are the ones refusing to do the prevention and planning - making plans and writing code to automate things is boring. Getting lauded for fixing disasters is an ego boost. [...] And that’s why the OTW is going to limp along with major problems every few months for lord only knows how long.”
Another nonny turned up to write the following comment:
- OTW wank is my very favorite wank. From talking with friends who are involved, I know that all the little glimpses and glimmers of dysfunction that make it out from behind the OTW Curtain are only the barest hints of how completely fucked they are on the inside. I am amazed that they haven’t imploded in a fit of blazing spooj and tumbled slowly over, slipping gently into the waves of “you could have seen this coming a mile away and fixed it like a million times over if you didn’t think ‘best practices for NGO operations’ were something that happened to other people”.
- It's like Christmas, really it is. I have never in my entire life seen a group of people more willfully determined to screw things up and screw themselves over. They are a perfect example of Cult of Nice meets Why Can't We All Just Get Along meets What Do You Mean Good Intentions Don't Get Shit Done. I feel horribly sorry for the people who genuinely believe in their mission, but oh my God, the entire organization is designed from the ground up to hit endless deadlocks and roadblocks, and while it probably would be possible to work around the inherent structural flaws, the cult-of-nice culture and the organizational emphasis placed on everyone feeling good about themselves rather than actually accomplishing anything pretty much torpedoes any chance.
- The whole Big Bang Press [situation] actually makes me think of the OTW a lot, actually. They’ve got the same starry-eyed idealism combined with the same complete ignorance of the real world. The OTW is more “ignorant about the realities of how people actually work in groups” and BBP is more “ignorant about the realities of how publishing works”, but in both cases, the ignorance is epic.
In the same thread, a third (?) nonny writes, “The organization was doomed from day one because Naomi [Novik] and Francesca [Coppa] founded it as an ego-boost.” Nonny points out that “fandom is chock-damn full of people with extensive experience in advocacy ... You ever think it was funny how none of these people wound up involved when the initial Board was set up?” Those people did volunteer, nonny continued, but Novik and Coppa ran them out. “And oh yeah, one more thing: they told these people who’d been fighting real world severe injustice for years that fanfic writers were an oppressed minority.”
- I know personally of cases where people had evidence of Board members being openly hostile, bullying, harassing, etc. them and their committees. When they took this evidence to other Board members, the individuals responsible were dismissive, saying that people were just being “oversensitive” and refusing to engage in mediation or to even apologize. And some on the Board seemed to think that was perfectly okay. That is evidence of a toxic environment and, yes, the Board is largely to blame in term of how those situations — very damaging to staff morale in every case — were handled. And even though this has come up time and time again, the Board has shown no evidence of trying to address it or do better. They just wait for the wronged parties to give up or get so frustrated they quit and then they sweep it all under the rug and pretend it never happened. The hypocrisy the Board has shown by trying to require things of staff and committees that they refuse to do themselves in other areas has only further damaged the relationships between many staff and the Board and will only continue to do so as long as this is the status quo.
Nonny stated up front that while it's not only the Board making the work environment toxic, as leaders, they “should be role modeling responsible behavior.” Until that happens, however, “it will be difficult to improve the environment across the organization.”
- Wow, wow, wow. I just read the wiki page and it rang a lot of bells.
- This may out me: A year ago, I was working on one of the major well known problem areas. I was working alone because nobody else wanted to touch it. I was open about what I was doing.
- Then there was a minor disaster and things stopped working. One of those I-fixed-it-I’m-the-Hero types swooped in to fix the problem, except the fix was a horrible hack that undid my weeks of work, which was not the cause of things stopping. (Imagine you install Word on your laptop, and then the battery dies. Word did not cause your battery to die.)
- I had protested the hack before it was put in place. I was ignored because this person is never wrong. I protested after the fact, and was belittled and called ignorant. When the hack failed because of all of my work being undone, I was told that I must be the cause of the new problem. When I went to the board liaison for the committee, I was told that I was merely having a personality problem with the hack person and that I should learn to see things from their point of view.
- A week later, when things were completely falling apart, the person who made the hack told me, If you think you’re the expert, you redo it. Of course they meant, Go clean up my mess.
- I quit. The person who put in that hack is still lauded as one of the best people at the OTW because they get tons of things done. The problem still exists, although it is limping along at the moment.
Lots more discussion of the OTW’s internal culture has turned up in autumn 2015 discussions of the organization’s current elections and fundraising efforts. An ex-volunteer opined that when they were active in the OTW, “the culture itself was screwed up, and that dysfunction on the Board/committee level was a side-effect of that, not a cause.” The dysfunction, they said, comprised “some combination of conflict-averseness, insularity, and perfectionism of the if-it-can’t-be-perfect-it’s-not-worth-doing nature, which resulted in significant martyr complexes, defensiveness, and passive aggression at all levels.” And it has persisted because “the only people who last long enough to become staff/board are the people with the highest tolerance for those issues.”
Another nonny who joined in 2007 and helped found a new committee said,
- the atmosphere was already in full swing. I was so confused about why I had better not talk to person A or tread softly when mentioning issue B or, better yet, not speak at all. I remember how Francesca stuck her foot in her mouth any time she opened it in public no actually every damn time — but God forbid we answer comments pertaining to our own purview! Which is why I don't give the founding member[s] a pass — they set up a broken system, and once it was running, no-one has ever succeeded in changing it from the ground up.
- I have met people who have endured in the OTW for years and they’re either assholes, narcissists or just blithe optimists. The latter comment on meme in the form of grating puppyish earnestness, bless their hearts.
Various nonnies pointed out that the OTW seems to value not results but “squee” — i.e., deprecating expertise because “enthusiasm is all that’s required to do any job,” treating the hectic pace of Yuletide as appropriate to everyday operations, and praising those who put in the most hours regardless of what they accomplish. This leads to “a martyr complex that runs deep in the org. When you don’t work 40 hours on OTW stuff, people do criticize you.” Another nonny complained about being harassed for not responding to non-urgent emails immediately. A third said, “And there's the lovely implying of how much better they'd be at your job.” In summary, “my understanding of the OTW is that someone having healthy boundaries is considered not being committed enough to sparkle motion.” That last statement was validated by a former Board member.
Echoing a comment in the above-mentioned 2013 discussion, a nonny added that people with actual expertise in leadership, business, and nonprofits have been driven out of the OTW. “[Novik] & co didn’t like what they had to say and one by one they found ways to make them leave. The worst I heard of was the woman who got dressed down for missing a meeting — because her daughter was in ICU.” Another nonny said they'd heard that experienced coders had been similarly targeted.
Although it took longer than at least one nonny had anticipated, the inevitable OTW stan showed up to claim that since “AO3 isn’t barging into people's houses and forcing them to donate,” they don’t owe anyone fiscal transparency. When someone else asked why “OTW volunteers, former volunteers, and so on react with such offense when asked basic questions,” there was this illuminating response:
- You have to understand that the OTW didn’t grow out of a sensible mentality.
- The OTW basically is a cult, in a lot of ways. It takes people who are pretty normal (fandom) and it tells them they’re special, they have this extraordinary and unique culture and viewpoint, and most importantly, that they are under siege. They are being persecuted and attacked for their activities. They’re so misunderstood that the world is trying to turn against them, but it’s okay! The OTW is here to protect them! If they keep the OTW going, they can back in the knowledge that they are special and persecuted for that specialness, but that they will be defended!
- And yeah. That’s cult mentality right there. And trust me: nothing, absolutely nothing, will piss off the people who have bought into it more than the suggestion that actually, fanfic and fandom as a culture isn’t really that special, it’s not a minority status, and it doesn’t really need you to have some ultra-special defense force made of your other oh-so-special citizens.
Another nonny added, “There's another thing that cults do — they keep raising the bar. The activity you've given is never enough, the money you provide is never enough, the money they have is never enough (but don't ask what they do with it!). There must be more, more, more to show your devotion.”
One nonny theorized that all these dysfunctions spring from the norms of the fandom subculture that the OTW founders came out of: “Fandom is a social space for entertainment and relatively little is at stake there, and because of the lack of serious consequences, annoying and immature behavior is tolerated. The social norms are inherently unprofessional.” Another simply blamed “attempting to run a non-profit like a fandom challenge.”