Serpico, and the Value of Transparency

SERPICO_MAINlargest
Al Pacino in Serpico (1973)

When serving as a temple executive director, there was a member of our board of directors who always seemed to be unhappy about something the staff or clergy did. Let’s call him David. David was always the first one to challenge, the first one to correct. David always thought we could do better. David often questioned our motives and our reasons for decisions or actions.

Personally, I liked David a lot, but it soon got to the point where I knew that most anything I did or said would result in the unpleasant experience of being challenged by David in front of the rest of the board. In an honest and constructive effort to diffuse some of the tension, I invited David out to lunch. I wanted to learn more about him, and why he chose to be involved with something that seemed to make him so unhappy.

“Why did you get involved in temple life?” I asked David.

“Did you ever see the movie Serpico?” I had not.

David explained that there was a scene in Serpico where the title character, played by Al Pacino, is asked why he wanted to become a police officer. Paraphrasing a bit, Serpico replies:

“When I was a kid, there was an investigation on my block. All the cops are huddled together talking. They had all the info. I wanted to be one of them.
I wanted to be on the inside.”

David explained how important the temple was to him, and how he, just like Serpico, wanted to be on the “inside.” He wanted to be involved, he wanted to be part of the decision making process. He wanted to know what was happening.

David wanted transparency. David wanted to be on the inside.

By the time the staff or clergy brought an issue to the board, there had been meetings, conversations and arguments that went on for weeks. Decisions were made, reports were written and presentations were made. The board was given very little opportunity for input, and they were expected to approve the important matters put before them, usually with very little preparation or background information. There is so much we could have done to make David happy.

Using our governance structure, we could have invited David to the committee and task force meetings that connected to his own work on the board. We could have made sure he was aware of agendas, and that he got meeting minutes right away. We could have made sure he was a part of the conversation.

We could have used email to make sure all leaders of our board were aware better connected to the important issues of the day. We could have emailed out agendas, minutes and board reports as soon as they were ready, rather than waiting several weeks to present them at a board meeting and asking for a vote of approval.

We could have used a collaboration platform like Slack, Yammer or Facebook to work in a more transparent atmosphere. We could have created a space, one place, where all conversations were had and all information was shared. Even if only passively so, David could now be aware of work and conversations going on throughout the congregation, and other leaders could connect in new ways.

If the Membership committee wanted to do a new member Shabbat service, they could now be connected to the work of the Worship committee. The Finance committee could have a clearer expectation of school expenses by collaborating with the Religious School  committee. The person who will be joining the board one, two or three years from now will only need to review documents and conversation in this one space to get a complete history of what the congregation has been working on.

Utilizing digital tools that are readily available, our organizations can achieve a level of transparency that will encourage a productive sense of collaboration while saving time, money and effort. We need to be creative, open and determined to achieve this level of transparency and collaboration, but it can be done.

David wasn’t angry. He wasn’t negative. David just wanted to know what was going on so we could all do the best work possible. David was right.

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