[Foundation-l] Community, collaboration, and cognitive biases

Chad innocentkiller at gmail.com
Fri Jun 11 22:59:57 UTC 2010

On Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 2:25 PM,  <susanpgardner at gmail.com> wrote:
> Chad, I'm hesitant to reply to your note, because I feel like "defending the staff against the community" is a bad role for me: it tends to polarize and divide, rather than helping us all work together well.  And I think I do, for the most part, agree with you.

I personally think it's part of your job :) I'd much rather have a boss who
stands up for me than one who lets me get dragged under the truck. I've
worked both, and the former is certainly preferable. And I certainly don't
think of this as us-vs-them, as someone (Rob?) pointed out earlier, we're
all on the same side here!

> (As someone pointed out here the other day, Wikimedia recruits with that in mind: all our job postings specifically call out that people need to be comfortable in an open, collaborative environment, and we aim to only recruit people who can thrive in that context. We've learned the hard way to really probe on that in hiring interviews -- to pose open-ended scenario questions, and to use real-world examples. Practically everyone believes they are inclined to be collaborative, but that doesn't mean their definition is the same as ours.  And we've found, unsurprisingly, that people who are already members of the Wikimedia community are pretty much the only people guaranteed to be risk-free in that regard: to a certain extent, hiring outside the community always carries a certain amount of risk.  Which is fine and unavoidable: we do what we can to pick people we believe can succeed.)
> But I do want to make one small point that I think is sometimes missed. And that is, the staff can't take wikibreaks.  Volunteers are always free to take a break if they get irritated or discouraged or stressed: their contribution is voluntary, and they can walk away any time.  The staff can't. They need to come in every day and work hard, even on those (fortunately fairly rare) days when they are getting yelled at on mailing lists, when it might be harder than usual to feel motivated.

That is a very good point, and I do think people forget it (myself included).
As a volunteer, you can walk away for days/weeks/months if you get
overwhelmed/pissed off/bored with contributing. We also get the benefit of
being able to work on the stuff that interests us 100% of the time, not
necessarily what the Foundation needs. Staff of course do not have these
luxuries--at least not if they want to stay employed :)

On a minor sidebar, I'm a huge advocate--and I know others are as well--
of making sure that staff have some time to work on things that interest
them in addition to their normal work. Some stuff we do is boring, and being
able to relax and do something that is interesting, challenging or fun makes
us happier (and IMHO a bit more productive).

> We try really hard to hire people who are personally resilient, and I think we've succeeded at that reasonably well. Personally though, I think harshness and offence are mostly avoidable, and I think we should avoid them whenever we reasonably can.  (Of course, I am female, and women are socialized to value harmony more than men.  It doesn't stick for us all, but it did stick a fair bit, for me.)  Personally, I think it's mostly possible to be frank without being rude, and I think it's worth trying to do that.  I'm not arguing that people should handle the staff with kid gloves: I would actually argue, and have argued, that an uptick in kindness would be good for everyone.  I realize that not everyone needs that, and it's obvious that not everyone will get it, whether they need it or not.  But I think it's a worthy goal :-)

Mailing lists can be ruthless ;-) But yes, we could all could do well to
be a bit nicer sometimes. The pseudo-anonymity of the Internet
sometimes encourages people to be a bit less judicious in how they
say things.

I've personally said things that were a little overly sarcastic, overly
blunt, or probably just downright rude and I know others have too.
But we all mean well and we're all working toward a common goal.
The majority of Wikipedia's growth occurred entirely under volunteer-
driven effort. Now that we've got a Foundation-driven staff, there
are bound to be some struggles as everyone settles into their roles
for the long-term. The Foundation and community are growing up,
we're facing a few growing pains, but I think it's a Good Thing.


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