Another day, another controversy in the WordPress community. Seems like you can’t turn around in the WordPress world these days without sending some shit flying into the fan(base).
The latest grievance to see the light of day after a long period of underground grumbling is the discrepancy between the high levels of WordCamp San Francisco sponsorship packages and the much smaller allowable sponsorship limits imposed on other WordCamps by WordCamp Central.
As with previous issues, accusations of hypocrisy and micro-management are being levied against the powers-that-be and various policies are being questioned. So far, things haven’t reached the level of DDoS attacks and death threats (a la what happened to Kevinjohn Gallagher when he dared express his critical opinion on some aspects of WordPress that he found unworkable for his particular client base), but the community is once again being very vocal. Much like a volcano, the indignation and outrage simmering just under the surface needs an outlet every now and then.
Earlier today, on Twitter, Heather Burns asked me what I (as an ex Organisational Psychologist) thought of the infighting in the WordPress community. Although I gave a short reply on Twitter, 140 characters is not nearly enough, so here’s a longer reply for Heather, Martin Young, and anyone else who may be interested in some psychobabble
What the WordPress community is currently experiencing – conflict, contentious confrontation, professional and personal attacks, polarisation, disillusionment – is unpleasant and painful. In short, it’s an internal shitstorm. But, it’s also a necessary one.
Every group, large and small, goes through various phases in its development. In one of the most often cited models of group development (Tuckman’s Group Development Model), this stage of infighting is referred to as Storming, and as sucky as it is, the questioning of ideas, processes, policies, structure, and leadership are vital to the group’s growth.
This is a pivotal phase, however: Whether the group survives and moves beyond this stage depends very much on the maturity of both the group’s leaders AND its followers.
For the WordPress community, those in positions of power will need to consider carefully the fact that group members often perceive them to be controlling and micro-managing. These are not signs of a healthy leadership style. It can be easy to dismiss such accusations as unfounded; the true test of leadership mettle is being painfully honest with yourself to examine whether such perceptions have any basis in reality.
Similarly, WordPress community members will need to consider what constitutes an effective adult reaction to grievances. DDoS attacks and death threats are not generally accepted as mature responses to things not going your way or someone expressing a different opinion to yours.
And finally, maybe we can all just take a deep breath, step back from the fray for a minute, and celebrate the fact that the WordPress community has obviously grown up enough to get to this phase in its development. If we can get through this, there are such good things to come as the group moves to a higher level of performance and success. WordPress can have a glorious future if we let it.