Communities of Practice: How to Set Up for Your Company's Workforce Growth
by Luis Gonçalves on Jan 13, 2024 6:08:11 AM
Communities of Practice: How to Set Up for Your Company's Workforce Growth
CoPs are the missing piece of your agile organisation.
After learning about the benefits of communities of practice in your organisation – from how it fosters a learning culture, help you create innovative business strategies, and lift your company performance – it’s time to set up your own! And it’s time to take the plunge! There is no turning back.
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So how do you get started?
Don’t worry. Will get there. But before we talk about the step by step process of setting up your own community of practice, it is highly important that we talk about what communities of practice are not.
This should help executives and leaders like you avoid confusion and ensure that you are creating a CoP that works.
What Communities of Practice ARE NOT
A community of practice is not a task force. Therefore, it isn’t designed to achieve a specific goal. With tasks force, members are usually nominated by the management team.
Once their objectives have been achieved (e.g. perform a time-motion study), the group is dissolved. Take note that communities of practice are driven by the value they bring to their members.
They have a much longer life than core groups, project teams, or task forces. The goal of CoPs is to gain, acquire and transfer knowledge and they can have varying objectives at various times.
Two Types of Communities
There are two kinds of CoPs that you can cultivate within your organisation:
These communities are created to help meet a specific need of an organisation. Their creation is a result of top-down management decision.
For example, a financial company could be looking for ways to develop new innovative products that customers will find useful.
With this, they will launch a community of practice where participants (product developers and subject matter experts) constantly learn from each other, discuss issues around their niche, and look at what others (competitors) are doing.
These communities reflect the most natural and organic form of CoPs. Emergent communities come out of the organisation on their own, without instruction or encouragement from the management.
It happens when a group of subject matter experts come together for mutual support as they find it helpful to have a network or community of people who share the same expertise and intent to solve problems and help them deal with everyday challenges they face at work.
For example, a group of quality analysts meeting over coffee or lunch to discuss issues around the current metrics they use and whether they can be improved. Note that these communities are self-selecting and self-managing.
They are often invisible to the organisation but their impact is greatly felt.
They might not be meeting face-to-face, rather, communicating through social media platforms such as Facebook groups, or through their own channels on Trello or whichever coms platform they are using in the workplace.
If you have emergent communities in your organisation, you should take steps to support them in any way you can. Many companies monitor these communities and select those that have the biggest potential, and encourage them to grow.
Setting Up Your Community of Practice: Key Steps
Whether you are creating a strategic community or encouraging the growth of an emergent community, there are a few crucial steps to ensure their success:
Establish their identity
When setting up a community of practice, you first want to identify who’s in and who’s out. Everyone can’t be a member of a CoP. Members should exhibit a common profile. Basically, you want to consider their experience, level of expertise in the practice, objectives for taking part in the community, and most of all – their commitment to the group.
Set the guidelines
There has to be some rules just to make the interaction and knowledge sharing a little more organised each time.
You can’t just rely the growth of the community on the free-flowing nature of their relationships. After all, they’re part of the organisation and for them to collaborate more effectively, they need guidance.
Create a safe place for them to interact
Interactions can take place in a physical or virtual environment, but I suggest having both. It gives members of the community more sense of commitment to make significant contributions to the organisation and at the same time, strengthens their relationships.
Your role, as a leader, is to create a safe, encouraging, and welcoming environment for them.
Codify the knowledge
Very important – you want the knowledge gained and shared to be available to you and the rest of the management team. You also want it to be available to anyone else in the company that could benefit from that knowledge.
Take note that communities of practice learn by talking, interacting, sharing stories and experiences, and contemplating and solving problems together. Thus, you want to codify that knowledge.
You can do it by giving them an online platform where they can record meetings, interact via emails, store and collect data (documents, presentations, and the like), record videos, etc. Assign a moderator who will take charge of keeping and updating the CoP’s repository of knowledge.
Empower the community
CoP members (especially emergent ones) understand and appreciate the value of their participation in the group. And that is enough to keep them going.
But they may fail to see their value in contributing to the growth and success of the organisation. They have to be empowered and given an opportunity to make a greater impact to the company.
How? Start by involving CoPs (through their community leaders or experts) in decision-making. Conduct a regular forum or meeting wherein you, key decision-makers or leaders in your company and CoP representatives discuss matters that require their insights.
CoPs are much easier to set up and maintain with a strong leader. Like any social organisation, communities of practice can take some hype in the beginning. They could easily self-create and self-manage with a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm.
But as time passes by, the community can become less and less interesting for members.
A good leader has an important role in keeping these communities alive, encouraging participation, tapping into their potential, ensuring relevance, and strengthening their capabilities.
Are you that kind of leader?
Check out our Organisational Mastery Scorecard to see how you can still improve, optimise, and develop your company’s workforce. This won’t take you five minutes to answer.
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