Building Successful Communities of Practice

Building Successful Communities of Practice

Author
Emily Webber
Year
2016
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Review

A short insight packed book about building communities of practice. There’s nothing revolutionary but it provides a good overview to anyone interested in starting or improving a practice. Prior to reading this book, I hadn’t considered using skill benchmarks as a way to pair individuals with a learning parter or buddy. Worth the time.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • Community of Practice: a group of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly
  • The case for CoPs…
    • Support organisational learning
    • Accelerate professional development
    • Enable knowledge sharing and management
    • Support better communication
    • Build better practices
    • Make people happier
    • Break down silos
    • Help with hiring and retention (happier and more motivated people)
  • There are three major ways you can learn:
    • Learn from reading, training
    • Learning from doing
    • Learning from others
  • Knowledge is created through the transformation of learning experience
    1. Concrete Experience: having a new experience
    2. Reflection Observation: reflecting on that experience
    3. Abstract Conceptualisation: concluding and learning from that experience
    4. Active Experimentation: Trying out what you’ve learnt
  • Learning activities that create for a more rounded curriculum. Most of which the community of practice makes easier…
    • shadowing people and learning from others (CoPs create connections)
    • formal classroom training (CoPs can build their own curriculum)
    • self-initiated learning (networking, speaking to colleagues, reading, writing, speaking)
    • sharing ideas and support from others (CoP is a place to share and get support)
    • small experiments and running short projects
    • questions, retrospecting and feedback loops
  • Bringing together a diverse group of people that share the same challenges, but have different experiences, creates a wider pool of knowledge to draw from when it comes to problem-solving
  • As a CoP matures → it will move from sharing knowledge to solving shared problems
  • Happier people do better work and are more motivated (happiness makes people 12% more productive)
  • Daniel Pink’s three points of motivation:
    • Autonomy → the desire to direct our own lives
    • Mastery → the urge to get better and better at something that matters
    • Purpose → the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
  • Community leadership roles:
    • Build, sustain and develop the CoP
    • manage people and dynamics
    • support and facilitation
    • informing, advising or coaching members
    • defining professional direction and standards
    • representing community members within and outside the organisation
  • Create an aspirational, achievable and easy to understand vision
    • SMART goals can help
    • Involve the community in creating them
    • Increase knowledge within the permanent staff to reduce reliance on contractors
  • Who should join? Do they share a similar…
    • Role
    • Environment
    • Work goals
    • Challenges
    • Learning goals
    • Learning relevant to day to day work
  • CoP members should be aligned on purpose, learning, challenges and teaching
  • Your community should collectively decide on how to spend its time. Allow for:
    • Building social connections
    • Learning as a group
    • Talking, solving problems and building better practices
    • Sharing outside the community
    • Creating community improvements
  • Do skills confidence mapping
    • The 5 stage model of adult skill acquisition (link)
      • Novice: follows the rules
      • Advanced beginner: recognises patterns
      • Competent: chooses a perspective
      • Proficient: responds to situations
      • Expert: Writes their own rules
    • Help people rank their own skill level
    • Another model of skill acquisition Dreyfus Model → ShuHaRi
      • Shu → the protection stage, follows what the master teaches them
      • Ha → the breakaway stage, learning principles behind a technique, begin to integrate learning into their practice
      • Ri → the creating stage, student creates their own approaches and adapts what they’ve learned to their own circumstances
  • If you know everyones skills, you can match people with learning buddies.
  • If you’re all weak in one area you could bring in an external trainer
  • Types of members:
    • Core
    • Active
    • Occasional
    • Peripheral
    • Outside
  • Key elements of a self-sustaining practice are:
    • Leadership → CoP members are comfortable with leadership
    • Membership → are engaged, and focused on vision, organise interactions and activities
    • Knowledge and practices → continues to learn, create better practices and standards
    • Skills development → take the lead on member professional development
    • Visibility and support → people outside of the community advocate for it
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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

1. Why you need Communities of Practice in your organisation

  • Community of Practice: a group of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly
  • The case for CoPs…
    • Support organisational learning
    • Accelerate professional development
    • Enable knowledge sharing and management
    • Support better communication
    • Build better practices
    • Make people happier
    • Break down silos
    • Help with hiring and retention (happier and more motivated people)
  • There are three major ways you can learn:
    • Learn from reading, training
    • Learning from doing
    • Learning from others
  • Most behaviour is learnt observationally. From observing others, you form an idea of how to behave. Later, that information serves as a guide for action
  • CoPs take advantage of social learning between members
  • David Klob learning model
    • Knowledge is created through the transformation of learning experience
      1. Concrete Experience: having a new experience
      2. Reflection Observation: reflecting on that experience
      3. Abstract Conceptualisation: concluding and learning from that experience
      4. Active Experimentation: Trying out what you’ve learnt
    • Communities of practice give people opportunities to experiment with what they have learnt, in a safe environment and with the support of other people
  • Learning activities that create for a more rounded curriculum. Most of which the community of practice makes easier…
    • shadowing people and learning from others (CoPs create connections)
    • formal classroom training (CoPs can build their own curriculum)
    • self-initiated learning (networking, speaking to colleagues, reading, writing, speaking)
    • sharing ideas and support from others (CoP is a place to share and get support)
    • small experiments and running short projects
    • questions, retrospecting and feedback loops
  • Communities of practice can break down organisational silos improving communication and workflow
  • CoP are great for knowledge sharing → capture what people know about a topic to transfer it through people changes, inform others, identify important practices and minimise loss of corporate memory
    • Knowledge management is never solved by technology alone
    • You need people to keep it alive
    • Only a subset of knowledge is easy to share and write down (Explicit Knowledge). Much of our knowledge is Implicit (or Tacit)
      • Tacit knowledge is practice
      • Explicit knowledge is process
    • If you don’t support the sharing of Tacit knowledge, you’ll lose knowledge when people move on
  • Bringing together a diverse group of people that share the same challenges, but have different experiences, creates a wider pool of knowledge to draw from when it comes to problem-solving
  • As a CoP matures → it will move from sharing knowledge to solving shared problems
  • It’s easier to hire if you have a strong CoP:
    • It’s a draw in itself for new candidate
    • As a group you define what good looks like better
    • Each new joiner gets the CoP to support them during onboarding
    • Having a strong CoP enables you to hire more junior members (as you know you can build their skills)
  • Happier people do better work and are more motivated (happiness makes people 12% more productive)
  • Daniel Pink’s three points of motivation:
    • Autonomy → the desire to direct our own lives
    • Mastery → the urge to get better and better at something that matters
    • Purpose → the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
  • Ryff and Keyes highlighted 6 points of motivation:
    • autonomy
    • environmental mastery
    • personal growth
    • positive relations with others
    • purpose in life
    • self-acceptance
  • Clearly a CoP can support with mastery and purpose

2. The stages of a CoP

  • Stages are from the Book ‘Cultivating Communities of Practice’ (by Wenger, McDermott and Snyder)
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  • Stages of a CoP
Potential
Loose networks becoming more connected. Low energy levels
Forming
Build relationships and connections → become a community Exploring opportunities. Let the group form.
Maturing
Growth in membership and depth of knowledge shared. Forming strong bonds of trust. Requires more structure and support.
Self-Sustaining
Has enough momentum to continue without input from a leader Members take ownership.
Transformation
Big changes call for radical transformations.
  • These stages follow Tuckman’s stages of group development too: Forming - Storming - Norming - Performing

3. Creating the right environment

  • The ability to meet regularly
    • Need to communicate regularly
    • Getting together in realtime (helps build trust) as well as asynchronously
    • Vary content to avoid repetition
    • Do the hard work to get people together
    • Familiarity and trust is built through ad hoc conversations, when people start to share things about themselves outside of work activities.
    • Consider appointing coordinators to get the group together
  • The right community leadership
    • Need to be knowledgable, passionate, respected and empowered
    • Can be a full time role to do it well
    • It’s hard for a community to flourish if it’s a side project
  • Empowering leaders through org structure → structure your organisation around communities of practice. Everyone belongs to a team, but everyone belongs to a community of practice too. Spotify calls CoPs (tribes).
  • Creating a safe to fail learn environment
    • Trust is the basis of a successful community of practice
    • Safety: whatever their experience, they can contribute and ask questions without being judged.
    • Everyone needs to acknowledge they can learn from others within the community too
    • Important to be welcoming and friendly to new members
    • Address any bad behaviour that ruins the safety of the space
    • Keep the community closed in the early stages
  • Getting support from your organisation
    • Organisations must support CoPs for them to reach their potential
    • Get up front support to establish the community quicker
    • If you’re unsure about how supportive your company will be, gain momentum behind the scenes first → get some evidence of how it’s working
    • Support = time (reducing billable time), people and money

4. CoP Leadership

  • Different Types:
Single Leader
Senior Hired into the role Part of their job Could be chosen by community (provided the leader would have time) Could happen naturally
Shared Leadership
Shared among a core group People will move in and out of this core group Could be additional overhead. Each person needs less time.
Fully co-owned Leadership
Everyone takes responsibility
Distributed Leadership
Leaders by location
  • Community leadership roles:
    • Build, sustain and develop the CoP
    • manage people and dynamics
    • support and facilitation
    • informing, advising or coaching members
    • defining professional direction and standards
    • representing community members within and outside the organisation

5. Identifying Who is in the Community

  • Your job description probably defines the members. If not…
    • What need is the greatest?
    • What are your trying to accomplish with your CoP?
  • Are there existing connections you can build on? It makes it easier.
    • Find pockets of people already meeting and build upon that
  • People working in the same place and in the same role.
  • As the community matures, you’ll find new people
  • Create an aspirational, achievable and easy to understand vision
    • SMART goals can help
    • Involve the community in creating them
    • Increase knowledge within the permanent staff to reduce reliance on contractors
  • Who should join? Do they share a similar…
    • Role
    • Environment
    • Work goals
    • Challenges
    • Learning goals
    • Learning relevant to day to day work
  • CoP members should be aligned on purpose, learning, challenges and teaching

6. Becoming Community

  • What makes a sense of community? (Chavis and McMillan 1986)
    • membership
    • integration and fulfilment of needs
    • shared emotional connection
    • influence
  • First steps in creating a community
    • Get everyone together
    • Icebreaker
    • Share what you’re working on, stories from your week
    • Talk about what to do next as a community
    • Encourage people to come → role out the welcome mat when they do
    • Stick to a regular day and time
    • If people travel a long way, make the most of their time and build social connections
    • Make time for people to get to know each other in a more relaxed sitting
    • Create alignment around shared goals
      • What is your community vision?
      • How will you work together?
      • What will you do together?
    • A vision creates shared understanding and helps create common tasks
    • Ask people to feed in and comment on the vision
  • How will you work together?
    • Community principles → how you work together
    • Community Values → set of beliefs that everyone shares
  • Create a shared backlog to work against as a community.

7. Getting Value from Community Interactions

  • Your community should collectively decide on how to spend its time. Allow for:
    • Building social connections
    • Learning as a group
      • presentations and talks
      • deliberate practice
      • games and workshops
      • visits and tours to other places
    • Talking, solving problems and building better practices
      • Less-structured meetings where they can discuss things together
        • Lean coffee (create options, vote on topics, set agenda)
      • Solving problems in smaller groups (break to discuss challenges)
        • Three is a great number for this (triads are great)
    • Sharing outside the community
      • Show and tells
      • marketing material
      • presentations and training
      • crossovers with other communities
    • Creating community improvements

8. Identifying Skills Gaps to Work On

  • What skills are needed to do the role?
    • Start with job descriptions
    • Capture everything CoP members do on a day to day
    • Group similar things together (de-duplicate)
    • Discuss if they’re part of the role or not
    • Do some iterations to come up with a list of skills
    • Ask people to highlight additional skills they have or want (that might not be role specfic)
  • Do skills confidence mapping
    • The 5 stage model of adult skill acquisition (link)
      • Novice: follows the rules
      • Advanced beginner: recognises patterns
      • Competent: chooses a perspective
      • Proficient: responds to situations
      • Expert: Writes their own rules
    • Help people rank their own skill level
    • Another model of skill acquisition Dreyfus Model → ShuHaRi
      • Shu → the protection stage, follows what the master teaches them
      • Ha → the breakaway stage, learning principles behind a technique, begin to integrate learning into their practice
      • Ri → the creating stage, student creates their own approaches and adapts what they’ve learned to their own circumstances
  • Create personal development plans:
    • Get people to focus on one important area
  • If you know everyones skills, you can match people with learning buddies.
  • If you’re all weak in one area you could bring in an external trainer

9. Growing the Community of Practice Model

  • Growing the community:
    • Initially you’re limited to your immediate network
    • As the community grows, focus more effort on growing it’s membership past just these people
  • Resources to help you grow:
    • Your extended networks
    • Your community’s networks
    • Your story
  • Things to consider?
    • How can CoP members get the story out? (tap up your network)
    • Are there formal or informal structures you can use to reach people? (Line management)
    • What marketing tools can you use? (posters, or digital equivalent)
    • Are there any other people whose help you can enlist? (use a common connection to introduce you to new pockets of people)
    • Making the message easy to understand (make it easy for people to self-identify)
  • Types of members:
    • Core
    • Active
    • Occasional
    • Peripheral
    • Outside
  • Identify and grow community leaders → natural leaders will be active members and will start to identify themselves by the amount of effort and engagement they give to the community.
    • Let them become part of it
    • Leadership needs to be taken on by the group
  • Be careful about bringing in people to your safe environment and upsetting the dynamics
    • Setup open learning sessions on areas of interest outside of the community
    • Where there is cross-over knowledge work with other CoPs to get together with a particular topic in mind

10. Self-Sustaining Communities of Practice

  • CoPs only exist if there’s interest from members in maintaining the group
  • A community will best survive when it becomes self sustaining and organising
  • Self-organisation comes from a clear understanding of the communities goals
    • On regular occasions, the community will need to revisit it’s vision to see that it’s still relevant
  • Key elements of a self-sustaining practice are:
    • Leadership → CoP members are comfortable with leadership
    • Membership → are engaged, and focused on vision, organise interactions and activities
    • Knowledge and practices → continues to learn, create better practices and standards
    • Skills development → take the lead on member professional development
    • Visibility and support → people outside of the community advocate for it