COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE

A short definition

One of the courses I am currently attending within the Masters program “Content Strategy” at FH Joanneum Graz, is “Digtial Governance and Organizational Collaboration”. It’s held by Lisa Welchman. The other day, in this course, we talked about the concept of “Communities of Practice” which in my opinion sounded quite promising. So I read more about it on the Web and wanted to share some findings with you here.

© Unsplash/Dylan Gillis

In general, what are Communities of Practice?
Communities of Practice (CoPs) are an important component in agile organizations. The shift to cross-functional teams creates a challenge for companies in terms of knowledge exchange and transfer. CoPs can structurally close this gap. A community of practice is an association of people who exchange ideas on a topic and learn about it together.

In traditional organizations, departments are usually formed according to professional affiliation, so that specialists work closely networked with each other. In a new, agile world, in which the principles of Scrum, DevOps, Kanban or similar concepts play a role, cross-functional teams are now being established. One goal here is to break down functional silos and make better use of knowledge. Teams are heterogeneous and staffed across functions and departments in the way that makes the most sense for the task at hand. In most cases, the team then consists of an association of individual experts in their individual fields. However, this not only has advantages, but also disadvantages. With whom do I exchange ideas? Who do I talk to if I get stuck or have a problem? The team colleagues can’t help with the technical side of things. This makes knowledge exchange and transfer much more difficult.

Communities of Practice can close the gap in knowledge transfer
Since old structures are no longer effective, new ones are needed. A structure is needed in which experts can network and exchange information on specific topics. Communities of practice are just such associations of experts who exchange information on their topic in a corporate context. A community of practice is defined by 3 aspects:

· The domain: A community of practice has a theme, or content focus.

· The Community: The members of a Community of Practice are like-minded people who want to help each other, learn together and exchange ideas.

· The Practice: The community produces results that shape the daily work in the company (Practice).

The tasks of a Community of Practice
The groups are independent of instructions and the team members are intrinsically motivated to join them. However, a Community of Practice is not a new name for “coffee party at work”! A CoP always has a task on which it works together and generates an output. Basically, it is the task of the community to distribute existing knowledge and to build up new knowledge together. In addition, members can bring problems from their everyday work to the community to ask for solutions or to work together on solutions. By addressing everyday problems, a common understanding of the domain emerges. By implementing the solutions developed in the community, certain standards are established in the company. Often, new ideas and further developments also emerge in the discussion between the members. In this way, the group contributes to bringing new innovations into the organization.

Communities of Practice in practice
In practice, a community of practice can be designed as the team members want it to be. It is helpful if a joint “statement” is drawn up at the beginning, in which the team defines certain key points:

- What is the exact domain of the CoP?

- Who is part of the team? What is the current topic?

- What is the strategic direction?

- What are the dates and when will they take place?

It’s recommended to publish these points as well and adding a team photo if necessary. This creates transparency to the outside world and gives the community of practice a higher profile. In addition, other interested parties can become aware and join the CoP.

The work of a Community of Practice can take place in face-to-face meetings as well as in telephone or video conferences. In addition, digital collaboration tools can be used to facilitate communication and work for all participants. Since the members do not work together on a daily basis, unlike in project teams, Scrum teams or similar, it makes sense to organize regular face-to-face meetings. Only in this way can the members really get to know and understand each other and build the necessary trust to work well together.

© nativDigital

The community leader holds the group together
It makes sense for the CoP to appoint a leader. This person takes over the organization as well as the moderation of the meetings and represents the community to the company. This person is also responsible for bringing the community together and keeping it together. The community, like any team, is subject to certain changes over time. Regular retrospectives help the community maintain focus and keep everyone happy. Since this is a voluntary activity that requires a high level of intrinsic motivation, the satisfaction of each team member is very important and should always be at the forefront of the leader’s mind.

If you are interested into this topic and want to read more, here are some great blog posts about CoP, I also came across:

Introduction to Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice. The organizational frontier.

What abou you? Have you ever heard of CoP or already been part of one? Share your experiences in the comments :)

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