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5 steps to set up a Community of Practice and make it work

Communities of practice are described by Wenger Trayner as groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. For more information on the purpose of COP (Community of practice) and the added value towards organization, read the blog: 5 Reasons why you should start working with Communities of Practice. This blog tells you how to set up a community of practice through 5 steps followed by some useful tips from other companies that already implemented COP’s in the past.

Before starting it’s important to gather a core group of future COP coaches that will prepare and initiate the launch process.

1. Spotting the potential of a new COP

The members of the core group start by having several conversations with potential community members. They can start asking which challenges they are facing and if they need interaction with others to face these challenges. People facing challenges tend to talk to like-minded people for support.

2. Forming the new COP

What’s a community without members? However, it’s important not to invite everyone but clearly make a desired profile and decide who’s in based on the value that the individuals can bring with them. COP members have to be active practitioners that are willing to meet regularly and are able to share previous experiences. With their expertise they need to be able to support others within the community.

We advise you to

  • Do the profiling for a typical COP member based on experience, interest and level of commitment they are willing to give.

  • Run a transparent selection or approval process.

  • Form the community team based on the dynamics you would like to install within the team, not just on the strengths of individual members.

As soon as coaches have found three people they can start to define the process for building a COP.

We advise you to start with a few pilots on areas where you see potential and readiness, and where you can easily describe a first series of value adding activities.

3. Starting the new COP

After you found team members, we advise you to appoint a COP coach (member of the core group) who is going to set a framework for the community together with the new members by defining the purpose, values, behaviours and ambitions of the community.
This is often made explicit in a “charter” or a “manifesto” of the community. It gives the community a sense of direction.

Its purpose is the shared interest on which the community will be working; the community is a group of people that will work, learn and share about their purpose. The ambitions are the result that practitioners (members) of the guild commit to deliver: such as best practices, a shared understanding, improved processes…

4. Maturing the COP

Don’t expect the members to find out things by themselves, but provide enough support for the COP via coaching, teaching, developing decision making processes, finding infrastructure and logistic assistance. This is the responsibility of the COP coach.

The COP will need time to evolve towards self-sustainability. The COP members will have to learn to trust each other; they have to learn to give feedback and to challenge each other. After this stage the members can become real practitioners who can take ownership and deliver great results.

During the maturing phase the COP coach will need to keep the COP going by helping the members to increasingly take on responsibilities.

5. A self-sustaining COP

As soon as the COP has reached the level of self-sustainment, the COP should be able to remove its own barriers, align its work with the rest of the organization,

get results and integrate them within the rest of the organization,

Tips from the experts

Based on the interviews we did with some inspiring companies all over Europe, we managed to gather some tips and tricks that are very useful for those who want to work with communities of practice.

By Spotify (Sweden)

“Set up the COP framework (roles, purpose, goals) and teach the participants what a COP is, what is expected from them and what values they should respect.”

“COP’s don’t have to be offline; COP’s can be managed very well online. In that case you need a strong implementation process that includes setting up a digital tool that supports COP and cross-COP / cross-organizational alignment.”

By ING (The Netherlands)

“Be wise and start with a concept before starting the big bang for the implementation of COP’s in the whole organization.”

“Don’t become your own silo by shutting all doors and protect the safe place. But instead work together with other silos.”

By De Persgroep (Belgium)

“Create a certain rhythm for the COP. It’s better to block the agenda, for example, every week, and to cancel when there are no topics then to wait until there are topics to organise a COP meeting.”

“Avoid closed COP’s. Everyone should be able to participate and transparency is crucial.”

“Another good tip is to use the lean coffee* format to facilitate a COP.”

Lean coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and start talking. Conversations are more direct and productive because the agenda for the meeting was democratically generated

Showpad (Belgium)

“Time and effort are the most important success criteria for setting up a community of practice.”

“The initiative to setup a COP should come from the people themselves. Don’t force them to join”.

Sparkasse (Germany)

“Change the members of the COP and the COP leader after 3 or 6 months. In this case, everyone has the chance to participate and the COP won’t become too big. An extra advantage is that every 3 or 6 months you bring in new knowledge.”

“Retrospectives are important so do them regularly: Does it meet the need? And what do we need to do to change it and create the community that you want it to be”