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How to make communities of practice visible, viable and valuable?

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 adding value towards organization? Read the blog: 5 reasons why you should start communities of practice
If you need help on setting up a community of practice. Read the blog: How to build communities of practice

This 3th and final blog about communities of practices tells you how to create the correct context to work with communities of practice. You will learn which support, tools and approach you need to make your communities of practice visible, viable and valuable.

Communities of practice need to be visible to get recognition

Communities of practice often result in virtual, invisible and self-organizing teams, that are not aligned with the overall company’s strategy. They are like reefs: complex, self-organizing underwater structures, often invisible, yet very fragile. But when carefully guiding these COPs, this might result in great performance, high efficiency and alignment with the overall strategy, and even in an increase of personal engagement. As already mentioned in our previous blogs COPs have a huge potential and are crucial for organizations who want to survive in a knowledge economy.

Harvard research has proven that a staggering 30% of complex, cross-functional teams such as COPs do not reach their goals and fail.
People working in these teams feel more engaged, resulting in higher retention and less absenteeism.

The key to solve this is to unhide these teams, by making COPs visible.

Unfortunately, current software tools are blind to this reality of hidden (COP) teams within an organization and so are unable to monitor their progression and added business value. The Human Reef platform, however, tackles this problem by unhiding these (COP) teams and monitor their work. We attach value to both org. chart teams as virtual teams and the alignment between them by working with different dimensions in the organization. (org. chart teams & virtual teams). When you’re making your hidden (COP) teams visual, you will be able to link their achievements with the organizational ambitions and strategy and give the hidden team (COP) members the recognition they deserve.

Communities of practice need support to stay alive

Without support no community of practice has a chance to stay alive.

When we talk about support we talk about:

  • Leadership support

    The success of COPs also depends a lot on the support of the hierarchical leaders of the company. Managers need to understand that everyday business is important, but sustainability and learning also and that people need to be able to take time for it. Letting people participate in COPs on a regular basis is extremely important.

    You can do this by making a COP policy that obliges managers to give their people some hours a week to participate.

  • Resource support

    To setup and maintain COPs you need people, budget, office space and tools.

    The most important resources are the people that will take on COP roles.

    At least every COP needs a leader and coach. In some companies they have leaders, coaches and coordinators.

    People in other roles need some time off from their ‘normal’ job to take on the role as lead or coach.

    You also need a budget to be able to form the COP and do non-job-related activities and to give participants the chance to get to know each other. You also need a budget to invite an expert for example.

    To manage this, it can be a good idea to allocate a training budget.

    Other things you need are communication tools, proper meeting rooms …

Communities of practice need a tailor-made company approach to deliver value

To design such an approach, it’s a good idea to start with a COP experiment, supported by an experienced agile or COP coach and finetune it afterwards.

  • Launch you first experiment

    Start up the first COP by defining the COP framework: the COP purpose, ambitions, values, behaviours, roles and responsibilities that need to be taken in by the COP. Including the role of the COP leader and the COP coach.

    Also define a set of practices (meetings, etc.) to create a community of practice rhythm and define a way to document the results of the COP.

    After that, let the community (the participants) set the goals for the COP and start the experiment.

  • Mature the experimental COP

    Let the coach guide the COP to become more and more self-organising and to monitor the COPs progression. Also monitor the value delivery of the COP for the organisation by following up on reached goals and the implementation of the results in the company.

    Learn from that and take it with you for the development of the company COP approach.

  • Develop the organizational approach for COPs

    After the experiment you can develop the organizational approach with the following components:

    · Appointment of a core team of COP coaches

    · Agreement on the digital platform that you will use to support the COPs

    · Definition of the COP coach and COP leader role

    · Definition of the ‘why’ and the context of the COP implementation

    · A COP policy with rules about spending time and money, COP behaviour, leadership support, COP validation, decision making, business implementation

    · A COP rollout plan based on spotting a need, forming a COP, maturing the COP and evolving towards a self-sustaining COP

When the company COP approach is ready, start training all employees about COPs and your company COP approach.

Then start with the first emerging COPs; practice, learn and keep on improving the approach by learning.

We wish you good luck with the implementation of communities of practice at your organization.