Building Successful Communities of Practice by Emily Webber

BY James Gadsby Peet ON NOVEMBER 30, 2018

Summary: Communities of practice can be powerful tools to enable both individuals and organisations to increase their effectiveness. By bringing together people who share a common interest or passion, new skills are learned and developed.

People are often put in situations where they’re empowered, but they don’t know how to move forward. Sink or swim is often used as the management justification for this. At #mtpcon London, Emily Webber says that although it’s seen as a rite of passage, it doesn’t work for the majority of people. Communities can be the way to bring support to those in this situation. People are better together.

Organisations are Collections of People

These days, many organisations organise their teams to be multi-disciplinary so that you don’t sit with people who all do the same job, but there are plenty of them in your world. Silos break down empathy between groups, and lead us to speak less about people, and more about homogenous groups. It leads to distrust and ineffective working methods.

Emily Webber speaks at mtpcon London

Communities of Practice

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. They come together without hierarchy in order to learn about their area of focus. These groups of practice are non-hierarchical, voluntary, and long-term. They focus on how you accomplish your tasks, rather than what you deliver.

Communities Create Support Networks

Speaking to groups of people with the same responsibilities improves our confidence and motivates us. In many organisations people take an absence of support as rejection. Practice groups can tackle this issue by connecting people together.

Communities Create Opportunities for Learning and Development

Learning in communities can be very useful. We learn from observing other people who do similar things. Shadowing and observing will build someone’s skills and confidence, and is particularly useful for people who are new to an organisation. Experiential learning is important, because unless you try out something you’ve learned, it won’t stick. Practice groups can give people opportunities to try out things they’ve heard about, even if it’s not part of their usual role.

Emily Webber on stage at mtpcon London

Communities Enable Knowledge Sharing and Reduce Duplication

In theory, documentation should handle all of an organisation’s knowledge sharing. But in reality, much of the implicit and tacit knowledge is held by people rather than anything like a wiki. By getting people to share with one another, you can reduce the risk of losing this knowledge. Communities are also amplifiers, as a group of people has a bigger voice than one individual. If you see an opportunity as a community, you’re more likely to be able to make it happen than one person.

Community Members Collaborate and Realise Opportunity

Organisations where people talk to each other are more successful than those where they don’t. Collaboration allows us to benefit from each other’s experience and enables us to achieve more than the sum of our skills would suggest we can. For example, newer members of any team will want to focus on experimentation. Those with more established experience will want to look at the role of expertise. The ideal place to be sits between these two approaches – something which can happen in a community.

Emily’s top tips for Creating Effective Communities of Practice

  1. Clarify who the community is for.
  2. Get those people together regularly.
  3. Start by sharing stories.
  4. Create opportunities for learning, building trust, adding value, and supporting each other.
  5. See what works and turn up the good.
James Gadsby Peet

About

James Gadsby Peet

I've been in the digital industry for over 10 years and have worked across small and large charities, as well as my own freelance projects. I am now Director of Digital at the sector leading creative agency William Joseph. Having been at Cancer Research UK for the last four years, I have been able to work on high volume, high profile campaigns such as Race for Life, Dryathlon and the much-quoted #nomakeupselfie. In that time I helped drive forward the charity’s digital product and marketing capabilities to be some of the most respected and successful in the sector. I'm always excited to work with other organisations, share expertise and swap cat gifs. Give me a shout!