As part of organizational transformation journey, CIOs today need to move from hierarchical models to self organizing communities to deliver IT, and there is an even greater need to build and sustain “Communities of Practices” for achieving the same. If you are an internal change agent responsible for building these communities, you can learn about the 5 step recipe to building and nurturing these communities in your organization:
But before we kick-start, let us try to understand what really is a Community of Practice?
Communities of practice (CoP) are 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.
Typically these groups have a shared domain of interest, shared competence, and learn regularly from each other. They engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information; they are practitioners who share experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems — in short a shared practice.
Below is a simple 5 step strategy to kick start and nurture your Community of Practice:
1. Establish a Sense of Urgency and leverage the Strategic objectives
Corporate honchos will typically lay down the current / future areas of focus for the organization. These are typically called as the Strategic Capabilities or future growth areas or similar sounding terms.
The key to starting a community is to leverage these strategic objectives with an inbuilt sense of urgency, and find a key sponsor (read as TOP DOWN Support), and identify the contributions with this sponsor, as to how the community can add Value, and then focus the discussion and activities around these.
The BOTTOM UP support is always easy to find, once the Sponsor has been identified, who can then help in spreading the message across the enterprise. It is never a question of how to find the bottom up interest, but more a question of ‘how to engage and guide’ the early adopters and steer their passion.
2. Gather ‘early’ Adopters and “Run”
Start with whoever shows up and accept that there will be passionate people (few initially), but always encourage and accept different levels of participation. You will realise that the strength of participation varies from each individual. The ‘core’ (most active members) are those who participate regularly. There are others who follow the discussions or activities but do not take a leading role in making active contributions.
Then there are those (likely the majority) who are on the periphery of the community but may become more active participants if the activities or discussions start to engage them more fully. All these levels of participation should be accepted and encouraged within the community.
There is never a critical mass required to start a community. So RUN with whoever shows up!
3. Partner with the internal and external Ecosystem
As a community guide, you will/shall/need to partner with the internal and external ecosystem for your organization.
The internal ecosystem would include your Support functions – typically Human Resources – Learning / Training departments, and the internal facilities, who can provide the required logistics, marketing muscle, sometimes manpower too and really make your community endeavours as a key part of their learning offerings. It is best to create this win-win combination to sustain your communities.
The external ecosystem is key and would include partnership with the industry forums, and speakers, wherein the community members interact, broaden their expertise, and learn and share their stories, new learnings and upcoming trends. The key is to provide an engagement channel with your Community SPONSOR, on how to funnel the participation and share these learnings internally without getting sucked into the legal and compliance partners. The culture of your organization may aid/resist this step-up.
4. Scale – Horizontally
In order to generate initial buy-in across a wider spectrum, it always makes sense to scale horizontally first, so that you can achieve critical mass for your community. This allows the members to contribute and break the ice, and helps in the initial stages in collaboration for the ‘core’ team, as each member brings some additional value to the conversation. We call this strategy as the – Go Wide move
It always helps to create a rhythm for the community with regular schedule of activities that brings the participants together on a regular basis, and combining familiarity and excitement, by focusing both on shared, common concerns and perspectives, but also by introducing radical or challenging perspectives for discussion or action.
5. Scale – Vertically
Post the initial buy-in, and few first steps, there are always challenges of – What next? Who runs? When? How?
Try Vertical Scaling! – which means going deeper into the sub-topics of interest / work streams within a common umbrella, focusing on multiple aspects: roles/functions/location/on-line/offline medium
As the community needs to be refreshed every few seasons and undergoes an ownership transition, which will happens as you scale vertically now, it is OK to disengage the earlier passionate core and let a new ‘core’ emerge. Other options include introducing Game mechanics in the community, and allowing for non monetary rewards and publicity for the passionate volunteers.
In the end it is the Passion that always rules!
The key to building successful communities is to provide an enabling platform and a safe environment for people to share their stories without any judgement or fear of failure.
I would definitely be interested to hear if you have used these or additional steps to make your communities a success !!
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