Do You Participate In A Community Of Practice?

All the PMs at my company have one sacred time each week. Unless you have clients in the office, you should have Thursdays at 2:30 P.M. blocked off in your calendar. We gather away from our teams in one room and have a weekly roundtable.

Best part is we never have to be asked to show. It’s our favorite time of the week.

Sometimes it involves us discussing tactical things our company needs from us. Other times we share issues we are having on teams and solicit feedback for improvement. I’ve even gotten to present a few times on things I’ve read or written about. It’s an amazing time that I almost always walk away fed for the next seven days.

Without knowing it, I was participating in a fully-functioning (and vital) Community of Practice. What I do know it that the time has more than paid for itself. My boss hadn’t even heard of the term, even though it was his idea.

Last week, one of the Agile user groups I participate in hosted a presentation on creating strong and passionate Communities of Practice. Hosted by two people I consider friends, I attended because I wasn’t exactly sure if I knew what a CoP was. Context clues aside, it sounded like something I needed.

If you meet regularly with people with a common interest and are trying to improve their time in said interest, that’s exactly what you are called. Want to improve your Scrum ceremonies? Do you all want to be a professional gamer? Interest in joining the party planning committee?

All qualify, you just need a few tips on how to make sure your gatherings go to the next level.

One of the things that came up in conversation a lot was the idea that usually one person gathers the others and thinks that it benefits the group. Said leader is usually the boss, and doesn’t understand how to take feedback. The first rule of CoPs is making the event mutually beneficial for all. That means including them in the process (and presentations).

If you want to see the full deck of slides, check them out here. For now, let’s start with the high points on establishing the right kind of group in your community:

  • Establish goals and the mission of your group. Agile leaders won’t be surprised to hear this, but if even one person is confused by the reasons for your meet ups you have failed. Touch upon it every time.
  • Switch up the format. If you can find an outside expert to come tell some stories, great. Just find an internal speaker to present next time, or solicit the group for a problem that needs solving. Don’t forget social events either!
  • Draw from each other any time you can. If there’s an issue you are having, chances are someone had it before. Raise your hand, even if it breaks the agenda a little. The main goal of gathering is to improve.
  • Constantly ask each other who are the kind of members you are looking for, and then look for them. While it would be nice to have your group grow just from word-of-mouth advertising, most of the time you need to ask others before they come. Go get ’em!
  • The group will vote, one way or another. If you can’t seem to have enough free seats, you’re on to something. Same goes for people walking out in the middle. Attendance is the only vote that counts, regardless of how awesome your Powerpoint is.
  • Finally, if your only reason for getting people together is to just be better employees, ask yourself if the mission is on point. What separates a CoP from a simple user group is shared passion. Getting together to problem-solve, or tell stories, should be fun!

Does your company or city have a Community of Practice set up? What things are you guys doing to passionately push each other to amazing heights?

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