CoP – How to get one up and running

Communities of Practice are a solid way to help experts in their field stay on top of the latest in their domains. They also help managers and leaders create a collaborative learning culture.

A CoP is a forum where experts meet together on a periodic schedule to share and learn from each other. It can be a one hour event every other week or from time to time, a mini-conference using an open space or trade show format.

I like to see managers or leaders shepherd or curate CoPs. A CoP needs care, feeding, and leadership to get off the ground and remain useful. The best CoPs I’ve experienced have the following characteristics:

  1. Built around a topic area, e.g. servant leadership, Scrum Mastering, Test automation, procurement and supply chain, finance, etc,
  2. Occur regularly – if this is your first one, try every second Sprint or once a month or once every two weeks. Pick a cadence and adjust as needed.
  3. Mix open discussion and a theme. For example, you may have a 1 hour CoP with the first 30 minutes with a planned topic and the rest as an open agenda.
  4. Invite outsiders – they bring fresh thinkers from inside and outside the organization to participate
  5. Rotate the facilitator role – to keep things fresh
  6. Are full of useful content
  7. Provide learning and networking opportunities
  8. Use feedback to improve

How do you know if your CoP is successful?

  1. People keep coming back.
  2. As a participant, you learn something new and useful that you can apply in your work.
  3. The CoP aligns people in different parts of the organization

Kicking off your first CoP

  • Identify your curator or shepherd. If it’s you, then read on…
  • Pick your topic area. Let’s suppose you want to set up a CoP for leadership.
  • Identify who should attend, reach out to them and let them know this is coming and if they have leader friends who want to join in, to connect them with you.
  • Limit your community size, at least initially. You can grow later.
  • Establish your goal – what do you want to achieve?
  • Decide how you will test for success. (A hypothesis with a metric works well.)
  • Prepare an agenda and line up a speaker or two.
  • Prepare a kick-off address to set the expectations for the CoP attendees and facilitators.
  • Schedule the event and invite your participants.
  • Bring some food – cookies, bananas and coffee.
  • Figure out how you want to get feedback. (e-mail survey, selected phone calls after, fist-to-five at the end in the room, etc)
  • Kick it off

Avoid remote dial in participants for CoPs. If you have no choice but to do it remotely, have everyone join in remotely, or have remote access technology that works well enough to keep remote participants engaged.

Above all, realize there is no recipe for a perfect CoP. Everyone does them a little differently. Have any good CoP recipes or experiences to share? Please do so.




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