By Lenka Pincot
As COVID-19 lockdowns are lifted, companies are finding new strategies to handle traffic in their offices and ensure the well-being of their employees. Going forward, it’s expected that employees will use home offices more than before, physical office spaces may shrink, and traditional formats of team interactions may not return anytime soon.
Even before the pandemic, many of us were already working on virtual teams and relying on online collaboration tools. But we took for granted that we could meet our colleagues face-to-face if we wanted to, and we expected regular all-team meetings at least a few times a year.
When rethinking my old ways of working with larger and cross-functional teams, I came to the realization that it is more important than ever to encourage forming internal Communities of Practice that provide platforms for peer-to-peer sharing and professional development.
What Are Communities of Practice?
Communities of practice (COPs) are informal groups of practitioners with a shared profession or passion. The group’s identity is defined by its domain, members and practice. We don’t have to look far to name one of the best examples: PMI, the global community of practice for project management professionals.
COPs may also be formed internally within companies. They are supposed to be created organically as a response to the needs of professionals.
The COP concept is often part of agile frameworks as a recommended way to foster cross-team experience exchange. Imagine a COP for all scrum masters who are part of various different teams across the company. Regular meetings and interactive platforms help them learn and encourage networking. Scrum masters may discuss how their job differs or what challenges they face. They have their community to find a safe space, to discuss best practices or to propose new concepts to experiment with. If they don’t belong to the same organization unit, a COP may be the only way to gather.
The Benefits of Creating COPs
Reflecting on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the way we work, I would recommend actively encouraging the formation of COPs within your organization, with these three main reasons in mind:
1. They allow teams to quickly respond to new needs.
The reaction to circumstances driven by COVID-19 may put teams in different situations. Some teams may be using more digital collaboration tools because they were partly virtual, others may be forced to learn new skills.
Creating platforms and encouraging experience-sharing for professionals across these teams through COPs may speed up the learning process. On top of that, the groups could be geared toward specific professions, increasing the likelihood of fast adoption of the concrete recommendations.
Take me for instance: I’m a coach and transformation leader. I rely on non-verbal communication when conducting 1:1 sessions, and my favorite way to progress with my agenda is to facilitate workshops. But physical flipcharts and whiteboards are off the table now. Sharing my challenges with colleagues who happen to be in a similar situation, and at the same time are familiar with company resources, tools and options, would be more than welcome.
2. They foster inclusivity and a sense of belonging.
Not everyone is set up for the same work conditions when moving to remote work. It could turn out that the regular team meeting time is not the best for everyone. Some people may concentrate better in the morning, while for others it may seem impossible. Requirements on the profession itself may change completely.
COPs offer a safe space and enriching environment for members, because they operate in the same domain. Using community resources and reaching out to peer members is less stressful. COPs are inclusive and are there to provide support and a sense of belonging. We all know how good it feels when we can share our challenges and learn that we are not alone.
3. They enrich online trainings and virtual conferences.
With the need to switch traditional events like conferences or learning sessions to an online setup, we’ve gained much more flexibility. We can schedule our learning at our own pace and choose the best timing. But we’ve also lost something: The possibility to raise a hand and ask a question on the spot, or to simply look around to confirm that the group is on the same page.
Recently, I recommended that a group of colleagues go through online training. But the feedback was that the topic was difficult, and they were not sure if they could complete it individually and ensure they understood the points correctly. We discussed forming a COP, in which sharing learning points from the course and clarifying difficult passages would be a great start to building connections and supporting each other.
As a next step, it would be natural to set up regular meetings and address how each member of the community is putting the new knowledge into practice within their teams, and further supporting the COP by setting up an online interactive platform for communication outside of the regular events.
Have you been part of a community of practice? What has been your experience?