November 15

What you could learn from ‘Building successful communities of practice’ by Emily Webber (2016, 70 pages)

Emily argues that to be a resilient and happy organisation you must invest in the learning and development of its people as a whole.  In her book, she argues that communities of practice are the best way to encourage learning and development.

“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”.  The benefits of strong communities of practice are:

  • Accelerating professional development
  • Breaking down silos
  • Sharing knowledge and better practice
  • Hiring and building a better team
  • Happier, more motivated people


Professional development through learning

Kolb model of learning styles below, suggest the mechanism where people learn.   Kolb argues to do this effectively, people need to learn in a safe environment with the support of other people.


The types of learning which will also support individual development

  • Shadowing people and learning from others
  • Formal classroom training
  • Self-initiated learning
  • Sharing ideas and support from others
  • Small experiments and short projects
  • Questioning, retrospecting and feedback loops


Breaking down silos and sharing knowledge

  • Build social connections, it is easier to work together and get to a better answer if you know someone
  • Learn as a group use ‘show and tell’, presentations, external talks and visits to explore work and new ways of doing things
  • Solve problems, find out what is slowing down teams and the community (do not optimise for the community at the expense of the system)
  • Sharing outside the community, so that others can see the value and also help
  • Improve the community, hold retrospectives of both teamwork and community work, so that you can get better


How to set up a community of practice:

  • Work out the ‘why’ of the community (see Simon Senick talk here)
  • Establish a community vision.  The vision needs to be aspirational, achievable and easy to understand
  • Establish community principles.  How you should you all treat each other and behave
  • Establish community values.  What are your shared set of beliefs that member share
  • Agree on some community goals.  List SMART goals and prioritise them into a community backlog


Creating the right environment for communities to flourish

  • Meet regularly
  • Good leadership (initially individual, over time move to shared/distributed)
  • A safe environment to learn (share thoughts, issues, worries, mistakes)
  • Support from the organisation
  • Clear community alignment (use Simon Sinek circles)


What have I learnt from this book?

  • The book reinforced the importance of communities in an organisation
  • Leverage people common interests to create self-sustaining communities that add value to the individual and the organisation
  • Strong leadership and organisational support is needed to get communities off the ground



You can buy Building successful communities of practice here on Amazon UK