Setting up communities of practice

This is a post about setting up a community of practice and why this is a good thing for organisations embracing agile ways of working.

Setting up a community of practice

In the early summer a group of us, herded by the brilliant Emily Webber, took a day out to talk about setting up a community of practice for agile delivery people.  We recognise that in a networked, progressive organisation of small and agile self-directed teams, there is a role for these communities to act as the glue across teams and the wider organisation.

Communities of practice: “… 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”  Etienne Wenger-Trayer and Beverly Wenger-Trayer

We wanted to create a community that:

  • could evolve naturally – for its members and by its members
  • was a safe space for open dialogue and learning
  • allowed different levels of participation – there’s nothing worse than forced fun!
  • had a regular rhythm to it

We agreed our community’s mission:

Our mission is to: Inspire others at Co-op and beyond by setting and continuously improving the standard of agile, collaborative delivery

And discussed its values:

Agile Delivery Community Manifesto. We will develop a community of practice that sets and improves the standard of agile ways of working in Co-op and beyond. We will do this by: Being open and honest Encouraging and helping each other Making an active contribution Always sharing, learning and improving Not judging

It’s early days but already there’s a growing level of self-organisation and trust amongst members.  The community is sharing ways of working, practical tips and techniques.

Beware silos

To help smooth the flow of knowledge sharing everyone is encouraged to be open.  Tools like Slack, Google apps and open invites to each team’s Showcase really help spread better practice – but only partially.  

Sometimes, everyone working in a product team is in danger of being so focussed on the thing they are making, they forget that they are part of a much wider organisation. It takes extra effort to look around, to dig deeper, to ask questions about why something works in one situation and not so well in another.  Sometimes we’re just too polite or don’t feel safe asking the difficult question.

Other communities of practice are springing up too

If you wander around our office in Angel Square you’ll see the signs of agile working blooming.  There are now more than a dozen teams working in this way, spread across the business from Membership, Funerals, Food to new digital products.  

The teams share some common characteristics (usually less than 10 people, a flat hierarchy, cross-disciplinary and empowered to experiment to solve a problem) but each team works differently.  They own their process and what works for one team might not work so well for another.  That’s a healthy thing and it’s fascinating to see how different ways of working are evolving and improving.

In fact, it feels a lot like a Co-op.  

We’re recruiting now.

Jamie Arnold
Head of Agile Delivery

4 thoughts on “Setting up communities of practice

  1. ryan sackett September 15, 2016 / 8:54 am

    Hi Jamie. What a great article, thank you for sharing this. Was it an open invitation to participate when you got the first group together – I am assuming that off site session was what generated the mission statement.

    Liked by 1 person

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