Getting the most out of our community of practice meetings

In the early days of Co-op Digital, our Head of delivery at the time, Jamie Arnold, brought digital people doing similar roles together by setting up communities of practice.

The communities still exist today but, 3 years on, Co-op Digital has expanded significantly: our communities are much bigger, we’re working across more projects and we’re facing different challenges. It’s important that our communities of practice change with the organisation so that we, as communities and as individuals, get the support we need in ways that suit us.

Around 6 months ago, the delivery managers shook up the way we ran our weekly community of practice meetings.

What works for us

The delivery community of practice meets weekly in a meeting room in Federation House. An hour each week feels right for us. We’ve built it into our weekly schedules and we’ve found that this is short enough for us to stay focussed (it doesn’t feel like a team social), and it’s regular enough so that problems don’t build to the stage where the whole session needs to be used to solve them.

Here are some of the things the delivery team has been doing recently in our community of practice meetings.

Setting an objective

In July 2017 we agreed on what the delivery managers’ objective should be. We decided our aim was:

Find better ways for Digital teams to work with their stakeholders, so we gain a common understanding of how we’re working and what we’re planning to deliver.

Having a clear objective that we’d reached together meant that each delivery manager was more invested in our vision than they would be if the objective had been dictated, top down, by one person.

Collaborating to get buy in isn’t a new idea, we know that.

But this is a great example of how it’s worked well: the attendance at our meetups has been consistently high, people have been enthusiastic and have wanted to be a part of a community.

Choosing inclusive topics

We don’t always have an agenda for our meetups but when we do, we make sure we choose topics that don’t exclude anyone. Nobody feels like they can’t or shouldn’t contribute.

Like with all communities in Co-op Digital, stakeholders are something every delivery manager has in common so we’ve often made them the focus of our meetings. We’ve interviewed some of them and used our time together to feed back what they’ve said. We’ve then talked about what we can do from a delivery point of view to meet stakeholder needs better, for example, how best to share what we’re working on regularly with them so they can be as involved as they need to be. We found that what works for one team and its stakeholders often doesn’t work for another.

Sharing techniques

A huge part of our roles as delivery managers is to facilitate sessions. This could be agile ceremonies such as sprint planning, retros, and show and tells but it also includes one-off workshops intended to help the team with setting direction or clarifying longer-term priorities. Because all teams and individuals are different, a technique that works superbly in one scenario may work less well in another so sharing and comparing ways to get to the same point has been really beneficial for our community.

Keeping up with current wider delivery discussions

As with all disciplines, it’s important to look outside our immediate community. It keeps us relevant and engaged. Sometimes, we talk about things we’ve read, tweets we’ve seen, arguments we’ve heard from the delivery community outside of Co-op. We’ve recently discussed Sebastian Deterding’s video on Hacking Shyness: Designing Social Interaction and Why Commitment Culture Wins by Damian Hughes.

Holding ‘open’ sessions

Every 4 to 6 weeks we hold a meet-up where there’s no agenda. Instead, everyone is given a post it note and writes either a problem, a triumph, a question or a comment on it. We dot vote on what we’d like to discuss and we talk through each topic for 5 minutes starting with whichever got the highest vote.

The benefits of belonging

For us, being part of a community of practice is more than attending a weekly hour-long meetup. It’s about having a support network of people who are best-placed to listen, understand and advise when we need it. Each delivery manager is also part of a group of 3 people who face similar challenges, for example, they’re working with more then 1 team. On a day-to-day basis, that smaller group is the first point of contact.   

Superb for personal development  

Since we’ve been running these meetups, I’ve been saving links, quotes, tweets, tips, guidelines and notes I’ve taken in our meetings – anything I think I’ll revisit. It’s my toolbox: it’s full of the knowledge and practical advice that’s been shared with me and I feel better-equipped to deliver products and services with it.

How to start a community of practice

You don’t have to work in a digital team to get value from a community of practice. As social learning consultants,  Etienne Wenger-Trayer and Beverly Wenger-Trayer said:

Communities of practice are 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. 

If you’d like to learn more or if you’d like help setting up a community, email me victoria.mitchell@coopdigital.co.uk

Victoria Mitchell
Digital skills principal

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