Our Thinking Thu 1st September, 2022
Setting up a Community of Practice – how and why you should do it
Does your business operate Communities of Practice? At Equal Experts we believe a Community of Practice isn’t just a ‘nice-to-do’ – it is an important part of building and maintaining a strong network.
As business recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, and with remote-first working practices increasingly common, there’s never been a better time to re-establish our CoPs. In this post we use the example of setting up a Community of Practice for our Delivery Lead profession, and showcase a Community of Practice model you might like to use in your own organisation.
“One of the most effective ways of creating communities at scale is to introduce Community of Practice throughout a large network.” Werner Smit – Equal Experts Delivery Lead, South Africa
Creating a Community of Practice model for your business
First of all, it’s important to create a Community of Practice model that reflects the structure of your business. Within Equal Experts, a Community of Practice (CoP) is related to a specific discipline e.g. Delivery Leads, Business Analysts, etc. Each CoP has an identified group of leads that head it up, and is focused on addressing the following two areas for their community:
- Ensuring that we are actively engaging with people in the network, sharing knowledge of what works between different engagements, and giving people a place to share ideas and stories and ask for support from their peers.
- Defining and maintaining hiring standards to ensure that people are brought into the network with the right skills in a consistent, timely fashion that is fair to the candidates, well understood by the interviewers and makes referrals easy.
Next, you’ll want to determine the priorities for your CoPs, and how those relate to the goals of your organisation. For example, at Equal Experts our Delivery Lead network has grown dramatically over the last couple of years, on a global scale. We were concerned to make sure that tribal knowledge didn’t get lost in that process, and that we continued to facilitate the sharing of expertise at scale.
Next comes organisational culture – an essential consideration of any business. Remote-working necessitated by lockdowns had meant fewer opportunities for in-person experience of our cultural values, so we wanted our CoPs to mitigate this by supporting the onboarding of new network members, to ensure they could get under the skin of our culture quickly.
We also wanted our CoPs to work closely with our people team, to ensure that our recruitment processes evolved to reflect inevitable changes in working practices, and resulted in more consistently successful Delivery Lead recruitment.
Setting up a Community of Practice for Delivery Leads
We set up our Delivery Leads CoP first, to establish best practice ahead of a potential CoP relaunch for all the disciplines within Equal Experts. We put together a small team of Delivery Lead practitioners and members of our recruitment team who’d worked closely with the Delivery Lead population, to create the following mission statement for our work:
Make Equal Experts the best place for Delivery Leads to practice their craft and increase the sense of belonging.
Next, we listed our desired outcomes:
- Remind people of the power and benefits of the network and help them navigate it
- Establish a frictionless recruitment process
- Increase sense of belonging
- Make Equal Experts the best place for Delivery Leads to practice
Finally, we determined our areas of focus for the Delivery Lead CoP. This included defining what good looks like for a Delivery Lead in Equal Experts, measuring the current health of the network, enhancing our interview and recruitment procedures, and setting up community events such as co-working days to strengthen the community. These are some of the processes we used to ensure our Delivery Lead CoP had strong foundations:
What does good look like (WDGLL)? To determine this starting point, we gathered a small working group of Delivery Leads, as well as people who use Delivery Lead services, using multiple approaches including workshops, 1-2-1 interviews, surveys and asynchronous workshops over slack to gain feedback. From this input, we defined the skillset, behaviours and attributes of what we believe makes an excellent Delivery Lead.
Measuring current health: We commissioned a number of surveys aimed at Delivery Leads within our network, and analysed the results to help us identify the biggest opportunities for improvement in our practices.
Frictionless recruitment: We reviewed our existing recruitment processes once we knew what good looked like, to check if they matched. Where we used these findings to inform our new job descriptions, and our interviewing and onboarding procedures. As a result of these changes we’ve seen significant improvements in both the quantity and quality of our recent Delivery Lead appointments. We’ve also had extremely positive feedback from interviewers, with 75% preferring the new procedures, as well as an increase in referrals from our existing Delivery Lead community.
Strengthening the Delivery Lead community: We’ve re-established co-working days and other networking opportunities for our Delivery Leads and associated people teams, and relaunched our buddy system, with the result that communication channels have become more active We’ve also seen some excellent cross-functional movement, with conversions from other disciplines to Delivery Lead roles.
Community of Practice ways of working
As a foundation to the relaunch of our CoPs we felt that the following principles and ways of working were essential:
- Treat the CoP as a continual service, not just a one-off piece of work
- Incorporate our people team in the CoP, so we build stronger relationships, build empathy, and create a common purpose
- Maximise visibility and accountability in all our work
- Establish measurable outcomes for all work
- A piece of work is not completed until the whole community has accepted it
We continually look for ways to support Delivery Leads from both a practical and pastoral perspective. We crowdsource ideas from the Delivery Lead community, and currently have some very exciting initiatives to consider. This will now be an ongoing process to replicate a healthy Community of Practice for other business units across our business.
What do you think? Could your business benefit from setting up a Community of Practice? Share this article with anyone you think might find it useful.