Community of practice or practise being a community?

What happens if you want to share and enjoy your common interest but not improve?

Dan Pink says mastery is a great driver, but what happens if you join a running club and just want to run. You know you are never going to do 10k in 40 minutes, and you know what, you are fine with that. You just enjoy running with other runners come rain or shine. As it turns out, there are others in your club who share the same driver as you. So you all run at your own pace and that serves you just fine. But what does that achieve!? It doesn’t help Team GB or your club at the next interclub race. Next time you are doing a 5k fun run look around and see how many people are going all out to beat their PB’s. A few will, myself included trying to assist in my triathlon training. But I reckon 80% will be just there to enjoy themselves doing something they find interesting but not improve ….strange right!

So how does that translate into the workplace, can it even translate into the workplace. I think so.

The community of practise models have been around for years in the agile world. It is all about how to get together and collectively improve. Which is fine for a group of agile coaches, or developers who love this sort of stuff and will walk over hot coals to try and get to the allusive ‘performing’ stage.

Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 14.55.08But what about the average working person. They’ve been doing their job for 15 years and all of a sudden they have to continuously improve with their peers in order to achieve some zen state. Now don’t get me wrong, as an agile coach I’m all for continuous improvement, in fact, I’m in the camp of relentless improvement* (*bad SAFe joke). But before we try and enhance a community don’t we need to establish one? Might you be part of a community but not realise it?

As with all things we start with what the word means. Oxford dictionary definition: Community: ‘The condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common’


How do you build a community? …first you establish one! Is it as simple as doing the same job means you have a shared interest? Maybe, but people do the jobs they do for various reasons. Probably with differing views on the job description and impact they have, especially in large organisations.

Foster a vision. Lots of ways to build a community this but this is my prefered choice and what I coach my clients to try first. No better way to get people to come together than in collaboration of achieving a common goal. A team doing back-end operations who rarely interact directly with the customer may find it hard to relate to the companies marketing spiel.

Deming said that “no one comes to work to do a bad job” ergo they must be wanting to do a good job – why not wrap that up in a vision. We aren’t talking an ‘increase sales by 2.5% this quarter vision either’, even something as simple as ‘be the bastions of customer satisfaction’ or ‘lead the way in agile practices’. These aren’t as whimsical as they seem. They will foster a collective understanding of what their job does towards the larger companies objectives and it offers a chance of ownership for that vision – even if its just a casual one to start with. Ok so we are venturing a bit into purpose in Dan Pink parlance, but you can have purpose without feeling you have to give 110% from the minute you get into the office.

So now you have a purpose why not discuss it with the other like-minded people in your team/area/squad/tribe/ART over a coffee or a beer. After all, you can’t have a community if you don’t know who is in your community! This doesn’t mean you have to know the names of everyone’s pet or their children’s birthdays, indeed it doesn’t even mean you have to like all the people in your community. You are grouping around the shared interest, not your personalities. Obviously, communities get on better without conflict, but let us be realistic.

So now you have established a community, what do you do with it? Take pictures, tell others about your group, create a community charter ….and sign it. Signing a large bit of paper is a great tactile response to something that by nature is mostly intangible. In the world of digital signatures, when was the last time you signed your name with a pen? And I mean a proper pen not an iPencil.

Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 15.55.13

Others will see you bonding and actually enjoying yourselves a bit more because you now you have others who can support and assist you.  People enjoy being part of groups, history has shown us this ever since the caveman. So the whole thing snowballs into something larger than the sum of its parts.

You aren’t going to get rid of your problems overnight. But the next time it gets to 16:55 and you have a big incident at work I bet you this time more people will stay and help.

Try and it see what happens in your workplace. Leave comments below to let me know how it went.


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