Organising your community of practice for action

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —June 30, 2006
Filed in Collaboration

There often comes a point in the life of a community of practice when the group really benefits from creating tangible things designed to improve the members’ practice. This point occurs sometime after the early days of formation after the members have worked out their domain, and they know who’s participating, how people get on with one another, and how members communicate.

Following is a simple approach designed to coordinate action within a CoP. I first spoke about this approach in relation to setting up a Quickplace environment, which in retrospect might have been a mistake because many people couldn’t see how the ideas where relevant if they weren’t using Quickplace or when technology isn’t in the community’s sights.

There are three parts to this approach:

  • discussion tables
  • a list of possible projects
  • small groups (ideally 3 people) working on things together

discussion table is when community members come together to discuss a topic related to the community’s domain. The community coordinator might organise discussion tables on a regular basis. They can be done face to face or be a facilitated online discussion. I think there should be no more than about 12 people in the conversation to ensure everyone is present and active. If there are more than 12 people interested in the discussion table topic then run multiple discussion tables. During the conversation one of the participants keeps a note of ideas involving members taking action to improve the member practice. For example, if you were part of a business narrative community and the topic was ‘running effective anecdote circles’ someone might suggest, “we should develop a anecdote circle facilitator’s kit” or “we should develop a members training program”. These ideas would be noted and added to the list of possible projects. A summary of the discussion table conservation is also distributed to the entire community.

The list of possible projects is a simple list of all the suggested projects and activities arising in the discussion tables and other forums. You might put the list online and allow members to vote on each suggested project. Members are encouraged to take on a project from this list in groups of 3 and ideally with people you haven’t work with before. This simple rule helps the community create new social networks. These small project teams might use an online collaboration space. Once they’ve completed their project they communicate the results to the entire community and store the outputs where members can access them.

The community therefore makes progress by hosting discussion tables and encouraging active and robust conversation that leads people to suggesting things that would be good to do as a community. The list of projects grows and some are tackled based on the energy and enthusiasm of members. The process of undertaking these projects in small groups creates new relationships which in turn creates new conversations and new ideas for future discussion tables.

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About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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