Getting communities of practice going

Posted by  Mark Schenk —January 19, 2009
Filed in Collaboration

Istock 000000778124SmallIn the latter half of 2008, we worked with a number of companies to establish communities of practice. In training the people with key roles in the communities (such as the coordinator, core team members and those with support roles outside the communities) a common question arose…”what do we do first?”

Of course the answer to this depends on the specific context. Nonetheless, we have had a crack at listing the four things that community coordinators should focus on to get things going:

  1. Build membership. Phone people who might be interested in the domain and ask them who else they know that is interested in the domain and what are the key challenges the domain faces. Recruit people to help the coordinator – the core team for the domain. Organise a face-to-face meeting to launch the community.
  2. Establish a rhythm of activity. Get the discussion list working actively. Set a regular time for meetings/teleconferences.
  3. Focus on action. Ask the group what they think is important to the domain. What things would make the most difference in their domain? What things are they interested in working on? Note: this last question is likely to get very different answers than the previous questions. Use the action oriented model for community development.
  4. Collect success stories. Use a few key metrics as indicators, but not too many. Ensure the workload to collect them is low. Do not make the indicators into targets. Consider using Net Promoter score as an indicator.

The rationale in reducing the list to a few key things is to help the coordinator to focus their efforts, and to help them figure out where to start. Are there other key things that should be included in the list, or replace any of the areas listed?

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:


  1. Great list of activities for the beginning stages. I also spent ’08 developing CoPs and one of the things we did that was helpful was to bring a videocamera & still camera to our interviews (they were at mine sites). When the interviewee described a challenge or an innovation we would capture it out in the field and then use that tacit capture to facilitate initial connections. It saves the person from having to exaplin too much – they can just rely on the info in the pic/video and the conversation can go from there.

  2. Mark Schenk says:

    Hi Jacob – the videoing of challenges and innovations is a great idea and would really get conversation happening. They are concrete examples (stories) that others can learn from or help tackle. Where were you developing CoPs?

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