Communities of practice for internal communicators


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Presented at the Ark Conference for Internal Communicators, 18 February 2009

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  • I’m going to tell you 8 things about communities of practice
  • Last week Frank Connelly, who works for Vic Pol and the convenor of the VPSCIN, was presenting his work at a conference and mentioned in passing their organisation’s internal magazine, Police Life, with the quip, “And nobody reads it because it’s just full of spin.”
  • A large telco thought it would be good for the CEO to blog. In the first instance the comms team wrote the posts. Nobody read it. They knew it wasn’t the CEO. Then the CEO started to write and people noticed and listened.
    Here is a great list of CEO bloggers.
  • Strategic communicators face cynicism at every turn.
    How do you communicate without creating cynicism?
    How do you leverage the natural word of mouth process?

  • Communities of practice can help strategic communicators and vice versa. First it’s important to know that CoPs go by lots of other names.
    Do you have CoPs operating in your business now?
    How do you interact with your communities?
    Communities are important because it’s where lots and lots of informal conversations happen. And conversations, going hand in glove with stories, are the most powerful conduit for communications.
  • Let me give you a sense of what a community of practice is.
    On the 18th January 2007 James Davison, a Rio Tinto production superintendent at Bengalla near Muswellbrook, NSW, sent an email to his CoP telling how 5 Dozers were having issues of the brakes unexpectantly locking on. Dozers were being taken offline.
    The next day a colleague at another mine said they had the same problem and will need machinery work to the brake pistons.
    More information is provided another colleague in another part of the business with extensive detail part and manual numbers.
    On the 24th James got back to his colleagues letting them know they were implementing the suggestions and noted neither the local supplier or Catepillar could help.
    Chief Executive of Energy business makes a note about how important this thread is.
    15 April, James reports that all issues were eliminated.
  • There are two ways for communicators to interact with communities. The first is to listen to them. Hear their stories.
    Last week I collected stories from an insurance company from the senior leaders to the guys working in the call centre. When asked, “What behaviours have you seen change in these toughening economic times?” the senior leaders told me stories of how communication had improved and that a more informal style was most effective. The folk on the front line had a different perspective, all they could see were leaders whispering secrets in the corridors. For the communication had become worse. These types of stories are essential insights for strategic communicators.
    The communities are also the storehouse of positive stories which we know have the power to transform behaviour. Negative stories grab our attention but positive stories inspire us to change.
  • To build trust with a community you need to give gifts. Strategic communicators have a wealth of knowledge that’s useful to communities because you can help them get their ideas across to senior leaders. And in return you will be listened to and when you need assistance in getting the message out they will be there to help.
    But you must build your networks and get credits in the emotional bank account before you can make a withdrawal.
    And the starting point is to get to understand how CoPs work.
  • Executive Sponsorship are typically senior leaders within the organisation who appreciate the value of the community and provide it with funding, recognition and guidance.
    Support is provided by a small support team whose role is to maximise the value members gain while minimising their effort. The support team organises seminars, conferences, profiles new members, manages the website, connects people etc etc. They have a large and important job.
    Both these roles are typically provided by people on the periphery of the community.
    Participation refers to members participating in the activities and discussions of the community. There is a paradox here that all new communities will confront: members want to join a community; and a community doesn’t exists without members.
    Coordination is provided by members of the community who care for its very existence in addition to caring about the domain. These people become the natural leaders of the community. They help set the community’s agenda, identify speakers, provide advice, sort out any conflicts, make connections between members and help ensure that the community’s goals are useful to the organisation. This last point is crucial because the community leaders need to act as the PR team for the community and demonstrate its efforts are delivering value.
  • One of the best community coordinators I’ve met is Frank Connelly.
  • Uniform
    Progression based on capability
    Sharing knowledge
    Victorian prison cooks as an example
  • Am I an engineer, electrical engineer, circuit board guy
    Tell the story about the DMO and project managers and technical
  • Get them to do a sociometry
    Tell the story of the engineers and the biker magazine.
  • Tell the one about Etienne visiting

  • 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.
    There are five parts to this approach:
    * general discussion
    * discussion tables
    * a list of possible projects
    * small groups (ideally 3 people) working on things together
    * database
    The general discussion is anywhere the community talks together as an entire group. This might be at regular face-to-face meetings or online using a discussion forum. It’s important not to overwhelm or bore members with too much information or information that is only relevant to some members. The general discussions, therefore, benefit from some level of facilitation.
    A 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 conducted online. There should be no more than 12 people at a discussion table at one time 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 a participant notes down the ideas of things the community might do to improve their 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 member’s 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 from the discussion tables and other forums. You might put the list online and allow members to vote on each suggested project. Members are invited to take on a project from this list in groups of three 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 (database).
    The community makes progress by hosting discussion tables and encouraging active and robust conversation that leads people to suggest 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.
  • 1989 in the East German city of Leipzig
    A handful of protesters against the German Democratic Republic (GDR)
    In January 500 people turned out
    Over the year they became more regular happening every Monday.
    Government didn’t try and stop them and bystanders noticed
    New people joined in every Monday. They grew little by little.
    In September the government ordered these activities stopped.

  • On the first Monday in November, 1989, 400,000 people turned out.
    The army was not willing to turn on so many citizens.
    The entire East German Government resigned the next day.
    Two days later the Berlin wall started to come down.
    In a social system small things can make a big difference.
    Strategic communicators can help CoPs and vice versa. You can help establish them, build a relationship with them and they will be a source of stories and possibly a conduit for getting information out.
    And the small things that do for each other can become ground breaking.

  • Communities of practice for internal communicators

    1. 1. Saturday, February 21, 2009
    2. 2. CEOs who blog Saturday, February 21, 2009
    3. 3. CEOs who blog pagename=Resources.CEOBlogsList Saturday, February 21, 2009
    4. 4. Cynicism Saturday, February 21, 2009
    5. 5. Communities of Practice Saturday, February 21, 2009
    6. 6. Communities of Practice Networks of Excellence (CRS Networks (BHP Billiton, Shell Oil Australia) US) Centres of Excellence (various) Thematic Groups (World Bank) Knowledge Networks (ASIC) Tech Clubs (DaimlerChrysler) Networks of Expertise Best Practice Replication Networks (Ford) Special Interest Groups (various) Community of Interest Network Domain Teams (Jacobs Sverdrup (COIN) (Cap Gemini Ernst and Australia) Young) Professional Forum (US Army Practice Forums (legal firm) CompanyCommand) Practice Areas (CSIRO) Saturday, February 21, 2009
    7. 7. Saturday, February 21, 2009
    8. 8. Listening - stories Saturday, February 21, 2009
    9. 9. Reciprocity Saturday, February 21, 2009
    10. 10. Saturday, February 21, 2009
    11. 11. 1. Identify great community co-ordinators Setting up and managing Cares email lists Respected Regular email to the community Approachable Welcome new members Organiser Organise interesting Connector events Approachable Shout out wins Likeable Assess impact Helpful Connect people Saturday, February 21, 2009
    12. 12. 2. Group around strong identities Saturday, February 21, 2009
    13. 13. Saturday, February 21, 2009
    14. 14. 3. Foster relationships Saturday, February 21, 2009
    15. 15. 4. Members design the community Saturday, February 21, 2009
    16. 16. 5. Link projects and communities Saturday, February 21, 2009
    17. 17. 6. Orientations Based on Wenger, White & Smith (in press) Digital Habitats Saturday, February 21, 2009
    18. 18. Leipzig, AugustusPlatz Saturday, February 21, 2009
    19. 19. Saturday, February 21, 2009
    20. 20. Questions? Shawn Callahan 0410 346 343 twitter: @unorder Saturday, February 21, 2009