What do all of the following success stories have in common?
The math department “dream team” that increased academic achievement for at-risk kids with an unheard-of 70-point gain in one year.
The team of school principals who collectively interviewed and determined which candidate was best suited at which campus across the school district.
The leadership team whose program ideas were so fruitful, they gained national recognition and became featured speakers at several high visibility conferences.
Answer: They were all the result of a Community of Practice.
My experience with Communities of Practice has been such an overwhelmingly positive one over the years. I was involved in all of the above examples! But it begs the question:
“What does it mean to be part of a Community of Practice and how can I join one?”
I love it when people ask me this question!
It is the furthest thing from staff development or professional development that you can imagine. It’s the space where I learn the most, where I am stretched the most, and where I become better at what I do.
I’d like to share with you four reasons to join a Community and Practice (CoP).
1. You feel accountable (in a good way).
When you’re in your Community of Practice, you are with a group of your peers, people who are accountable and hold you accountable. In a successful CoP, trust is the bedrock on which the community is built.
There’s a sense of accountability because the group works together to co-construct their own set of norms. They also see the need for continued dialogue about the norms, or standards, to ensure that each voice is heard in the shared behaviors for the group. When you own the norms by which your community runs, a feeling of accountability naturally follows.
2. You can be fearlessly transparent.
A Community of Practice is not the place for the “pretending” that’s so common in the business world. Successful CoPs are a place for vulnerability. Community collaborators share their practice, and even more daringly, their struggles with their practice. A great measure of effective community building is the growing sense of trust within the group. Honest and open communication within your community can greatly increase your ability, and grow your capacity for accomplishing what you need to accomplish.
When we’re part of a genuine community, we’re reminded that we need each other in order to grow, develop, achieve, and solve the complex problems we’re facing. There’s a vulnerability in that, but that’s okay. This great article from Dara Blumenthal reminded me of the importance of transparency in the workplace. For most of us, it’s where we spend most of our time. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were given permission to be ourselves?
3. You get to be creative with your solutions.
None of us enjoy attending a meeting where there are no new ideas or inspirations, where everyone in attendance seems to be playing their roles, and every “new” idea is predictable. Our own uniques voices can be dulled by our respective titles, the roles we are accustomed to playing, the ways we ignore our personal challenges, and social conditioning we’ve tolerated.
A Community of Practice is a space of ideas and generation of possibilities. I find that I am more genuine, more passionate, and more understanding of the viewpoints of others’ when I’m part of a CoP. The conversations tend to be nonlinear as we give ourselves permission to explore out-of-the-box solutions.
4. You grow as an embodied leader.
In my last post, I spoke about embodied leadership. It’s about seeing the context — making sense of your story, understanding where you come from, understanding what you believe, and importantly, how your emotions are showing up in your body. Embodied leaders are more mindful of what is happening in their bodies, they are able to capably respond to stress triggers, proactively create shifts in their body, and handle difficult situations skillfully.
The CoP environment nurtures this type of leadership since as a team you’re learning to “be” together, not just “do” together. In an increasingly independent and disconnected world, you are exploring connection and interdependence. Which is why, in my experience, a CoP is one of the best ways to practice leadership skills.
Are you intrigued by the benefits of a Community of Practice? Are you wondering how to join one? If you’re part of a team, which most of us are, either at work or as part of an organization, you can adapt this model. I work with teams to help them create a self-facilitating Community of Practice that supports both adaptive and generative learning that is built, owned, and managed by your team. Contact me to learn more or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team.