Category: Community of Practice

Why Communities of Practice Are Essential to Equity Work

“Diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being asked to Dance. Equity is allowing you to choose the Music.”― Cynthia Olmedo

Equity — just how important is it to you, to your team, to your organization? In previous posts, I’ve been sharing the deep, introspective work that is required for leaders who want to be guardians of equity. However, it can be frustrating when not everyone shares your sense of urgency on equity.

I had the opportunity to consult with an equity team recently who felt challenged by their sense of urgency. This group of volunteers agreed to take a look at equity issues within their organization and, from this bird’s eye view, make some recommendations. One of their first tasks was to help guide the hiring process of an equity officer. But then they found themselves doing a delicate dance. They needed to balance their own growing passionate perspective for equity while still supporting the new equity director, who would be taking a slower, more corporate approach to change. 

This group didn’t want their passion for equity to burn out so they asked me to come in and consult about how they might continue their work. I shared with them the concept of a Community of Practice and showed them what it could accomplish. They loved the idea, as it gave them permission to continue supporting one another as they worked on their passion while maintaining their distinct role and lens advancing the larger work of the organization.

There is also something incredibly powerful to be gained by doing equity work within a Community of Practice. In Communities of Practice, there are three essential elements: community, domain, and practice. Let’s examine how an intentional adherence to each of these three elements is essential to making lasting change in our equity work.

Community — Share Your Personal History with Equity (or the lack of it!) 

The community element within a Community of Practice is truly about knowing and being known. Think about this in terms of understanding the unique approach each of your team members has when it comes to equity. How well do you know your team members? How well do they know you? Do you understand how their culture and life experiences have influenced their personal definitions of equality, fairness, and equity?

This kind of insight won’t be gained with traditional icebreakers or team games. Rather, Patrick Lencioni, in his book, The Advantage, suggests activities that are about personal history sharing. The goal within a Community of Practice should be to know each other and understand each person’s point of view, how that point of view is shaped, and what their values are. I’ve seen that over time, a Community of Practice can grow to a point where each person can speak and act on behalf of another person with full confidence that they are fully representing that person. That’s a powerful moment!

Domain — Commit to Achieving Equity Through a Shared Sense of Purpose 

A domain is that one thing all members have in common, the focus of their work, or the central, organizing principle. If the goal is to enhance equity with the team or organization, dig deeper. What challenges are drawing us together? What is it about equity that impels each of us to work at a higher level to achieve it? What new narrative for equity within our team can we all fully embrace?

This commitment to the domain sets a Community of Practice apart from other teams or groups. If the level of commitment feels wishy-washy, follow Simon Sinek’s advice on starting with your Why. Discussing this frames the conversation fully. Without that “fire in your belly,” without a shared sense of purpose, your team will struggle to affect change as a Community of Practice.  

Practice — Apply What You’re Learning About Equity in Everyday Life

While community and domain are essential, your individual practice, how you do your work, is the cornerstone of a successful Community of Practice. If the only time you think about equity is when you’re meeting with other members, what’s the point? You bring you to your work. That’s essential. When you don’t bring yourself to your work, simply put, you aren’t there. Your commitment wanes, your concern for others is peripheral, your team doesn’t gel. Nothing changes.

However, when you’re out there growing and evolving as a guardian of equity and you’re implementing a new equicentric leadership model in your day-to-day life, you bring this energy with you to your Community of Practice. Of all three elements, this is the one that only you can control. Who do you want to be in your practice, what do you want to contribute through your work, and how are you a contributing member of your team? 

Being the best version of yourself is more than just a Tony Robbins byline, it’s the work ahead of us as we evolve as a species. What difference can we make while we are here? In terms of equity, there is much work to be done! Equity-centered leadership coaching is an integral part of my work at the Center for Learning Leaders. If you’re ready to make changes and lead with intention and integrity please contact me. 

Women Are Ready — But how can we support each other as we move forward?

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Muriel Strode 

Despite the pandemic, I recently had the fantastic opportunity to attend a virtual event sponsored by Conferences for Women and provide the attendees with pro bono coaching. If you know me at all, you know I love talking to women who are passionate about leadership. I got my wish as I met some amazing women dedicated to their companies, their careers, and their growth. 

My big takeaway from this conference: WOMEN ARE READY.


Women are ready to create a new model in the workplace. The traditional hierarchical model of work doesn’t appeal to many women today. Thankfully, more and more workplace systems acknowledge and support the growth of women in the organization. Some women are even fortunate enough to have women’s networks within their company where they can brainstorm and openly discuss the pros and cons of different workplace systems. If that’s not the case for you, keep reading to discover how you can find or create that kind of support.

Women are ready to fully commit when the benefits are reciprocal. Gone are the days of blind, unswerving loyalty to an employer or organization. Good riddance I say! The women I spoke with find immense satisfaction in loyalty to an organization but they are looking for that loyalty to be reciprocated. Without commitment, women are ready to move on to a company that is ready to receive them.

Women are ready NOW, no more waiting. Mostly I heard from women about their eagerness, impatience, readiness, and deep desire to move forward, up, lateral, and most of all towards growth. That looks different for each person, but it requires intense commitment and support from leadership. Organizations and corporations would do well to take a note out of the pages of education. 

Since I work at the Graduate School of Education at Touro University California, I have a front-row seat to the fast-moving work being done on how to personalize learning. Like students, employees need the same type of personalization. They don’t come in a one-size-fits-most container. They have a complex web of life, work, play, aspirations, and tasks they are weaving into a meaningful whole. For most women, meaning-making is essential if you want them fully engaged.

Do you feel ready? Are you a woman who is tired of waiting for others to figure it out, and doesn’t mind blazing her own trail? You can do it, but you’ll do it faster and enjoy the journey more if you gain support from like-minded colleagues.

My specialty is helping people create that kind of support by building their own network or Community of Practice. This community I can help you create is built around a common concern, issue, passion, or sense of purpose. Imagine having a safe place at work where you are heard, understood, and supported and have the latitude you need to blaze those new trails

However, I also work with women that don’t have the opportunity to build their own network or community. Some of them are self-employed, others are in a transitional phase of their life, and others work in environments that are less than supportive of out-of-the-box thinking. For any woman who’s interested in blazing a new trail, my friend and colleague, Maria Connolly, and I started our collaborative network, The Great Circle Community.

Maria and I know that women are ready, with lots of plans for the future, and often are looking for the right network for support. They want to connect with other women who will help them focus on their aspirations and be held accountable to make progress toward them. The Great Circle Community is the perfect blend of my focus on social learning communities and Maria’s work on somatic coaching where integrated bodywork brings forward the intuitive knowing toward the right next step. Could this be the network you’ve been looking for? If you’re interested in joining the Great Circle Community, learn more here. And if you’re interested in developing your own team or network, learn more here.

Stop Accepting the Unacceptable and Create a Community Committed to Change

Community committed to changeNothing ruins my day more than an encounter with someone who says, “Well, it’s been like that for as long as I’ve been here and there’s nothing anyone can do to change it.” If you hear that enough times, you begin to doubt whether change is even possible. It makes me sad to see leaders and teams fall into this pattern of disempowering acceptance. 

It’s when you feel isolated and alone with a problem that you can find yourself accepting the unacceptable. This brings me back to Margaret Wheatley’s poem, “Turning to One Another.” (To read the entire poem take a look at a previous blog.) I’ve been reflecting on this poem over the last few weeks and this next stanza I find particularly motivating when confronted with the unacceptable.

Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. 

Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something. 

Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

I love this part of the poem. I want to work with others who care to work on what’s possible. Margaret Wheatley reminds us that each person holds expertise and, collectively, we can come up with new solutions. That’s my vibe, I’m all about collaboration and the synergy of the group that spins one idea off of another until they land on a common direction. It’s powerful.

If you’re a leader, and you’ve observed an unacceptable situation, what should you do next? 

You invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. How do you start a group of people interested in making a difference in a common purpose? I appreciated this article in the Harvard Business Review, Community-Powered Problem Solving, that shared the need for leaders to think of themselves as community organizers. Before you go out and start creating your community, here are five questions the article recommends you consider that I thought were worth sharing:

  1. What community of individuals from inside the company and across external stakeholders do we need to connect to solve this problem?
  2. What platform (physical or digital forum) does this community need to start connecting in new ways?
  3. What new interactions will community members want to engage in on the platform to design a solution?
  4. What valuable professional experiences will the members get out of these interactions?
  5. What value will this new set of experiences generate for our firm and for the other organizations involved, creating a win for all parties?

While these questions are tailored for businesses and corporations, they can be adapted to many types of organizations. Your goal should be to provide your stakeholders — whether they are employees, colleagues, students, neighbors —  with the means to connect and the freedom to invent new ways to address the problem. 

My favorite approach to working as a team to address a challenge is to create a Community of Practice. Starting your own Community of Practice might sound daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. When I think back over my career, it was when I was part of a Community of Practice that I felt like I made the biggest difference. (Read my post, 4 Reasons Why You Need to Join a Community of Practice, to learn more about the benefits.)

Starting a community is one thing, but how can you ensure that you create an open space where creative solutions have the space to bloom? I’m working on a new architecture for community collaboration that will promote the kind of creative problem-solving we so desperately need right now. If you want to join me for my upcoming webinar, please contact me and let me know to add you to my invite list. Or you can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook where I’ll be sharing the details soon.

Appreciating the Power of a Collaborative Community — Now more than ever!

laptop computer with internet contacts projection“There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” 

That’s the first line of Margaret Wheatley’s poem entitled, “Turning to One Another.”  As I read this poem recently, I found it deeply resonated with me and inspired a bit of soul searching as I reconnected with the value of community in my own life.

The next lines are, 

Ask “What’s possible?,” not “What’s wrong?”

Keep asking.

Notice what you care about.

Assume that many others share your dreams.

2020 has had a way of bringing into the light what we care about, hasn’t it? Some of the things we previously viewed as necessary, we’ve probably discarded. Whereas, other things, we may have taken for granted before, now have much deeper value. 

For me, one big shift has been my schedule. After years of 9-5 programming, I’ve discarded these routine hours in favor of listening to my client’s needs and matching my availability to meet theirs. Truly a gift of time that allows me to delve more deeply into my focus on collaboration. Another unexpected blessing came about when I was needed to support my daughters with the distance learning needs of my grandchildren. What a fantastic opportunity to spend time with my “grands”, as I call them, and tune into their strengths and coach them through the obstacles of remote learning. 

As we find our new footing in 2021, this is what I know, I care about collaboration. That has always been a key ingredient in my professional life, and social distancing heightened rather than diminished that awareness. 

Looking back, I was fortunate to have the wonderful opportunity to work on a fully collaborative team right out of college. With collaboration as our base, we quickly became known on the national scene as a high performing team. We created space for each other, we were able to give critical feedback to each other, and we were able to flow and ideate in a powerful way. 

Once you’ve fully experienced that kind of collaboration, you never want to go without it.

This isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling. As a long time student of social learning theory, I know that we learn from and with each other. Social learning is both reciprocal and exponential. When we observe others, we learn, when we try things out in front of others, we learn. And when we engage in that together, our learning is multiplied by the number of people in the group. That’s a powerful learning model! 

A collaborative community doesn’t happen magically, or simply with the passage of time. We need to set the conditions for collaboration, set up reciprocal expectations, and maintain our team and our work in a shared, transparent environment. In order to collaborate successfully, you need a blueprint.

I’m working on that blueprint right now. In an upcoming webinar, I’ll reveal a new architecture for collaboration that can be enjoyed virtually — as that is a trend that won’t be going away any time soon! 

If you want to join me for the webinar, please contact me and let me know to add you to my invite list. Or you can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook where I’ll be sharing the details soon.

I’ll be sharing more from Margaret Wheatley’s poem in upcoming blog posts. In the meantime, here’s the entire poem for you to enjoy. I hope it offers some inspiration for you as we all look towards a New Year with new opportunities to grow and learn!

“Turning to One Another” 

by Margaret Wheatley

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about. 

Ask “What’s possible?,” not “What’s wrong?”

Keep asking.

Notice what you care about.

Assume that many others share your dreams.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. 

Talk to people you know.

Talk to people you don’t know.

Talk to people you never talk to.

Be intrigued by the differences you hear. 

Expect to be surprised.

Treasure curiosity more than certainty.

Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. 

Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something. 

Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know. 

Real listening always brings people closer together.

Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. 

Rely on human goodness. Stay together.

Community Collaboration is Our Greatest Problem-Solving Tool

Community collaboration “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi

Are you committed to any group efforts? We all are, as members of families, as coworkers, or in our involvement with various organizations. At times, we find ourselves in need of another community or group, one that gives us new opportunities to learn, grow, and explore. Recently, I found that I needed to create a safe harbor for meaningful, heartfelt conversations between women. So my colleague, Maria Connolly, and I set out to create a collaborative community for women leaders—more on that later.

As a society, we’ve been challenged like no other time in recent history. If you’re feeling frustrated, isolated, or helpless to affect real change, I challenge you to either join or create a community! You can find a wealth of information on one of my favorite structures for a collaborative community, a Community of Practice, on this website. And don’t forget, with today’s technology you can meet virtually, so your community doesn’t need to be limited geographically. 

First, let’s discuss the need we have for community collaboration, especially now. I wholeheartedly believe it’s the best strategy that humans have for solving problems and finding new solutions. 

Here are three reasons why we need community collaboration right now:

  • Communities appeal to social learners

We learn better when we interact within a community—asking questions and testing solutions on actual problems—all in real-time. Personally, I do much better when I operate as part of a community, as do many of my friends and colleagues. Psychologists have a name for this phenomenon: they call it social learning

Social learning is learner-centric, which means that it shifts the focus of instruction from the teacher to the learner. More collaboration and interaction between learners leads to a higher impact, which is partly due to social influence and can serve to reinforce memory.

  • Communities encourage creativity and innovation

A collaborative approach combines the knowledge, experience, and creativity of the entire group. While this isn’t always easy, there are some significant benefits that come from collaboration, even when it’s hard or seemingly inefficient. For example, people will often discover new insights, increase their capacity for innovation, and become more committed and passionate about community decisions.

  • Communities create leaders

Collaborative communities are a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking up and allowing the best ideas to surface and shine. Every group has people that are more experienced than others in various areas. By giving them channels to share their knowledge and expertise, even members who are usually reserved will begin to step up and grow as leaders.

Newave leaders great circleAs I mentioned earlier, my colleague, Maria Connolly, and I were impelled by recent events to create a collaborative space specifically for women leaders. Whether you are an emerging leader, an established leader, self-employed, or finding your leadership footing, we feel our Great Circle Community is a place where we can grow together. 

In the meetings we’ve had so far, we’ve already begun to learn much about each other and we are looking forward to a few more faces to join us! We’re inviting women from around the globe to join our circle to explore big ideas and out-of-the-box creative solutions. Let’s get inspired and nourished as we feed our leader within!


Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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