How to Establish Guidelines for Virtual Community of Practice Meetings

A woman interacting with a virtual community of practiceMore than ever, the world needs to explore new solutions. Practices that worked well before in business, health care, education, government, may not be working so well now. Which is why we need functioning Communities of Practice (CoPs). A Community of Practice is a space for ideas, the generation of possibilities, and permission to explore out-of-the-box solutions. 

Technology has opened up the possibility of “long-distance” Communities of Practice. There are new CoPs starting virtually, while others are adapting their communities for virtual meetings. It’s exciting to see, all over the world, new Communities of Practice are being created to meet the changing needs of our society. 

In my last post, I discussed how CoPs can continue to have productive meetings during the quarantine. However, I’m finding there are new challenges that need to be addressed. The key to successful meetings is the same as it’s always been: appropriate guidelines or norms. Why is there most likely a need for revised guidelines now? 

I’ll give you an example. In the past months, I’ve been a part of multiple calls during which there were distracting background noises. In some cases, it was hard to hear or concentrate on what the person was saying, and as a result, I became fatigued, distracted, and frustrated. I’m not saying this to make anyone feel guilty about a similar situation, there was simply no guideline in place to deal with this situation. 

With this in mind, let’s go over how to revise your guidelines with a specific focus on virtual meetings. 

1. Technology

Video conference technology is new to many of us, and that’s why it so vital to establish some ground rules. For example, will you be allowing and/or supporting the use of webcams, screen sharing, and breakout rooms? 

With all the added distractions of online meetings, the meeting facilitator has to make sure to keep everyone focused on the job at hand. As the facilitator, the more familiar and comfortable you are with the technology, the easier it will be for you to facilitate a community online. If you’re new to the program you’re using, it may be a good idea to have a trial run with an assistant or colleague before you host your next meeting.

2. Establish a Structure

It’s vital to clarify how to interact in this virtual environment, otherwise, meetings can feel aimless. At the very beginning of the meeting, establish or reiterate your guidelines. You could post a slide with instructions and expectations or spend some time at the first meeting to come up with them as a group. I find that the expectations of a CoP meeting often center around what, how, and when participants should communicate during the CoP meeting, as well as how they should contact each other afterward. 

At the beginning of each meeting, it’s also a good idea to review the overall goals for the virtual CoP meeting and share a short agenda with the group. Many times it can be as simple as proposing a problem or opportunity to help focus your discussion. 

3. Encourage Positive Interaction

Make sure to encourage positive interactions in your CoP (and include them in your guidelines). People are under a lot of stress right now and might be showing signs of fatigue and a shorter fuse! Be specific in your guidelines in encouraging questions, ideas, feedback, and constructive criticism, while discouraging personal attacks, tangents, as well as violations of community trust and privacy. 

In a safe environment, where there are clear norms guiding the interaction, community members will be much more likely to open up about personal struggles or accomplishments. In a healthy virtual CoP, members share strategies, reinforce the bonds they established in person, and connect with others who share similar challenges and can provide creative solutions.

A thriving virtual CoP is exactly what we need in these difficult times. I would love to hear about how your involvement in a virtual Community of Practice is making a difference for you and your communities. Please contact me or connect with me via LinkedIn.

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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