Trust: The Essential Element in any Community of Practice

Community of Practice DefinitionDo you trust each member of your team? Do they trust you? Do they trust each other? According to Stephen Covey, “The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is the key professional and personal competency of our time.”

Trust is especially important if you’re working within a Community of Practice. In fact, a Community of Practice (CoP) based on anything but a shared feeling of trust and security—like fear or authority—ultimately will be a failure, because it’s based on an unstable foundation.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. Trust needs to be built over time and attended to on a regular basis. The trust of your team members can’t be bought, only earned.

Without attention to trust, mistrust happens all too easily. We have all had experiences where our trust has been betrayed. So remember each member of your team has had their trust misplaced, it seems to be part of the human experience.

Building trust through time and effort

Trust isn’t built overnight so you need to begin finding time to build trust within your community. I remember at one of my organizations, we diligently appropriated the first 20-minutes of every meeting to community building. And not just the “how is your week” type of check-in (which quickly becomes perfunctory). Instead, each staff member, on a rotating schedule, was charged with crafting a meaningful, opening to each meeting. On a weekly basis, that translates to 52 different ideas for a well-crafted, time-sensitive, community-building activity.

There are a plethora of community building activities both online and in print to help you get started. However, I’ve seen that the best trust-building activities are developed when I take an existing activity and then tweak it to meet the needs of this particular group. Personalized activities go a long way toward building a true community.

When these types of activities are prioritized, the first thing that begins to grow is camaraderie, a great lead-in to building trust. Occasionally, it builds competitiveness, but, as trust builds, the competition typically remains positive in tone.

To establish and maintain a positive tone, a solid set of working norms is necessary.

Most of us have experienced a perfunctory set of norms. In order to be part of the community-building experience, norms need to be organic and fluid. Rather than dictating to them as the leader or boss, encourage your team to co-construct their own set of norms. Discussion about the norms, as they are created, is important to ensure that each voice is heard in the shared behaviors for the group. Don’t forget, norms must be revisited on an intentional basis to help the group actively own their norms.

Are you intrigued by what your team could achieve as a Community of Practice? Contact me to learn how your team can develop an action-oriented model of activities and ways of communicating that drives you towards your joint purpose. Or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team to learn how to get started.

Community of practice

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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