"Interpreting findings through Relational Proximity Lens: There’s more to the study, but I’ll take a look at just these findings. Remember, this is what characterized effective teams.
First, noticeable is the absence of learning styles, personality types or personal media preferences as a factor. Kelley’s summary doesn’t mention them. It was an intense 21 month study and I’m sure they would have controlled for those factors or rather picked teams similar enough that styles, types and media preferences wouldn’t vary greatly between teams.
Second, there were three driving factors for interaction media choice a) interdependence of tasks, b) complexity of task, c) level of trust and mutual understanding. In terms of Relational Proximity dimensions, I want to say the nature of the relational Purpose (dimension #5) is the driving factor for appropriate relational Directness (dimension #1). In other words, what they were about and their sense of common agreement on that determined how they chose to interact.
Third, a predictable yet flexible rhythm to their meetings was a major factor in success. The rhythm was determined and adjusted according to a) an upfront decision b) level of mutual trust and shared understanding (esp. in cross-cultural/professional situations) c) previous and expected outcomes. In terms of Relational Proximity, the regularity and future reliability of the meetings (dimension #2, continuity) was determined by their goal (dimension #5, Purpose) and by shared agreement (dimension #4, Parity)."
"Soon after the complaint was filed, a committee was formed to bring order and resources to the effort. The Accessible Technology and Information Committee (ATI) was formed with 8 IT and learning design staff from departments across Penn State, the Director of the Office of Disability Services, and an IT manager. All had been long-time leaders and evangelists for accessibility, (though few had job descriptions that reflected that); compelling evidence that leadership is an emergent property of communities of practice."
What didn’t work
Perhaps 1/3 of the class applied the ideas well, 1/3 made some tentative attempts, and 1/3 was still struggling to do something despite knowing they should.
That’s okay, but I wanted everyone to make meaningful progress.
The classes themselves – a combination of lecture, supporting media (videos, blog posts) and in-class exercises to actually put the lessons into practice – worked reasonably well.
The biggest mistakes related to what we did between classes. My approach to peer support, for example, was naive. Just lumping people together and calling them a peer group wasn’t adequate. The connections weren’t strong enough to provide meaningful support.
When I noticed the problems with peer support, I tried to make up for it by offering one-on-one coaching. But while the dozen or so sessions we had were useful, the scheduling was too ad hoc for coaching to be effective.
So, in general, we needed more structure between classes. Despite everyone’s best intentions, their regular jobs and routines simply got in the way. To help them change their current work habits and create new ones, we needed to better prepare for and organize any learning outside of the scheduled sessions.
Most corporate training is delivered in small chunks, either online or lecture style. This is great if you want employees to know the latest anti-money laundering rules. But it’s bad if you want to teach them life skills.
So the course I’m planning will take place over 3 months. And it will be 10% learning- by-lecture and 90% learning-by-doing. Here are the main elements:
6 half-day classes (lectures and in-class exercises)
Peer support groups: each person is matched with 2 others to form a peer group. They’ll meet regularly outside of class to share progress and challenges; to listen and help.
Coaching: access to coaches to escalate issues the peer group can’t handle
Social events to reinforce class bonds (particularly among the peer groups) and to practice certain conversational skills taught in class
External guest speakers: people who’ve achieved their goals through relationships and reputation
Internal guest speakers: people within the firm who are successfully applying concepts in the course
To address these challenges, Vantage Partners helped the client create a standard alliance management process as well as supporting tools to be used by alliance managers across the company. To facilitate knowledge capture and dissemination, an intranet-based forum was implemented so alliance managers could access the processes and tools and share lessons and best practices. Vantage Partners then designed and facilitated networking and training sessions for all alliance managers so they could network with one another, learn the process their peers had built with help from Vantage Partners, and be trained on new alliance management skills.
The Alliance Management Community of Practice is now a functioning network of alliance managers representing the client’s worldwide offices. Its members continue to use and improve the original process and toolset that Vantage Partners created with them. Today, when employees take on alliance management responsibilities for the first time, they are incorporated into this network and are given immediate access to both experienced mentors and a wealth of knowledge about effective alliance management. Since the formation of the Alliance Management Community of Practice, this pharmaceutical company has come to be recognized as a "partner of choice." The skills-training and knowledge-sharing has resulted in the following benefits:
Decreased time required to make alliance management decisions across organizational groups
Improved efficiency of clinical trials due to better relationships with a network of strategic contract research organizations
Millions of dollars saved by improved alliance relationships
Community or Network? Organic or stagnant? Are you focused on solving the problem, or what lies behind the problem? Reactive or Proactive? Ask yourself, what is the purpose for CoP and how do you know if they are working?
Here's a list we made a while ago, in conjunction with Adel Al-Terkait, of the different mechanisms by which a community of practice can add value to an organisation. No doubt you can think of more!
Solve problems for each other
Learning after Benchmark performance with each other
Collaborating on purchasing (buying things that any one member could not justify)
Collaborating on contracts (using the purchasing power of the community)
Cooperating on trials and pilots
Sharing results of studies
Exchanging equipment (re-use old equipment, share spares)
Warning of risks
Mentoring and coaching each other
Building and maintaining documented Best Practices
Developing checklists and templates
Identifying knowledge retention issues
Identifying training gaps and collaborating on training provision
Innovation – new products, services or opportunities
(1) Provide significant funding for face-to-face events. CoPs are based on relationships and trust, and relationships and trust are cemented through meeting. The core team of the CoP, and as many extended CoP members as possible, should meet; once at Community Launch, and then on a regular basis (ideally annually)
(2) Ensure community activities address business issues. This is the Number 2 factor from Warwick, but for me would be the number one factor. I know you can set up CoPs for sharing recipes, for Bike groups, for Wine Appreciation, but people are professionals - they know that work-time is for work things, and they are much more likely to devote serious attention to business-centred CoPs. By all means start with a social focus for your CoPs, but transition over time to a business focus once the "community experience" has been introduced..
(3) Provide CoP leader training. CoP leader, or CoP facilitator, is a key role, and it requires skills and awareness.
(4) Ensure CoP leaders are given sufficient time for their role. "Sufficient time" depends on the size of the CoP. Over about 600 - 100 members, this becomes a full time role (see stats)
(5) Ensure high levels of sponsor expectation. Expectation, not management. CoPs must self manage, but the expectations can be set by the sponsor. This 5th success factor is contrary to some KM lore - that any Management influence will kill a CoP. However this is not what the Warwick/KIN survey found. They found that an engaged, supportive sponsor with high levels of expectation is a condition of CoP success.
(6) Engage members in developing good practice. That's primary purpose #1 of a CoP - for the members to exchange practice knowledge, and look for ideas and solutions that will improve their own practice. It doesn't initially have to be codified into Best Practice, but that CoP will probably move in that direction over time.
(7) Improve the usefulness of Community Tools provided. They need to be useful, sure, but they also need to be Usable and Used. Which is not the same as "high tec" or "functionality rich".
(8) Ensure there are clearly stated goals. These come from the Community Charter - they are set by the members. They are influenced by the Sponsor expectation, but the goals are set by the community itself. These can be concrete goals - I know of many CoPs who have said the equivalent of "You know, if we all worked together, I bet we could shave 20% off the cost of this activity".
(9) Promote CoPs ability to help employee’s solve daily work challenges. That's also primary purpose #1 of a CoP - for the members to get solutions to their problems. That's the WIIFM for the members (the "What's in it for me"). Without number 9, your CoP will wither and die as the members move away. Without a WIIFM, a CoP becomes a drain on time; with a WIIFM, a CoP is a time-saver.
10). This one was not in the Warwick list, but for me is important. Create a sense of Identity - of belonging. CoPs work in the long term through loyalty and belonging; a sense of belonging to a professional group, and a loyalty to your fellow practitioners that will drive you to answer their questions, share your knowledge, and trust their answers.
"Just three years ago, Halliburton ESG noted that electronic technicians were required on 80 per cent of fracturing jobs to ensure that the electronics performed flawlessly. Technicians were difficult resources to hire and train to meet the demand of customers at each well site. Halliburton’s knowledge-management group facilitated the creation of a small team of electronic technicians for a three-month period in late 2001 to help understand the business needs and design a solution that would improve pumping job-service quality, reduce non-productive time and decrease the need for electronic technicians to intervene at individual well sites.
"Together, the electronic technicians and KM group were able to design a knowledge-management solution. Essentially, electronic technicians needed to be connected to experts and to each other so that the experience of the entire group could be used to troubleshoot and solve problems, rather than relying on the limited knowledge of one individual isolated at a customer’s well site. The group therefore developed a collaborative, problem-solving community to provide 24/7 peer-to-peer training, troubleshooting and support.
"The team defined the community and processes required for the technicians to discuss issues and share good practices. The group developed an easy-to-use portal interface, which was designed around a collaboration tool that allows the community to share its knowledge and get answers to questions. The interface also provides access to vital documents and contact information for leading experts on various pieces of hardware to ensure immediate answers to urgent technical questions. The community was launched in December 2001 and today is a thriving knowledge-sharing network of more than 200 users in numerous locations around the world. Interestingly, the number of users is greater than the actual number of electronic technicians within the community.
"In 2003, individual instances of knowledge sharing generated, in one way or another, over $1.4m for Halliburton. In addition, electronic technicians report time savings of approximately 20 per cent due to the community. This has allowed the company to meet the demands of business growth without employing additional technicians. The technicians it currently has are also better trained and more effective than ever. They have reduced the number of repeat repairs, measured through SAP work orders, from 30 per cent to virtually zero".
through solving the problems of the members, a CoP can deliver business value through
Faster tasks or projects
Quicker time to competence
Better individual productivity
through developing approaches which avoid problems and which repeat best-in-class approches, a CoP can deliver business value through
Repeated good practice and good performance
Fewer repeat mistakes
Greater alignment of practices across a distributed organisation
Continuous improvement of practices and results
through networked innovation within the community, a CoP can deliver business value through
Faster time to market for new products and services
Better market share
Step change in delivery
through delivering a greater sense of belonging, and through providing knowledge resources to its members, a CoP can deliver business value through
Lower staff turnover
Why Western organizations need Communities of Practice - older demographics & a lot of experience.
But there is one more serious problem lurking behind all this. In traditional small-scale societies, everyone shares the same 150 friends. This was true even in Europe until well into the 20th century, and probably still is true today of isolated rural communities. You might well fall out with them from time to time, but, like the Hutterites, you are bound together by mutual obligation and densely interwoven relationships. And of these, shared kinship was perhaps the most pervasive and important: offend Jim down the road, and you bring granny down on your back because Jim is her second-cousin-once-removed, and she's got her own sister, Jim's grandmother, on to her about it.
In the modern world of economic mobility, this simple balance has upset: we grow up here, go to university there, and move on to several elsewheres in a succession of job moves. The consequence is that our social networks become fragmented and distributed: we end up with small pockets of friends scattered around the country, most of whom don't know each other and, perhaps more importantly, don't know the family part of our networks. You can offend Jim, and almost no one will care. And if they do, you can afford to move on and leave that whole subset of friends behind. Networks are no longer self-policing.
Because modern geographical communities no longer have the social coherence they had up until the 1950s, it is perhaps inevitable that people become less willing to remonstrate with miscreants because others are unlikely to back them up. Bearing these factors in mind, is it any wonder that some inner-city communities fall victim to gang violence? Our real problem for the future is how to overcome this social fragmentation by recreating a sense of community in our increasingly urbanised and mobile world.
So what are the contrasts from my other experiences of being asked to join communities in the last few months? All the others have omitted one or more of the principles outlined above – lack of proactive and energetic moderation being the common theme.
Here are some things that consistently work for me in our communities in helping folks to put the pieces together:
Identify business goals and the tools that will meet them: Don’t over-saturate with tools. The more tools you introduce, the more uncomfortable it will be for people already being asked to go outside their comfort zone. Start small with a few tools and demonstrate how to use them and their value, and then add as more tools are requested.
Keep it simple, welcoming and easy-to-use: The worst thing a community can be is difficult to navigate, difficult to access, and difficult to use. And it's critical to remember that just because it might be easy for us to use, it certainly doesn't mean that it's going to be easy for everyone else to use. When building a community, keep it's audience in mind and look at things from their perspective. Better yet - ask them what's working and what's not and make changes accordingly.
Provide tools and resources that help people get started: Don't assume that people will know what to do with a community, how they should use it, what they can or can't do and even how to get started. Start at the very beginning and remember what it was like when you were starting out exploring social media. What would have been helpful to you? Chances are good it will be helpful to others.
Approach community as an experiment: Flexibility is key when starting or managing a community. Don't be rigid in your expectations of its members or use cases for the community. Ask the community what they want, learn from them, and change accordingly. And above all - make sure the community members know they are valued and that you listen to them.
Combine business and social discussions, albeit unevenly: Typically, at EMC, we strive for an 80/20 mix, recognizing that they fuel each other. Just as people "socialize" in in-person meetings before they get started, so too, is it reasonable to expect that they'd want to do so in their online community. That is the very reason we have social "places: on EMC|ON
How to Build a Community - but can it be transposed for online use?
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