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How Communities of Practice and Leadership Build Your Staff Leadership Skills

CoPs have had a big impact on the organisations. This article will tell you how communities of practice and leadership skills are very crucial for a company

communities of practice and leadership

The idea behind Communities of Practice (CoPs) is straightforward – every individual learns from the communities they find themselves in.

In ancient times, members of a tribe had to learn to survive. Now it can be a community of Product Owners looking for a new approach to work with their Scrum Teams or a network of Developers sharing their new scripts to automate their work.


Without going extra technical with it, CoPs are self-organising learning bodies capable of growing the knowledge capital of your company.


And when there’s growth of knowledge capital, your company will eventually produce innovative results and products in the market to thrive in the digital era.


Now the question is, how does CoP help in developing leadership skills among your employees? Is it possible to integrate leadership training in a CoP even if the centre of conversation of its members is all about their respective domains?


If you’re interested to know the connection between communities of practice and leadership, let’s dive in.

Leadership as Starting Point

We can cite thousands of literature and debate on the “right” definition of Leadership, but we can all agree that it all boils down to two factors; initiative and working with other people to achieve a common goal.


By that definition alone, we can surmise that in a community, leadership can undoubtedly manifest in different situations and opportunities. Also, remember that a good leader is a good follower and vice versa.


Now, this is very much relatable to CoPs because, in this type of community, the hierarchy is almost invisible!


Let’s dig deeper.

Innate CoP Functions Where Leadership Skills are Required

A community of practice is different from the regular team you have in your company. As Wenger expounded in 2000, a community of practice is based on the notion of doing things that will be shared significantly among members.


This is a group of people who share a mutual passion or concern for something they engage in and they keep learning of ways to do things better as they regularly interact.


Now, if you would look closely in the key functions of CoPs, you can see that it’s very much aligned with our definition of leadership.


A Community of Practice provides five key functions:

  1. Education

    Members collect and share information and best practices in conjunction with questions and issues they face on a daily basis in their fields.

  2. Support System

    Collaborations and interactions among members are organised to ensure everyone receives the support they need.

  3. Cultivation and Skill Development

    CoP members help groups as they begin their information journey. They also assist in developing and sustaining learning.

  4. Encouragement

    Each member’s work is promoted and encouraged via sharing and discussions.

  5. Integration

    Members are encouraged to utilise what they have learned and integrate it into their work in order to effect real change.

Every interaction in a community of practice is full of the words “initiate” and “working together”. Sounds familiar, right? Leadership.

Your Company, Community of Practice, and Leadership

Most people want to contribute to their community, whether it’s to make a mark in the field, to improve the practice, or to be seen in a good light by their colleagues and peers.


Their motivation for participating and exchanging ideas in their group is based on their own personalities and experiences.


And this is where leadership skills are exercised in this type of community. In return, management should enable them, provide support, and even refer to their expertise.


A CoP is essential in business because of how effective it is as a learning strategy for both employees and management. And in the process of knowledge exchange, it is inevitable for the members to hone their leadership skills.


Compared to the usual hierarchical setup of your company, CoPs are liberated from such a structure. Thus, one must operate and exercise his/her leadership skills or else s/he might not reap the full benefits of the CoP.


Here are some more instances where your employees must exercise leadership skills in order to benefit from your company’s CoPs.


Employees share information and communicate based on a shared context or passion. Exchanging personal stories and experiences that everyone can relate to makes it easier to develop an understanding and clearer insight regarding a situation.


For instance, a software engineer can easily relate with another software engineer especially when it comes to their frustrations regarding a project.


They will ask questions that are supportive of their common passion and their suggested solutions can be taken as net contributions in the knowledge base of their CoP and of course, for the benefit of the company.


CoPs make it easier to start a dialogue between members who want to explore new avenues of learning, come up with solutions to problems, and develop new opportunities that are mutually beneficial to everyone.


Without leadership, these mutual benefits won’t manifest.


CoPs can serve as a conduit for real communication, coaching, mentoring, and self-reflection, thus stimulating a members desire to learn.


Some knowledge or problems are just too complex that they can’t be codified. In these situations, members need implicit knowledge, which is something that can only be learned through observation or shared via conversations.


Without one’s leadership skills, how can he work with other employees to articulate such a problem?


Communities of Practice help in the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge.


They help individuals improve their skills or practice by supplying them with a forum to determine solutions to problems and to create a system for collecting and assessing best practices. Again, this is a matter of how they work together – leadership.


Institute collaborative exercises or procedures to organisations or groups to encourage the exchange of ideas and information. Distributed and collaborative work are turning into the norm these days.


This is why CoP is one of the best avenues to train your employees to collaborate and work with each other.


CoPs keep members engage and help them develop purposeful activities that will give solid results. Remember that engaged employees are productive employees, and engagement is brought about by one’s passion for their profession.


Building social groups that revolve around members’ mutual love for their job can boost this interest. But without initiative, this vision may look pale.


Create new information or knowledge that will make people change their actions or processes in order to meet the changes in technology. Communities of practice keep a close eye on any changes happening in their domains.


They easily notice the latest developments in best practices or technology. This can give companies a head-start on any upcoming changes in the professional environment, and the flexibility to make the right changes at the proper time.


Without leadership skills, such initiative won’t come to fruition.


CoP minimises waste. Communities will come up with set templates, standard processes, and documentation that can reduce the need for re-inventing a solution, minimise mistakes, and force a decrease in changes.


They can improve service and product quality through system improvement and standardisation.


Since a community of practice is always pushing for continued learning and refinement of practices, it drives out mistakes and keeps the quality of operation rising. You want your employees to initiate all these changes. That is the very essence of leadership.


Communities of practice have been around for centuries, but its impact has just been recently articulated by the experts. The truth is communities of practice and leadership skills come in hand and hand.


Your job as an executive leader is to take the first steps in understanding what these communities are, how they work, their importance and how they can turn them into an integral part of your company’s success.


We highly recommend you to take this five-minute Organisational Mastery Scorecard we’ve developed. This will show you what’s the current state of leadership and initiatives among your employees.

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Luis Gonçalves

About Luis Gonçalves

Luis Gonçalves is an Entrepreneur, Author, International Keynote Speaker, Blogger and Management Consultant. I spent most of my career helping organisations become more Agile with different roles in different organisations. Nowadays I work with Executive Leaders by improving their organisations leading them to become effective, efficient and highly rewarded leaders.


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