This is not a post about members of the police force, but a post about an increasingly used form of collaboration within organizations named "Communities of Practice".
The other night I found a great conversation in a Knowledge Management LinkedIn group on some best practices regarding Communities of Practice. Sometimes it is amazing how many people take out some time to share their key learnings on a simple question like the one posted: "What are some effective practices that have been used to engage members within a virtual Community of Practice?".
Here is a list of those key lessons learned mentioned by the list memebers that I find most useful from my own experience. If you are managing a CoP, a Center of Excellence or similar structure with distributed participation and strong virtual characteristics you should find these quite valuable. They are not in any specific order or relevance - the latter very much depends on the form of community you are dealing with or the maturity level it is operating at.
- Start any virtual community with a physical meeting. Gain buy-in and convey an emotional hook. Repeat as often as feasable.
- Welcome new members and immediately request for them to post and item from their experience or expertise. Once they did - thank them and invite others to comment.
- Send them an immediate link to another member working in the same area with whom they should connect.
- Ask them to fill in profile information.
- Send them a link to a helpful cheat sheet on how to post and interact in the community.
- Ask new members to post struggles or issues they have. If they do highlight those to other members.
- If subcommunities exist, ask subcommunity leads to engage new members with work roles and experience in their sub category.
- Survey new members within two weeks of joining about initial impression, what they are missing and their level of engagement.
- Listen carefully to and proactively acknowledge everything that is said by everyone.
- Allow the dialogue to flow down side paths (a reasonable amount). You never know what will be discovered.
- Understand that an expression of concern is important, whether actual or perceived. If there isn't a satisfactory answer for a concern, retain it as an unresolved question.
- When there is a gap between a leader and the group it is critical that the leader attempts to identify the real (not the expressed) problem and propose a solution.
- Solutions can surface immediately or weeks later - don't force or rush it.
- Negative behavior like posturing, turf protection is not permitted.
- Keep the conversation moving by connecting the community members with new, interesting and relevant content and or expertise regularly (FL: I call this The Pulse).
- Select, train and develop facilitators (incl. yourself) carefully and deliberately, not everyone facilitates well.
- Have a consistent Community Manager or Active Coordinator (see previous point).
- Provide updates and summaries and share them in context.
In summary, implementing these practices where needed can increase the engagement of your Community of Practice members and as a result make collaboration more effective. There is effort involved, but without putting some leadership effort into it a CoP it is likely to become just an empty shell. Not only will it underperform towards your goal of better collaboration, it could actually just become a waste of time of the members.