Useful CoP tips for working with virtual teams


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.


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Frank Leistner

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