How a Community of Practice can provide transfer of learning

My January ‘Talentstorm Talks’ saw me deep in conversation with Lilly Rosier of Shimano Europe on how a Community of Practice is helping bridge the gap with a dispersed team of Business Analysts.

Here’s a round-up of our conversation:


What is a community of practice?

A community of practice is really just a way to foster social learning, or the kind of ‘informal’ learning that happens when we’re with other people.

For example, you might have specialists that are experts in their functional area, but they might not be working together side by side in the same department, they may be dispersed throughout the organisation. So, a community of practice would provide a way of allowing those experts with that common background to get together in an informal and social way, allowing them to share working practices, knowledge and experience.

A lot of informal communities where learning takes place exist in organisations, and they may exist under other names/entities – so it doesn’t have to be called a ‘community of practice’ to operate like one!


What do you need for a community of practice?

There are three elements for a community of practice:

  1. A common goal
  2. A commitment towards working together
  3. A way of working together (can be online or offline). To include:

Owner(s) – individual(s) to get the CoP going by getting buy-in from key stakeholders and setting up an initial framework

Drivers – it’s good to be aware of the key drivers, eg hot topics that need resolving, working on. These can set the agenda for the initial meetings.

Subject Matter Experts – key people that will add weight and value to early meetings.

Members – as well as the owners and SME’s, who else will benefit from being part of the CoP?


How a CoP can benefit dispersed teams with common backgrounds

Sometimes the fastest and most effective way of sharing knowledge is through – talking! There’s so much intrinsic knowledge that we have – and this can’t always be captured in formal written procedures or notes. If you have a team working in a similar field, getting them together regularly can lead to really useful transfer of knowledge. This is so important now we are working more remotely, and those ‘chance encounters’ at the office are less likely to happen.


How a CoP can be especially useful for gathering and meeting training needs

A Community of Practice is transferable to any profession and can help shift the maturity level of that profession within an organisation. Once a CoP has been established, there will be a natural evolution, it can take time for members to feel ‘safe’ with one another and to engage in the process. Once that trust is there that will lead to a natural sharing of information. Establishing a CoP is a great way to have dynamic training needs identified and met, whether overtly by raising training as a discussion point or by paying attention to the groups requests for topics for discussion at future meetings. For me as an L&D professional, it would be music to my ears to have functional CoP’s in place in my organisation – no more guessing what training needs there are – they will be doing that work for you, and filling those needs using internal subject matter experts.


How a C of P can help overcome cultural barriers that block effective communication and understanding

CoP’s in large organisations that are geographically dispersed, and may contain people from different cultural backgrounds can go a long way into alleviating the cultural barriers that can block communication and understanding. Providing a place where peers can communicate in an informal environment can lead to building understanding and awareness. This is something highly valuable for an organisation that wants to maximise its effectiveness.


How Lilly went about setting up a CoP at Shimano Europe

For Lilly, joining a team during lockdown, and trying to navigate her way around understanding the business, she turned to a book from the British Computing Society, which talked about the value of CoP’s for tech teams. Lilly floated the idea and it grew organically from there, starting with a ‘light touch’ approach – a monthly Teams meeting. She set an initial programme of topics for discussion at these monthly meetings, also inviting input into setting the agenda.


To watch our conversation in full, click here


Do you want to work with us on transformation learning in your organisation? Book up a call here

Join our online community in our FREE Facebook group The Learning & Development Hub.

Sign up for our People Development blog, to get our blogs delivered straight into your inbox.