Community Of Practice Within Consulting

05.08.2020

As a consultancy business, we rely heavily upon our people to deliver the outcomes that we commit to our partners. Without them, we would not be able to consistently deliver the tangible, long lasting change that has made us successful.

We operate in a highly competitive market; therefore, attrition is something that is always at the forefront of our minds. Working with an ever-growing eco-system of both permanent and interim consultants, we want everyone to feel valued, respected, and very much part of the RTC team regardless of the way that we pay them at the end of the month.

We want to foster an environment that adds value back to the very people who have helped us develop such a strong reputation within our area of expertise.

The RT Project Exchange

As part of our continuous improvement strategy we wanted to create a space where our consultants could engage, support, and collaborate with each other, as well as establishing a private channel for communicating with our dispersed and busy audience.

We created the RT Project Exchange; an online forum dedicated solely to our Society, and it’s an exclusive space where everyone can meet and engage with each other regardless of the area that they are working. It has been extremely valuable in providing a central repository of comms, whilst enabling our consultants to share advice and tips around everything from travel and accommodation ideas, to what meeting rooms tend to have the best availability.

It is a great platform, but how can we build upon it?

Capability vs Subject Matter

Our Society is made up of Consultants who specialise in Programme Delivery. Be it PPM, PMO, Project Controls, Bid or Commercial, they are all extremely talented individuals.

We work across a number of sectors with the most prominent being CT Policing, Defence, Government, Rail and Capital Projects. Whereas the subject matter might vary, the capability remains the same.

So how do we remove the silos and encourage knowledge transfer and engagement across the board?

Community of Practice

I recently came across the Community of Practice Theory online.

It’s a concept first proposed by cognitive anthropologist Jean Lave and educational theorist Etienne Wenger in their 1991 book Situated Learning (Lave & Wenger 1991), and states that a community of practice is a group of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better by regular interaction.

Whereas Programme teams are pulled together to deliver a specific outcome, a community of practice is held together by the "learning value" members find in their interactions. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that members can learn from each other, having the opportunity to develop both personally and professionally.

The key elements of a CoP are:

The Domain:

Members are brought together by a shared domain of interest. They value their collective competence and learn from each other.

The Community:

Their collective learning becomes a bond amongst them over time and members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information.

The Practice:

Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems— In short, a shared practice.

Communities of practice have been around for as long as people have learned together. It exists in many settings including at school, in our hobbies and at work, and has also been explored within a PMO setting (see https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/project-management-office-community-practices-6243)

Establishing CoP’s within the Society

The CoP theory appears to be the perfect solution for bringing together a dispersed group of like-minded individuals for the benefit of learning and development.

Done in the right way, it could become extremely valuable for our consultants as a central hub of knowledge and support that will aid them on both a personal and professional level.

An article I found in the Harvard Business Review read;

"Because its primary "output"—knowledge—is intangible, the community of practice might sound like another "soft" management fad. But that is not the case. We have seen communities of practice improve organizational performance at companies as diverse as an international bank, a major car manufacturer, and a U.S. government agency. Communities of practice can drive strategy, generate new lines of business, solve problems, promote the spread of best practices, develop people’s professional skills, and help companies recruit and retain talent."

Sounds great, so how do we do it?

"A key task is defining a community's domain. If members don’t feel personally connected to the group's area of expertise and interest once it has been defined, they won't fully commit themselves to the work of the community" and that we should "provide the infrastructure that will support such communities and enable them to apply their expertise effectively"

Fabulous, I guess we are halfway there given we've already got such a strong platform in place with the RT Project Exchange.
Now we just need to establish the domain(s), which I am assuming will be capability driven given the nature of our business, but I’m interested to find out – I'm off to do some more research!
Join me next time where we will explore how best to identify the domain and the key steps you should follow in establishing your own Community of Practice.

Stronger Together.