Before we started our agile journey, our teams were grouped by roles. This meant that colleagues would often sit next to someone who shared the same job title, who they could learn and share knowledge with.
But what happened when we moved to a cross functional agile team and wanted to become self-sufficient?
Well, people in certain disciplines — such as Quality Engineers and Business Analysts — spent most (if not all) of their time becoming the sole representative for that role within the team. This meant that while collaboration between the agile team was steadily rising, the interactions between those in same role diminished.
What did we do?
We started to look at CoP as a way of enabling collaboration across those in the same role. The need to have dedicated time for our colleagues to attend these communities was critical to their success.
At first, as expected, take up was slow, mainly because teams were so focused on delivery and didn’t want to leave this behind. To help with that challenge, we scheduled designated time every month for all communities.
Talking with our new colleagues and learning from our own experiences, we wanted to drive the following in our communities:
Learning across new technologies, ways of working and processes
Knowledge sharing from delivery teams
Networking and developing relationships
Sense of purpose, identity and belonging
Sharing and shaping good practice found within their own teams
It hasn’t been plain sailing. As with any initiative, there were challenges along the way and each of them required our attention. So, here’s a brief overview of the key challenges we encountered:
Multi-site / remote working: Our department now stretches over three locations and we had to ensure our communities didn’t revolve around a whiteboard in a single room. We needed to ensure they were accessible remotely, so a combination of Lifesize video conferencing, Slack and Skype was important
Membership of multiple communities: Say a Tech Lead is also a Line Manager — which community do they choose if both were at the same time? What if someone was asked to talk at another community, or wanted to listen to what another community had to say? A slight time shift for some of the known overlapping communities was needed so colleagues could attend
Delivery pressure and senior management buy-in: Colleagues sometimes prioritised delivery over community, so it was critical that the communities had senior management support and advocacy
Work-life balance and flexible working: We worked to ensure that community engagement was possible, regardless of people’s working pattern
Content and subject matter: It’s all well having the time for the communities, but they need to be valuable and relevant, with subjects and content prepared ahead of the session. Shaping the agenda and keeping things interesting makes a real difference
Participation and engagement: We needed to ensure that each community member had the opportunity to participate and engage, rather than it being directed by a small group of individuals
Organisation and planning: We had to set aside time to book rooms, facilitators, drinks, snacks and speakers, as there is a chance this could have been forgotten
Culture: Turning up to a community session is a great start, but interacting and contributing to the session enables the community to evolve and be inclusive. We needed to make sure that everyone was comfortable talking in the session, even if they were new to public speaking
What have we learnt?
The timing of the community meeting is paramount. Initially, we scheduled all the different community meetings at the same time to encourage attendance, but this meant that those in more than one community or wanted to attend another, would find it difficult. Video conference equipment at remote sites is essential to enable communities to ‘meet’ at once.
Here are some other aspirations for future developments:
Communities will share key learnings and best practice on how to effectively run and facilitate sessions
Individuals will attend different community sessions to get exposure to other disciplines
We’ll expand communities across the brands and businesses at BGL Group
Setting clear success criteria for our communities
We want it to feel natural to be part of a self-organising CoP. We want to be able to demonstrate how communities add value not just to individuals, but to delivery and the business as a whole. Our ambition is to extend and grow CoP sessions from an afternoon to a full day, and do so on a regular basis.