Thursday, 5 February 2015

A story of a bottom-up Community of Practice

Communities of Practice can be selected top-down, or bottom-up. In the former case, the company seeds and sponsors CoPs in critical knowledge areas.  In the latter, CoPs emerge spontaneously, driven by the passion and energy of key individuals. This is a bottom-up story, told by one-such individual. 

Johnny is an engineer, based in the UK. He was a very early adopter of Knowledge Management, and extremely enthusiastic about the business potential of KM and shared learning. Johnny's personal drive and enthusiasm have been instrumental in setting up and maintaining a major community of practice. Here is his story of how the community started.

"The role I have now, of operations coordinator, grew from the company KM launch meeting, where 2 or 3 people met, and decided we would stick together and would keep others in touch with what we were doing. Every 10 or 11 weeks we would get on the phone and have a conference call, and we called ourselves the "Continuous Improvement Forum", because we needed a name.

"We attracted more people to that phone call, and it spread around the world. We had a member on the western seaboard of the US, we had people offshore on rigs using satellite phones. I was in the UK, and we had someone in Germany. So every 10 or 11 weeks we would get this conference going at night, and because we were talking to someone in the US, I would be here at 7 o'clock at night on a conference call.
"We would talk about what each of us was doing in our organisation around any subject - competence, procedurals, process upset reporting - how we were handling different things. And that attracted the attention of the then head of operations, and he sat in on one of our calls one night, He thought this was so great - what we were trying to do. We changed out name to "Operational Excellence" because we were all in operations and we were pursuing some kind of excellence, so we became the Operations Excellence forum".
"We attracted about 80 people who wanted to be involved in operations excellence across the company. We ran a couple of workshops to tell them what we thought operations was about, and we gave them what we called the Operations Excellence Portal - a website that would be a common area to gather information and put news stories in, and it all revolved around a self-assessment process we asked business units to do.

"We said "this is the Operations Excellence community of Practice", and I moderated and looked after that community from a central point. We created a community distribution list, so that everyone was in contact with everyone else. 
"The community then started to grow. Like a virus they began to slowly but surely to infect other people, with the stories, success stories that were happening. The possibilities of making change, and being involved in that change, were tremendous. 
"So they community grew from September 2000 to the present day (this story was recorded in 2003), where it sits at just over 260 people. That is pure organic growth.I guess the next stage would be to bring the whole community together at some point ... to bring these people back together, and be face to face, and tell their stories, and the energy and power that's in a room when you get people like that together, is terrific".

I love this story. It is a story of how the seed of Knowledge Management fell on fertile ground, and grew into a forest.  It is the story on one person's passion, and how this grew. And it is the story of how a community of practice which delivers real operational value to its members can expand like a virus.

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