Encouraging collaboration to release untapped potential

Professional communities, communities of excellence, communities of practice – whatever the title, the philosophy is the same: how can an organisation best organise and use the collective knowledge and experience of its people to achieve greater innovation, efficiency, output, learning and results?

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It seems so simple. How hard can it be? Every organisation is doing it, right? Wrong! In fact in my experience it is actually the opposite, where only a small percentage of organisations have truly realised the value of collaboration through professional communities, and an even smaller percentage that have then been able to set them up successfully.

However I also understand why this is the case.  There are always so many other challenges and priorities for senior management to contend with such as the discovery of new hydrocarbons, CAPEX utilisation, overrunning projects and new acquisitions.  As a result however, organisations are missing out on an opportunity to generate value and increase organisational effectiveness with very little investment.

I have supported a number of organisations over the years to collaborate more effectively through the building of professional communities, and believe there are five common underpinning success factors;

  1. Leadership: Leaders play a critical role in sponsoring and committing time and investment to building professional communities.  Exhibiting passion, energy and vision will attract participants and ensure long term sustainability.
  2. Relevance: Developing a clear scope, design and ongoing plan to develop the community will ensure that it is relevant and adds value to participants and the organisation as a whole.
  3. Credibility: It is important that the community gets into action and builds credibility quickly; this can be achieved by illustrating its positive contribution by delivering quick wins.
  4. Communication: Using a variety of communication channels and collaboration methods is key to keeping participants engaged and building the sense of ‘community’.
  5. Roll Out: Developing professional communities should be managed in the same way as any other new project: Design, Plan, Build and Implement, Review and Improve.  Phasing the roll out of communities allows for learnings to be captured and incorporated – ensuring a fit-for-purpose approach that truly adds value.

In addition to the above – vision, good project management, patience and timing are also key.  In my experience it can take between one and three years to build a self-sustaining professional community that collaborates effectively. During this time there are a number of stages of maturity through which the community will pass.  Trying to move too quickly through these stages or applying too much pressure will dissipate the community – leading to failure.

I have found that a good starting point is to bring together a loose association of people with common interests, passions and job roles to exchange ideas, this is simply known as a community of interest.

Over time, communities of interest will mature into professional communities – becoming more formal, with members dedicating more of their time.  They will develop clear remits, objectives, roles and responsibilities, governance, and processes; which may include professional development or process improvement, for example.  But it is important to note that each community will develop at its own pace, and this is OK!

With the right support and investment, professional communities will foster greater collaboration and help realise significant benefits, including:

  • Supporting technical leaders to become great all round leaders
  • Supporting talent and capability management
  • Facilitating the development of solutions to business issues
  • Building and sharing technical knowledge and skills
  • Developing new ways of working, approaches and best practices
  • Providing a centralised hub for technical experts.

In the modern age collaboration through building professional communities is a low cost way to achieve greater organisational effectiveness.  So why wait to collaborate, start today, and bring together the people within your organisation to release that untapped potential.