Guilds and Communities of Practice

If your organization has started its agile journey then it’s probably concentrating on forming cross-functional teams.  Cross-functional teams are great to reduce hand-offs, foster diversity, creativity and innovation, but there are also advantages to gathering with like-minded people and honing your craft through the use of Guilds and Communities of Practice (COP). Although Guilds and COPs can also be cross-functional, we can certainly leverage them in this case for like-minded people.

Guilds and COPs can be formal, informal, led or grass roots.  Our objective here is to create a forum to share knowledge and discuss solutions to challenges within a specific practice.  As we create more and more cross-functional teams our work can begin to become more siloed. The Guild and COP can be used to break down those silos and engage in cross-team collaboration.  

We’ve been participating in user groups and similar gatherings for awhile, but the first I saw the model of Guilds introduced was within the Spotify Model.  There premise was to have people from different teams within a specific practice come together. They could share knowledge, discuss solutions to common challenges and sometimes even go so far as to identify agreed upon standards.

Guilds can go beyond just meeting on a regular basis and can also create websites, chats and social media channels.  These mediums can be used to share knowledge and collaborate on certain challenges real-time and provide instant consultation with experts within your vertical area of practice. At my current organization we have several COPs, webinars and channels to discuss areas of interest. Some are more formal than others, but they all contribute to furthering the availability of cross-department knowledge.

Guilds and COPs can also be multi-organizational or area based.  Here in the Tampa Bay area we have an active Scrum Masters’ Guild facilitated by Adam Ulery which meets every first Wednesday of the month. One of my favorite exercises with that group was when we partnered with the Denver Scrum Masters’ Guild to simulate a distributed environment.

In my current company and community we have established several successful Guilds and COPs (ex: Nielsen Agile CoP, Nielsen DevOps Guild, Tampa Bay Agile Meetup, etc.).  If your organization is on its agile journey then you should consider Guilds and COPs as another means to collaborate, share knowledge and break down silos. If you’re a person that is passionate about your craft then consider starting a Guild within your organization. You could bring some food and start by meeting for lunch.  You might be surprised how many people join you and how much you can accomplish.

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