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.  The 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 real-time challenges 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.

Often one of the big complaints I receive is “We have too many meetings!”. My first question is “Well, does the cost of any of these meetings outweigh the value you are receiving from them?”.   I usually don’t receive a straight answer because unfortunately very rarely have people already made that assessment.  My next course of action is to ask them if they are willing to experiment and cancel all standing meetings besides the defined agile core events and those meetings required by the organization.  Once this is done, I tell them that anyone can create a standing meeting and select invitees, but the invitees must be optional. If the invitees are optional then they do not need attend if they feel they are not getting ample value. This usually forces the meetings to be valuable or disappear. You find out real quick which meetings are valuable and worth people’s time.  If a group of people get together to share information they need to feel that the time they are spending is worth the value they are getting out of it.  So a good/needed chapter, guild or CoP will stay together as long as it is providing value to its members.

In organizing guilds a lot of times it is useful to spread out facilitation and responsibilities. Some things you can do to keep the guild healthy is to create a calendar for guild volunteers to select a week to facilitate. Having volunteers from different areas sign-up to facilitate a specific weekly guild meeting ensures that just a couple of people aren’t taxed with always organizing. Conducting sessions when needed to capture topics of interest is useful.  You can hold lean coffees from time to time to share information and they don’t need much preparation.  Conducting a retrospective with the group on a regular basis assists in continuous improvement of the guild.

Guilds and COPs can also be multi-organizational or area based.  Here in the Tampa Bay area we have an active Scrum Masters’ Guild 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. We identified and worked through first-hand the challenges.

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, Product Owner’s Meetup, Scrum Master’s Guild, PwC Service Delivery Managers Guild, 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. And again, this is a great way to get like-minded people together in a cross-functional team environment so they do not lose the opportunity of learning from each other in their top areas of expertise.

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