Here at LoyaltyOne, we’re embracing more open and collaborative ways of working.
Like many organizations, we initially grouped our technical teams by skill area: a Windows team, a storage team, a Unix team, and so on. We developed some great capabilities that way, but found it challenging to share them across LoyaltyOne. So, we broke down the silos: we sent some members of our infrastructure group out to help our development teams learn operations, and reorganized the rest into a cross-functional ops team. Our people loved the opportunity to learn—and teach—new skills.
One thing the old teams excelled at, though, was developing and maintaining best practices. Our new world gave us far more opportunities to innovate, but brought a new challenge: how to stay in sync and share learning with someone doing a similar job on another team.
Our Agile journey suggested an answer: communities of practice. A CoP is a group of people practising a craft, who gather regularly to learn from and improve one another. We built a community of practice focused around infrastructure as a space to share ideas.
The CoP is open to everyone who works on our infrastructure platform, whether as part of our operations team or alongside developers. It’s centred around a weekly in-person meeting—even in our technological world, being face to face always enriches our collaboration. This session gives us an opportunity to compare notes, demonstrate tools, and discuss technical direction. At least as importantly, it serves as a jumping-off point for other conversations throughout the week.
We’ve learned a few things along the way.
- An in-person meeting is a great way to bring a community together, but the community is more than just the meeting. Relationships maintained through the CoP enhance collaboration in all our work, long after the meeting is over.
- A strong community will organize itself—up to a point. But it still needs champions, advocates, and individuals willing to take on leadership roles.
- Giving people the opportunity to present and facilitate is a great way to grow skills, both inside and outside the CoP.
- If your organization has a peer recognition program (ours does!), it can be a great tool for encouraging and rewarding participation early on. Once people start to get value out of the CoP, they’ll be back for more.
Communities of practice take effort to maintain—and they certainly don’t solve all problems. They are, however, a valuable way to boost collaboration and keep people aligned across technical teams.