Team building, CoPs and learning groups

Well-functioning teams bring out the best in people. [Photo: Flickr – jksphotos]
Here we distinguish between team and group approaches that come together to complete or achieve a task or goal, and those that come together because they want to to build relationships or share common work experiences. The former is characterised by many work teams, while the latter can be evidenced in communities of practice.

           Team building

LfS-iconEnsuring effective teams. This recent posting by Will Allen looks at a three phase approach to setting up effective teams. It outlines a number of key aspects that underpin success in each phase, and provides some key tips for effective teamwork.

A checklist for evaluating team performance This checklist from Margaret Kilvington and Will Allen is designed to help a team evaluate their progress and improve their performance. It is an easy-to-use tool for facilitators and team leaders.

www_iconHow to build good teams This newspaper article by Philippa Stevenson highlights the importance of good teams for improving organizational performance.

           Communities of practice

www_iconCommunities of practice – a brief introduction The term “community of practice” is of relatively recent coinage, even though the phenomenon it refers to is age-old. In this article Etienne Wenger shows how the concept has turned out to provide a useful perspective on knowing and learning. A growing number of people and organizations in various sectors are now focusing on communities of practice as a key to improving their performance. This brief and general introduction examines what communities of practice are and why researchers and practitioners in so many different contexts find them useful as an approach to knowing and learning.

An introduction to Communities of Practice This 2007 short paper by Will Allen and Marina Apgar provides an introduction to this social area of innovation. The concept of a ‘community of practice’ refers to the process of social learning that occurs when people who have a common interest in some subject or problem collaborate over an extended period to share ideas, find solutions, and build innovations. These social networks are emerging as an integral mechanism in helping organisations build skills in areas important to sustainability that cross departmental and organisational boundaries (e.g. community engagement, resource minimisation, energy efficiency). The paper covers stages of development, the different types of leadership required, and tips for maintaning COPs over time.

Communities of practice and organizational performance As organizations grow in size, geographical scope, and complexity, it is increasingly apparent that sponsorship and support of communities of practice—groups whose members regularly engage in sharing and learning, based on common interests—can improve organizational performance. This IBM article argues that the social capital resident in communities of practice leads to behavioral changes, which in turn positively influence business performance. The authors identify four specific performance outcomes associated with the communities of practice they studied and link these outcomes to the basic dimensions of social capital. These dimensions include connections among practitioners who may or may not be co-located, relationships that build a sense of trust and mutual obligation, and a common language and context that can be shared by community members.

Communities of Practice and virtual learning communities: benefits, barriers and success factors This paper by Pat Gannon-Leary and Elsa Fontainha acknowledges the increasing interest in virtual communities of practice (CoPs) and virtual learning communities. However, barriers exist in virtual CoPs and these are defined by the authors and illustrated with quotes from academic staff who have been involved in CoPs. Critical success factors (CSFs) for a virtual CoP are discussed. These include usability of technology; trust in, and acceptance of, ICTs in communication; a sense of belonging among members; paying attention to cross-national and cross-cultural dimensions of the CoP; shared understandings; a common sense of purpose; use of netiquette and user-friendly language and longevity.

            Learning groups

Participatory learning groups in an aid bureaucracy This paper narrates the process of establishing and running two participatory learning groups in the Swedish official development agency (Sida). Through cycles of reflection and action over a period of close to a year, group members explored experiences and ideas, building analyses, alliances and possibilities for action through participatory interaction. Fostering subtle changes through small acts and shifts in thinking, the learning groups helped foster greater reflexivity amongst participants and, with it, a degree of engagement and awareness with the potential for changes at other scales. This paper by Andrea Cornwall, Garett Pratt and Patta Scott-Villiers reports on the way the process developed, and reflects on lessons learnt with potential for wider application.

www_iconCreating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. This 2009 paper by Jane Brindley,  Christine Walti and Lisa Blaschke outlines key factors involved in creating effective collaborative learning groups. In particular, the paper focuses on specific instructional strategies that facilitate learner participation in small group projects, which result in an enhanced sense of community, increased skill acquisition, and better learning outcomes.

www_iconFive Elements that Promote Learner Collaboration and Group Work in Online Courses. This is the first article in a three-part series featuring strategies and skill development for instructors wanting to create, facilitate and encourage collaboration among students working in groups. This 2014 posting by Debbie Morrison outlines principles  regarding student needs’ and barriers to group work online which are are universal to almost all formats of online learning experiences.

The related page – Building networks for learning – provides a set of links to resources around how to build and map networks. A  second set looks at institutional approaches for working across groups and organisations, including partnerships and boundary organisations.

[Header image: Flickr – Ollie Harding – teamwork.]

Share