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

Managing virtual teams and meetings
This recent LfS page recognises that – with travel restrictions growing in the face of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic –  many more companies are encouraging staff to work from home – potentially fast-tracking the remote working trend. Against this background annotated links are provided to posts that provide guidance on managing virtual and distributed teams.

Ensuring effective teams
This LfS post 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.

Communities of practice

Communities 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.

Why Communities of Practice (CoP) are ‘Still’ Relevant for the Organizations?
This 2016 paper by Nikhil Agarwal and Ruchi Agarwal points to the continuous scholarly debate on emerging structure of Communities of Practice (CoP) in modern organizations.  They remind us that over the years CoP concept has emerged and the new subsets are introduced such as Communities of Innovation (CoInv), Communities of Participation (CParp) and Communities of Creation (CoC). This paper argue these communities emerged and evolved out of the need for doing something new and relevant in the organization, and draws upon existing research to substantiate
why communities of practice are still relevant for the organizations? . Further, this paper examines how the companies can use CoPs to improve internal communications, improve profitability and align their processes.

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.

Creating 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.

Five 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 Learning Circle Model: Collaborative Knowledge Building
The Learning Circle is a structure for collaborative work that shares features with other community-based learning groups, but also differs in specific ways. Most importantly, it is a task-based learning community in contrast to a practice-based or knowledge-based learning community. Instead of one shared group task, learning circles focus on a set of smaller intersecting group tasks, each lead by one of the circle participants. Shows how these can be run with examples for students, action researchers, teachers and evaluators.

The related LfS page – Building networks for learning – provides two sets of links to resources –  around how to build and map networks; and institutional approaches for working across groups and organisations, including partnerships and boundary organisations. Another page,  Managing virtual teams and meetings, provides annotated links to posts that provide guidance on managing virtual and distributed teams (particularly relevant in the light of the move towards staff working from home due to the coronavirus)..

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