All businesses aspire to high-performance productivity. Many organizations contribute anywhere from 5% to 10% of their annual budget expenditure to provide professional development that will (hopefully) improve productivity over time. While this traditional approach focuses on developing the capacity of employees, this individual knowledge does not always transfer into enhanced productivity for the organization. Rather than aspiring to high-performance workplace productivity targets, organizations would be well advised to focus on the goal of developing a high-performance workplace culture.
Consider the analogy of an elite athletic team: Its success is underpinned by a high-performance culture built on trusting professional relationships. In the same way, a successful business is built on transparent, trustworthy relationships. Essentially, these organizations have developed professional communities where employees share their skills and knowledge. The result is the transfer of the skills and knowledge that contribute to workplace productivity goals.
A professional community of practice is a programmatic approach to professional development focused on action-based outcomes. This approach facilitates capacity development within the organization and delivers unified business performance standards while minimizing external expenditure.
Professional communities of practice are small groups of no more than 12 participants each. The approach requires a long-term commitment, but the benefits are significant. Initially, it is often beneficial to have an external consultant facilitate the professional development sessions to ensure transparency. In time, however, staff members begin to co-facilitate the discussions. This approach delivers the desired capacity development from within the organization.
Using a discussion format, the groups share their professional views on a specific topic. Together, group members improve their workplace performance through exposure to diverse perspectives and experiences. Successful professional communities of practice are underpinned by the following elements:
- Brief session duration (one hour) to support knowledge retention.
- No more than 12 members per group to ensure transparent communication.
- Organized into quarterly three-week series.
- Initial facilitation by an external consultant with a planned transition to internal staff within a year.
- Uses action learning; the organization supports participants as they implement what they have learned and celebrates all attempts to adapt new techniques.
- The process is built on long-term, trusting relationships.
- Participation takes courage and experimentation.
- All participant views are equally valued.
- Employees who are confident in certain areas can support others.
- Reflective practice is a significant part of the process, as it allows staff time to gain clarification from colleagues as required.
- Topics may be stand alone or be sequenced over weeks.
The goal of implementing communities of practice is more than just informal learning. The approach can upskill a group of individuals into experts with a particular skill set in a short period of time. Effectively, group sharing results in the rapid development of all participants. When its professional development investment is allocated to a group rather than an individual, a business can rapidly begin to realize high-performance workplace productivity.
What Does Real-world Success Look Like?
Organizations with successful professional communities of practice achieve the following results:
- Capacity development from within.
- Reduced professional development expenditure over time.
- A recognized high-performance workplace culture.
- Enhanced workplace productivity.
The success of this approach is demonstrated by its ongoing implementation in sectors including health care, law and education. These sectors use professional communities of practice because they recognize the impact it makes on an organization when communities are willing to share advanced skills and knowledge in a trustworthy, transparent forum.